The Dead recorded this song on their Blues for Allah album which came out in 1975. Bob Weir and John Perry Barlow wrote ‘The Music Never Stopped’ over the telephone. Bob played his guitar part of the song over the phone to John, and John just started spitting lyrics out for the song. He was living in Wyoming at the time on a ranch, and he started by describing the weather situation that he was dealing with, where it was late summer in a dry year and things were hot and kind of dull and dead. Barlow then paints a self-portrait for the Grateful Dead to play and sing, one which encompassed the entire experience of being on the road, playing in town after town like a traveling circus, along with the experience of the Deadheads, who would gather and party at the concerts.
Barlow described why people go to Grateful Dead concerts in this song. He starts out with a rural American setting, one with corn in the field and fish in the river, where people are in tune with nature. There are mosquitoes and birds and it is really hot out there, so hot that it is hard to speak. This guy thinks that he hears a fiddle, but it could have been the wind. Now it is clear that the sound is coming from a band that is out on the highway, as he hears a rainbow full of sound. He sees fireworks and hears calliopes (a musical instrument that produces sound by sending a gas, originally steam or more recently compressed air, through large whistles that were commonly used in circuses) and there are clowns. The party is on and people are dancing and clapping their hands. Barlow gives a poetic description of the evening saying, “Sun went down in honey. Moon came up in wine. Stars were spinnin’ dizzy”.
People are so happy to hear the band, no one seems to care about the time and they are all joining hands. It seems impossible, unless you have ever gone to a Dead concert, but Barlow says, “While the music plays the band.” They get so involved playing their music, that they become dissolved into the songs. This next line always makes me smile when this guy cries out, “Lord, they’re setting us on fire.” This makes me think that the Grateful Dead are really cooking now. He hears a rooster, sees lightning, old men are singing, women laugh and children scream, while the band keeps playing and everyone is dancing through to daylight. It is now morning and he notices that the band has packed up and they are gone and this makes him wonder, were they ever here at all? People are still dancing, clapping their hands and all of a sudden it is Tuesday and he feels a cool breeze. He is satisfied as this year the corn is going to be a bumper crop. “The fields are full of dancing, Full of singing and romancing, ‘Cause the music never stopped.”
There’s mosquitoes on the river.
Fish are rising up like birds.
It’s been hot for seven weeks now,
Too hot to even speak now.
Did you hear what I just heard?
Say, it might have been a fiddle,
Or it could have been the wind.
But there seems to be a beat, now.
I can feel it in my feet, now.
Listen, here it comes again!
There’s a band out on the highway.
They’re high-steppin’ into town.
They’re a rainbow full of sound.
It’s fireworks, calliopes and clowns —
Come on, children. Come on, children,
Come on clap your hands.
Sun went down in honey.
Moon came up in wine.
Stars were spinnin’ dizzy,
Lord, the band kept us so busy
We forgot about the time.
They’re a band beyond description
Like Jehovah’s favorite choir.
People joinin’ hand in hand
While the music plays the band.
Lord, they’re setting us on fire.
Crazy rooster crowin’ midnight.
Balls of lightning roll along.
Old men sing about their dreams.
Women laugh and children scream,
And the band keeps playin’ on.
Keep on dancin’ through to daylight.
Greet the morning air with song.
No one’s noticed, but the band’s all packed and gone.
Was it ever here at all?
But they keep on dancing.
C’mon, children. C’mon, children,
Come on clap your hands.
Well, the cool breeze came on Tuesday,
And the corn’s a bumper crop.
The fields are full of dancing,
Full of singing and romancing,
‘Cause the music never stopped.
Written for 11/18/18 Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday Theme where the prompt is “listen”.