Touch Of Grey

Album: In The Dark (1987)
Charted: 9
  • songfacts ®
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  • Lyrics
  • Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics, as he did with many Dead songs, although Jerry Garcia wrote the line, "Light a candle, curse the glare." This is according to the book Box Of Rain, which was written by Hunter and is a collection of his published songs. In the book, it is "A Touch of Grey" and has an asterisk next to the line Jerry wrote. There is no definite reasoning for the song - many feel it's about aging, but many also feel it's about all the drugs they've done. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Eric - Houston, TX
  • Robert Hunter started writing the lyrics to this song in 1980, and the Dead first performed it on September 15, 1982 at a show in Landover, Maryland. They played it sporadically over the next few years, and finally recorded it for their 1987 album In The Dark.
  • According to David Dodd in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, the line "Light a Candle, curse the glare" is a play on Adlai Stevenson's 1962 reference to Eleanor Roosevelt's death. He said, "She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness." The line, "The Ables and the Bakers and the Cs" refers to the first two words in an older version of the military communication alphabet, "Able" and "Baker." The modern version starts with "Alpha" and "Bravo."
  • The song is about the band aging gracefully. The phrase "Touch Of Grey" is a reference to getting older, as for most people, their hair starts getting grey as they age.
  • This was The Grateful Dead's first and only hit song. They never set out to be on the radio, enthralling fans with their mind-bending musical landscapes and confounding critics with their interminable jamming. Their large and loyal following ensured that their albums sold well and their concerts were full. For many of the Dead faithful, it was strange hearing the group on pop radio and seeing them on MTV, but the song fit well with their canon and was clearly not an attempt to chase the '80s trends.

    The song did change the dynamic of Dead discovery. Most fans were turned on to the band by listening to their classic albums or going to a concert with a seasoned follower, but now there was a new poseur class who came on board for "Touch Of Grey."
  • The line, "I will get by, I will survive," became a mantra of resilience in the Dead community. When Jerry Garcia fell into a diabetic coma in July 1986, it looked like the group could be finished; when he returned to action in December, the group opened with "Touch Of Grey," reassuring fans that they would indeed get by.

    Following Garcia's death in 1995, various incarnations of the band and associated acts like Ratdog and Phil Lesh & Friends have played the song. A notable performance came on the final night of their Fare Thee Well tour on July 5, 2015 in Chicago when Trey Anastasio and Bruce Hornsby each sang a verse. When the band returned that year as Dead & Company with John Mayer in the fold, the song went back into rotation.
  • The band made a video for this song, which was the first one they made for MTV. Directed by Justin Kreutzmann, they shot it after a concert at Laguna Seca Raceway in California on May 9, 1987, which let them use a real audience. The crowd was re-admitted after the shoot was set up; they saw the band run through the song in human form, and also as skeleton likenesses. This footage was combined to create the clip.

    The video was included on Dead Ringers: The Making of Touch of Grey, which was sold as a home video.
  • The Dead were known for varying their setlists so that every show was different, and they didn't change this tradition even when this song was on the charts. Instead of catering to newcomers by playing their hit single at every concert, they only played it when they felt like it.
  • The Mighty Diamonds covered this in 1996 on Fire On The Mountain, an album of reggae versions of Grateful Dead songs.
  • In addition to its #9 showing on the Hot 100, this song went to #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart and #15 on the Adult Contemporary tally.
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Comments: 49

  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxEleanor Roosevelt may not have cursed the darkness, but I bet she cursed the mirror.
  • Bill from Chicago, IlSince I'm a Songfacts lover, especially the notes on Long May You Run by Neil Young, I'm going to offer up some educated guesses on Touch.

