Song of the Day #4,649: ‘Friend of the Devil’ – Grateful Dead

‘Friend of the Devil’ is my fourth Song of the Day from Grateful Dead’s classic 1970 album American Beauty, and probably my favorite of the bunch.

American Beauty is considered one of the greats, and I can’t argue with that assessment. The folk rock sound is sublime, the songs are memorable, the lyrics are evocative. My knowledge of the Dead pretty much starts and stops with this album, but it’s enough to make me understand their appeal.

Today’s track is a mournful outlaw ballad reframed as a jaunty romp. Read the lyrics without listening to the song and you think you’re in for a real downer. Then press play and find yourself in a very different place.

[Verse 1]
I lit out from Reno, I was trailed by twenty hounds
Didn’t get to sleep that night ’til the morning came around

[Chorus]
Set out runnin’ but I take my time
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
Just might get some sleep tonight

[Verse 2]
Ran into the devil, babe, he loaned me twenty bills
Spent the night in Utah in a cave up in the hills

[Chorus]
Set out runnin’ but I take my time
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
Just might get some sleep tonight

[Verse 3]
I ran down to the levee but the devil caught me there
He took my twenty dollar bill and he vanished in the air

[Chorus]
Set out runnin’ but I take my time
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
Just might get some sleep tonight

[Bridge]
Got two reasons why I cry away each lonely night:
The first one’s named sweet Anne Marie, and she’s my heart’s delight
The second one is prison, babe, and the sheriff’s on my trail
And if he catches up with me, I’ll spend my life in jail

[Verse 4]
Got a wife in Chino, babe, and one in Cherokee
The first one says she’s got my child, but it don’t look like me

[Chorus]
Set out runnin’ but I take my time
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
Just might get some sleep tonight

[Bridge]
Got two reasons why I cry away each lonely night:
The first one’s named sweet Anne Marie, and she’s my heart’s delight
The second one is prison, babe, the sheriff’s on my trail
And if he catches up with me, I’ll spend my life in jail

[Verse 4]
Got a wife in Chino, babe, and one in Cherokee
The first one says she’s got my child, but it don’t look like me

[Chorus]
Set out runnin’ but I take my time
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
Just might get some sleep tonight

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,649: ‘Friend of the Devil’ – Grateful Dead

  1. Hunter and the members of NRPS were all down to the kitchen in Kentfield waiting to enjoy some espresso that Dawson was going to make on his new machine, when they got to talking about the tune and John said the verses were nifty except for the line that he wrote, “it looks like water but it tastes like wine”, which he thought could use some improvement and this line ended up getting replaced by the Sweet Anne Marie verse. Suddenly Dawson’s eyes lit up and he crowed out, “How about a friend of the devil is a friend of mine.”

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    My first exposure to this song was the excellent Counting Crows cover, though I recognized it as a Grateful Dead song based on the style. I’m sure it is sacrilege to say to a Dead Head, but I far prefer the Crows version, just as I like their cover Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” a bit more than the original. What can I say? The Crows do really good covers!

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