Death Don’t Have No Mercy has really grown on me in recent years. It used to be a song that I didn’t much enjoy, somewhere near where Bob’s blues numbers sit with me. But for some reason I’ve gained a new appreciation for it. Part of it may be the revival of the song in the late 80s (as represented on the Formerly The Warlocks box set), which had a mellower, less harsh sound than the rawness of 1969.
But after having listened to the more recent versions and getting more acquainted with the song, and then going back and listening to this version with fresh ears made a world of difference. I’ve said it many times, but that’s simply because it’s true, that the Grateful Dead had a better sense of dynamics than almost any rock band out there. The ebb and flow of a song, not to mention an entire setlist could be made or broken on dynamics alone. Death Don’t Have No Mercy is a great example of that. It ranges from an ethereal, haunting quality, to fiery hot furnace and places in between all in the span of a few minutes.