    This song is essentially about the Weekend Warriors and others who were outgrowing "show-life" and becoming sophisticates. "I see you got your list out" is even a slam at the Deadhead followers who kept lists of the sequence of tunes each night, then argued later into the night over what was actually played. Hunter here seems to bash the type A behavior at a clearly type B or right-side experience. "Listen through or to your teeth and spit" refers to radio waves that were being picked up in people's dentures [strange but true] if too close to the towers. So this is a slam at the sophisticates being a lot older than they really were, and not being to escape Jerry and company even on the radio now. I believe "shoe is on the hand it fits - nothing much to it" I think is a name-calling in code: horse's bleep.

    Even funnier that "I will get by, I will survive" became an anthem or chant. It's really saying I'll do just fine without the casual and former fans. Don't forget this came out along with Hell in a Bucket and had essentially the same message; Bucket was for a bad experience in Eugene, OR. They began working on these tunes at shows in 1983 [St. Paul, Madison, Poplar Creek, Red Rocks 1983 from personal knoweldge], and went commercial with all this a year or so later. Recall too this came on the heels of the Go To Heaven album in 1980 that was a lot more popular/mainstream than prior Dead work. But then a bad economy in 1982 left plenty of empty seats at shows. [Kiel, Alpine Valley summer 1982]. So I think these songs came from a period where they'd been picked up and then dropped by a larger following. But the shows were really great during this timeframe.

    Listen to Bucket again and then this. And remember on Touch that saying "kiss off" can be taken as "we love you" and become very popular!!

  • Jon from North Reading, Ma"Touch" was the only song that could be considered a "hit" that the Grateful Dead had during their recording career. It peaked at #9. Next highest was "Truckin'" at #64, followed by "Alabama Getaway" #68, "Uncle John's Band" #69, "The Music Never Stopped" #81 & "Sugar Magnolia" #91. "Jack Straw" never charted, since it was never released as a single. Early Dead chart successes were not a great possibility since they only got played on FM, when AM was king.
  • Jacob from Garden Grove, Cai think every song ever made was made for what you make of it but if not i would agree with don
  • Serra from Santa Fe, NmDysfunctional and abusive relationships tend to leave people at the bottom of a dark well fighting to rebuild their lives. Chanting "I will get by. I will survive" has given me the strength I needed to bounce back each time I hit the bottom.
  • Don from Warrenton, VaAfter divorce, alimony, child support, lay-offs, and surving the decades that the Grateful Dead have been playing, this song takes on new meaning each time I listen to it. Although the lyrics are filled with interpretations, I have been in the place where everything seems to be going downhill, having a list of problems given to me, and knowing that if you just lighten up, things have a way of working out "I will get by---I will survive?"
  • Jacob from Garden Grove, Cai love music, i love to play it, and the modern society, left it in the dust
  • David from Los Angeles, CaThe fact about this song being about aging is wrong. Touch of grey does not refer to hair greying or anything like that. Look at the context in the lyrics "oh well a touch of grey, kinda suits you anyway" and "every silver lining has a touch of grey". This song is about overcoming life's obstacles, and no matter how hard you like things to work out, bad things, or a "touch of grey" in you life, will happen.
  • Steve from Detroit, Nyc, NyThis song is fine, it's not one I could listen to over and over like I do. The Grateful Dead have some fine songs. I also like"I did it for hip hop" by Ludicrous. I hope some of these Dead fans have heard it and would be open to it. It will be a real test of close-minded and narrow-mindedness when it comes to music.
  • Adrian from Crossville, TnPeople who became Grateful dead fans as a result of this song are known as "Touch Heads"
  • Eric from Bend, OrI'm surprised they say this was their only hit song. I'm not too familiar with much of the Dead's music, but their song "Casey Jones" also comes to mind when I think of them - I'm surprised that song wasn't considered to be a hit.
  • Michael from Honolulu, HiAny body thought that maybe this is about the shade of grey in life?...Life is not all just black and white. There is a "touch of grey".
  • Taylor from Chinook, Mti absolutely love this song and also the video of them playing as skeletons. every time i hear this song i turn into more of a dead head
  • Tom from Los Angeles, CaI was never a "Dead Head," but I've always had major respect for the band and their unique sound throughout their years. I loved this song when it first came out and as I approach 50, I appreciate it even more.
  • Dave from Ocala, FlTruckin' was only hit in certain localities - it reached #1 in California, as Bob Weir says before the song on the Europe '72 album. But Touch of Grey and the In The Dark album of 1987 were the first blowout national hits.
  • Dave from Ocala, FlThe song was originally sung live years before the studio version and the first few times I saw it (and on the 1983/84 tapes) Jerry sang "I see you got your list out.
    Say your piece and kiss off!"

