Grateful Dead: The Tighten Up Jam (1969-1971)

This mix compiles 25 performances (two hours) of the “Tighten Up Jam” by the Grateful Dead, including several adjacent “Feelin’ Groovy Jams.” The jam typically appeared in the variable middle of “Dark Star” and as a side-trip prior to the final chorus of “Dancin’ in the Streets.” 

The Dead’s “Tighten Up” is named for its plausible derivation from the song of the same name by Archie Bell and the Drells (1968). “Soulful Strut” by Young Holt Unlimited (1968) has also been suggested as an influence. 

“Tighten Up” could be languid and sweet or fast and fierce. It’s one of the very special, pliable, thematic sub-plots in Dead history. Aside from a 1971 outlier, it was only played during a 14-month period from late summer 1969 to fall 1970.

While being distinctive musically, “Tighten Up” was also just a short reach from other comfortable 1969-1970 zones. The band could jump or creep into it from “Dark Star’s” theme, in the middle of a “Dancin’” jam, out of “Feelin’ Groovy,” or from more open spaces in the music.

Yet, while being very much an expression of that moment’s band, the “Tighten Up Jam” also tilts forward toward things to come. 

It is the era’s “Eyes of the World,” allowing the band to explore jazzy rhythms and chords to a greater extent than nearly anything else they were playing at the time. Though in a different key, it gets very close to “Eyes” at numerous points on these recordings. If the band hadn’t had other ideas about the 1973-1974 “Eyes” jam, you could easily imagine set lists containing “Eyes > Tighten Up,” and vice versa.

Some other points of future-song interest:

  • The second half of the 1/2/70 “Feelin’ Groovy” sounds like it is inventing “Sugar Magnolia,” which doesn’t appear on a tape before 6/24/70 – when it bursts, half-formed out that night's "Tighten Up" jam, inside that night's "Dark Star."
  • The second half of the 9/18/70 “Tighten Up” sounds like it is inventing “The Wheel.”
  • In several of the speedier performances, Garcia leads the band into a place that’s related to the second half of the 1973 Watkins Glenn jam – which is itself close kin to “Fire on the Mountain.” Check out the final minute of 5/6/70 and 4/3/70 (1:25 until nearly the end) for examples.

The first 20 tracks on the mix are the highest-fidelity recordings, sequenced to provide both continuity and variation. The final five tracks are exciting performances that only circulate on lo-fi-but-listenable audience tapes (e.g., Portchester, 6/24/70).

There are no jump cuts or edited segues on this mix; I just managed start and end points for each performance.

111-minute mp3 mix zipped up here, which looks like this:

A note of thanks to my masked collaborator:

This mix would not have been possible without this amazing guide to where to find “Tighten Up” in the Dead’s recordings. I don’t know who “enjoy every (dead) sandwich” is, but they are awesome.

10 responses
Oh man John! This is gonna be great! Thanks for the nice email a few days back. Working on a response. Hope you are great! Todd Carey Www.Twitter.Com/ToddCarey Www.Instagram.Com/ToddCarey Mgmt@ToddCareyMusic.Com > On Jul 6, 2020, at 7:33 AM, Posthaven Posts wrote: > > 
Todd, I think you'll enjoy this one! Lots of early Dead rock-into-jazz-and-back-again variations on a loose theme, deftly moving out of and into other places.
Adore the tighten ups. Can’t wait to get into this! Thanks for what you do John! Todd Carey Www.Twitter.Com/ToddCarey Www.Instagram.Com/ToddCarey Mgmt@ToddCareyMusic.Com > On Jul 6, 2020, at 7:55 PM, Posthaven Comments wrote: > > 
Started listening today and love this. First thought on 1/2 was “inventing Sug Mag!” Then I read your similar suggestion. Thanks for doing these John!
Cheers, Todd!
John, I am ecstatic to have stumbled across this whole page of yours. Your projects are incredibly well thought out. I am beyond enthused to listen--to the Tighten Up Jams perhaps most of all. I had only just yesterday decided to seek out all the Tighten Up Jams for myself (the ones on that great list), for the sole purpose of doing a Tighten Up Jam project just like yours, for my own enjoyment. It would have been my first serious, extensive Dead scholarly editing project. Instead, I lucked out--I found a link to you, allowing me to skip all the work, and find all kinds of other goodies here too, and your writing is excellent and that makes it so much more fun. I am forever grateful to you, Mr. John Hilgart. The 10/31/71 is something I have personally extracted out of that Dark Star and done things with (Lol) because it is one of my absolute favorite musical passages in life. Jazzy, complex, beautiful...also natural, and tough, from that slight grungy rough-around-the-edges feel...but most of all it is soulful, gorgeous--moments of gentle intricate beauty, and also hitting on a real piercing emotion at several points during it. I don't know why it is not straight-up famous. And yet, all this time I was misled to believe that it was "a Kingfish song which the Dead played just that one time". When I found out that's a lie, my eyes bugged out, and an insane grin took over my face! I quickly saw that I've always owned a second version of it, on Dicks Picks 8, but I never knew about it (which might be what I deserved, for perennially skipping Dancin' in the Streets, ha!). Well, that version of Tighten Up is FAST! And I can't WAIT to hear the others. Leaving the relevant Feelin' Groovies attached, that was a nice touch. Thank you again. Would you consider doing a Little Stars project ("Bob Star")?. It's something that I've only read about. I am in love with listening to and learning about the neglected very-early eighties. Several released shows are among my absolute favorites (like 5-6-81 and 5-16-81 and 11-30-80), but I know I'm only scratching the surface. Teach us more! --Ryan
Ryan, I appreciate your comments so much! That final, '71 "Tighten Up" really is something. I couldn't find a better way to start the mix. Hilarious about your "Dancin'" skips. I had not listened to enough versions to know that "Tighten Up" often happened in the middle of it. I find the tempos and approaches flexible and diverse enough that you can listen to quite a lot of the compilation before wanting a new song. I'm no "Bob Star" expert. Hope the "Tighten Up" mix paid off for you.
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