"Everybody's dancing in a ring around the sun..."

The Annotated "The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
1997-1998 Research Associate, Music Dept., University of California Santa Cruz.
Copyright notice; © 199-2001, David Dodd
"The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)"
Words and music by The Grateful Dead
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.
See that girl, barefootin' along,
Whistlin' and singin', she's a carryin' on.
There's laughing in her eyes, dancing in her feet,
She's a neon-light diamond and she can live on the street.

Hey hey, hey, come right away
Come and join the party every day.

Well everybody's dancin' in a ring around the sun
Nobody's finished, we ain't even begun.
So take off your shoes, child, and take off your hat.
Try on your wings and find out where it's at.

Hey hey, hey, come right away
Come and join the party every day.

Take a vacation, fall out for a while,
Summer's comin' in, and it's goin' outa style
Well, lie down smokin', honey; have yourself a ball,
Cause your mother's down in Memphis, won't be back 'till the fall.

Hey hey, hey, come right away
Come and join the party every day.

"The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)"

Title of the Rhino Records box set. Use this link to order a copy from Amazon.com and support the Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics! The Golden Road (1965 - 1973)

Musical details:

Recorded on Grateful Dead.

Performed for a period of about six months during 1967.

Covered by The Bobs Cover the Songs Of..." (Rounder 9049, 1994)

Because it's the first song on the first album recorded by the Dead, this song has particular significance, deserved or not. Perhaps most notably, Blair Jackson and Regan McMahon's magazine was named for this song.

Everybody's dancing' in a ring around the sun

Compare the opening line from the song "Stealin'":
Put your arms around me like a ring around the sun

"Stealin'" (recorded on the Garcia/Grisman CD Shady Grove), was an early jug band tune recorded by the Memphis Jug Band (on The Country Blues--Folkways RF001, 1959). The Grateful Dead also recorded the tune as an early single.

And this note from a reader:

Subject: The Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion
Date: Wed, 12 Mar 1997 19:25:32 -0500 (EST)

Dear David,

I was listening to The Golden Road, and when I heard the phrase "Everybody's Dancin' in a ring around the sun...." I remembered a striking simliarity between those words and something I had learned with my chavrusah (learning partner) Joshua. In the Gemara, or Jewish oral law that was written down, a book dealing with the subject of fasts and fast days closes on a happy note very similar to the lyrics in The Golden Road. The following passage is from the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Tannis, page 31, side A, lines 24-27. Bold writing means literal translation and regular print is accompanying explanations:

Ulla Biraah said in the name of Rabbi Elazar: In the future the Holy One, Blessed is He, will make a circle of all the righteous people, and he will sit among them, in the middle of the circle, in the Garden of Eden; and each and every one will point with his finger toward Him, as it says: He shall say on that day, "Behold! This is our God; we hoped to Him and He saved us; this is Hashem to Whom we hoped; let us exult and be glad in His salvation."

This understanding was derived from Isaiah, Chapter 25, verse 9. It says: This is our God.....this is Hashem.... The use of the word this implies that the righteous people will actually point to God's divine presence. This comment has been brought down from tradition since the beginning of the torah, as given by famous Jewish commentator and explainer Rashi.

Further comment of the same magnitude, but of a different rabbi, yields us more on this passage. The following is a paraphrasing of the works on the above cited section by the great Pri Tzaddick, from his commentary on the biblical section of Korach:
"In a profounder sense, this encirclement of God represents a level of Divine revelation beyond what is possible for the rational human intellect to experience. The Gemara thus teaches that in the future God will significantly reveal Himself to the righteous, and that, further, they will perceive the revelation equally. For a circle has no or end; rather, all points in the circle are equidistant from the center. Similarly, all the righteous people piviledged to join this circle will be in equal proximity to the Divine light emanating from the center.

Jay L.

This all written down hundreds of years before any member of the Grateful Dead was born. Take it for it for its worth.

This note, from another point of view, on the same line:

-----Original Message----- From: agraham@csusb.edu [mailto:agraham@csusb.edu]
Sent: Saturday, March 15, 2003 6:46 PM
Subject: (The Golden Road) To Unlimited Devotion

Dear David,

I wanted to comment on the line in (The Golden Road) To Unlimited Devotion. In the line, "Everybody's dancing in a ring around the sun."

Every so often, there is a ring that appears around the sun due to ice crystals in the atmosphere, it appears as a ring and can be a very spiritual sign for some. I remember hearing stories about certain groups of people attaching great significance to days or times when this would occur. I remember one instance that this occured at a Dead show that I attended, (Irvine 1987?) everyone was amazed.

Thanks for the absolutely wonderful site. My husband and I often refer to it when we need reference to a lyric.


~ Anne Graham

Thanks, Anne--It appears to be a solar halo formed by ice crystals. See http://www.sundog.clara.co.uk/halo/circular.htm for a great picture of the phenomenon of a solar halo.

Summer's comin' in...

Compare the first line of the earliest recorded song in the history of the English language, "Cuckoo Song": (Anonymous, ca. 1250)
"Summer is y-comen in,
Loude sing, cuckoo!
Groweth seed and bloweth meed
And spring'th the woode now--
Sing cuckoo!

Ewe bleateth after lamb,
Low'th after calfe cow;
Bullock starteth, bucke farteth.
Merry sing, cuckoo!

Cuckoo, Cuckoo!
Well sing'st thou, cuckoo:
Ne swike thou never now!

Sing cuckoo, now! Sing, cuckoo!

First posted: April 19, 1995
Revised: September 10, 2001
Revised: June 20, 2005