    By the time they recorded it, though, it was sanitized to "Say your piece and get out."
  • Ken from Bronson, MiWhat about "Uncle John's Band" or "Truckin;"?
  • Barry from New York, NcThe song was written by Hunter/Garcia circ. 1979, a few years before Garcia actually started going grey.
  • Lemicro from New York City, NyThis song is one of the many great songs from the Dead. They're one of my top favorite bands.
  • Andy from Custer, SdI LOVE this song. I started going grey in High School. Just a touch. I was even called Touch of Grey by some friends for a couple of years there. I was always really proud of that. Now I'm 30 and am greyer by the day. The lyrics of this song refer to the state of the world today, going to Hell in a Bucket. But we all get older and get by. And survive another day. Every morning you wake up, be happy. Each day is a gift from God. It is up to you what you do with it.
  • Steven from Anaheim, CaNeal, your missing out big time. The dead are totally unbelievable. Blake has the right idea
  • Blake from Watertown, SdI dont care what anyone says the Grateful Dead are the greatest band in the world
  • Neal from North, NjI wasn't a fan of Grateful Dead, but I like this song. I can hear the curses already, but sorry! This just happens to be the only Dead song I was really exposed to.
  • Tim from Washington, DcYes, Johnny. "All Along the Watchtower" was Jimi's ONLY top-40 hit. Hard to believe, but true nonetheless. "Touch of Grey" reached number 9 on the charts, while "Truckin'" peaked at 64.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaI really like this song, one of the deads best. Didn't Jimi have a hit with "All Along The Watchtower?"
  • James from Edinburgh, ScotlandYou can't criticise the Dead for being "one hit wonders" if you like Zeppelin. They brought no singles out in the UK and are huge.
  • Rob from Vancouver, CanadaYou guys arguing about one hit wonders; Jeremy is talking about top forty hits. I don't think for a second he's refering to how many great songs Hendrix had. Most of the great hard rock bands of the late 60's and early 70's had very few chart toppers. I certainly wouldn't want the bands I grew up liking (Zep, Purple, etc.) lumped in with what top 40 was at the time.
  • Fyodor from Denver, CoI think the chorus is kinda ironic considering Jerry didn't last much longer.
  • Nicole from Boston, MaSteve
    i think in this case people are saying they are one hit wonders in the commercial sense. They are an amazing band with an unprecedented following and have been around for fifty years but they only have a couple of chart hits. we all know they could have had more but avoided it.
  • Dave from Portsmouth, NhEveryone seems to be forgetting that "Alabama Getaway" made the charts just before "Touch" did. I remember Bobby and Jerry both commenting on the songs' chart success and downplaying it, because that's not what The Dead were ever about. The "Touch" hits...as for one-hit wonders, I'd rather play sold out concerts w/The Dead that have all the hits in the world.
  • Steve from MarkhamGrateful Dead and Jimi one-hit wonders? Are you people really into music at all?? When I think of one-hit wonders the names of the Vapors (Turning Japanese), Sniff n the Tears (Driver's Seat) and the Monks (Drugs in my Pocket) come to mind ... not the Dead and Hendrix. Try to get out a little more.
  • Jameson from Lexington, KyI LOVE this song; it never strays far from my mp3 player. And I've always loved the video, it was hilarious.
  • Barry from New York, NyBy today's standards, the term "one hit wonder" is obsolete. Back in the '70s there was more chance for good rock bands to get hits onto the charts. However, during the '90s and today (the 00s), top forty music more or less refers to bloodless teenybopper groups, dance music and rappers. The good rock bands like what the Grateful Dead once were, are no longer in the top forty genre, but that's not a problem as they continue to sell out in concert venues and arenas.
  • Thomas from Greenwich, Ctwhat makes a musicans good is not how many hits they have but how long their music lives on for, there are many hits today that will never be heard again and thus die. The Grateful dead and hendrix are truly great musicains because their music lives on and will continue to live on. who cares what their billboard #'s were.
  • Jason from Salem, MoJimi Hendrix was a One-hit Wonder and "Shakedown Street" is an underated song by the Dead
  • Dennis from Wall, NjTechnically they are one=hit-wonders but who cares about that, they never did and their millions of fans dont either. Long live Jerry's memory
  • Kevin from Chelsea, Mi"One hit wonders like Jimi Hendrix"...Dude, Jeremy, please get out of the box you are living in.
  • Kelly from Burbank, CaThis song is kind of catchy, but I don't like it as much as other wonderful tunes The Dead did like Uncle John's Band, St. Stephen, or Casey Jones. It's not a bad song, but I think that the other songs I mentioned are far far better. They weren't hits (probably because of those drug references, eh Jerry?) but I would rather listen them than to Touch of Grey any day. I wasn't too suprised that this is one of the only Dead songs listed, and that sucks, because I wanted to know the orgin and info on those songs. Oh well, long live The Grateful Dead =).
  • Jeremy from Shelbyville, KyThey are in good company of one hit wonders like Jimi Hendrix. Kelly Clarkson has more hits, it truly shows the lack of musical taste in America. I see know dishonor in being in that class.
    - Jeremy, Shelbyville, KY
  • Sam from Philadelphia, Paactually the grateful dead played this at alot off shows and this wasnt their only or their first hit song. Truckin and Jack Straw were both mild hits in the early 70's
  • Aj from Cleveland, GaThe Dead were most famous for their live shows and not their studio work. Surprisingly, as big a franchise as they seem, this was their only hit.
  • David Corino from Hawley, PaMy parents brought my brother to a Grateful Dead concert when he was seven and Phil Lesh waived at him. When I was five I was next to go. We were at my aunts house ready to go for the next night. Next thing I rember we are driving home with my mother and fater crying, and playing Working mans Dead...
  • Chris from San Francisco, CaThe cover of In the Dark has the eyes of all the band members + one person lit in a background of darkness. the non band member on the cover is bill graham who stopped by the studio while they were shooting the cover.
  • Brian from Bakersfield, CaThis song brought me to the Dead . . . then I worked backwards. I regret not coming to the fold earlier, but thank the Dead for this hit to bring me to my senses.

    Brian, Bakersfield, CA
  • Shell from Riverdale, Ga"The comment about military communication is incorrect. The first two letters of the alphabet is phonetically pronounced, "Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc." Just to clarify things. No disrespect meaning here.
    - Blake, Perry, FL" It is, in fact, correct. As stated, the old US military phonetic alphabet began with Able and Baker. "I" was "Item", now it's "India"; "K" was "Key", now it's "Kilo"; "Q" was "Queen", now it's "Quebec". The change was mad in the late '50s or early '60s.
  • Rosa from Cleveland, Ohthe grateful dead, is the greatest band that there ever was....and this is just a great song.
  • Jim from San Clemente, CaWasn't "Truckin" a hit?
  • Blake from Perry, FlThe comment about military communication is incorrect. The first two letters of the alphabet is phonetically pronounced, "Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc." Just to clarify things. No disrespect meaning here.
  • Ryan from Tucson, AzGreat song, the Dead are a great band, and thats why they lasted so long.
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