Greatest Story Ever Told

Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Music: Bob Weir, Mickey Hart

Originally based around a recording of a pump at Mickey Hart's ranch, which explains the title "Pump Song" on Mickey Hart's album Rolling Thunder. When it was first played by the Grateful Dead on 18 February 1971, Weir introduced it "Mickey wants to call this one 'The Pump Man', for reasons of his own". Robert Hunter titled it "Moses" but Weir changed that to "Greatest Story Ever Told".

Moses come riding up on a quasar (note 1)
His spurs was a-jingling, the door was ajar
His buckle was silver, his manner was bold (note 2)
I asked him to come on in out of the cold
His brain was boiling, his reason was spent
Nothing is borrowed, nothing is lent
I asked him for mercy, he gave me a gun
Now and again these things just got to be done

Abraham and Isaac sitting on a fence (note 3)
Get right to work if you have any sense
You know the one thing we need is a left-hand monkey wrench

Gideon come in with his eyes on the floor
Says, "you ain't got a hinge, you can't close the door"
Moses stood up a full six foot ten
Said "you can't close the door when the wall's caved in"
I asked him for water he poured me some wine (note 4)
We finished the bottle then broke into mine
You get what you come for, you're ready to go
And it's one in ten thousand done come for the show

Abraham and Isaac digging on a well (note 3)
Mama come quick with the water witch spell
Cool clear water where you can't never tell
(1) Hunter originally wrote this as "Moses come riding up on a guitar." That was what Weir sang in very early versions, but he subsequently changed the lyrics to "... on a quasar" - having also used "in the bar car" in intermediate versions. Hunter commented on this in an interview with David Gans:
"I didn't put that. I wrote "Moses came riding in on a guitar." Weir didn't want to sing that, and I exchanged "quasar" for "guitar" and he thought "oh, that's great." And subsequently I thought "whoa - wait!" It doesn't fit that song in any way. "Guitar" fits it - it's a wooden image, it has wood in it. You know, wood and metal. And there's fences and stuff like that. It fits the textures that are happening in the song. "Quasar" does not fit it - that comes from outer space."
(2) some have suggested it should be "His buckler was silver ..." This would make equal sense, but Robert Hunter's printed lyrics in "Box Of Rain" show it as "buckle" - and to my ears, that's what Weir sings.
(3) Weir doesn't sing these sections in early versions.
(4) On at least some occasions, Weir sang " He asked me for water I poured him some wine". (Thanks to Todd Prusin for pointing this out)

Grateful Dead Recordings
     Date Album
     18 Feb 1971 American Beauty (50th Anniversary Edition)
     19 Feb 1971 Three From The Vault
     21 Feb 1971 Workingman's Dead (50th Anniversary Edition)
     18 Mar 1971 30 Trips Around The Sun
     26 Mar 1972 Dave's Picks Vol 14
      7 Apr 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
     11 Apr 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
     16 Apr 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
     26 Apr 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
     29 Apr 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
      3 May 1972 Europe '72: Vol. 2 (note 3)
      4 May 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
      7 May 1972 Steppin' Out with the Grateful Dead: England '72 (note a)
     10 May 1972 Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings
     27 Aug 1972 Sunshine Daydream (CD and DVD)
     19 Sep 1972 Dave's Picks Bonus Disc 2023
     24 Sep 1972 30 Trips Around The Sun
     27 Sep 1972 Dick's Picks Vol 11
     17 Oct 1972 Listen To The River: St Louis '71 '72 73
     18 Nov 1972 Houston, Texas 11-18-1972
     26 Feb 1973 Dick's Picks Vol 28
      2 Apr 1973 Dave's Picks Volume 21
     13 May 1973 Here Comes Sunshine
     20 May 1973 Here Comes Sunshine
      9 Jun 1973 Here Comes Sunshine
     22 Jun 1973 Pacific Northwest '73-'74
     24 Jun 1973 Pacific Northwest '73-'74
     26 Jun 1973 Pacific Northwest '73-'74
      8 Sep 1973 Dave's Picks Volume 38
     29 Oct 1973 Listen To The River: St Louis '71 '72 73
      9 Nov 1973 Winterland 1973 - The Complete Recordings
     11 Nov 1973 Winterland 1973 - The Complete Recordings
      6 Dec 1973 Road Trips Volume 4 (bonus disc)
     23 Feb 1974 Dave's Picks Volume 42
     17 May 1974 Pacific Northwest '73-'74
     19 May 1974 Pacific Northwest '73-'74
     16 Jun 1974 Road Trips Number 2, Volume 3 (bonus disc)
     31 Jul 1974 Dave's Picks Volume 2
     28 Dec 1979 Road Trips Vol 3, No 1
      6 May 1981 Dick's Picks Vol 13
      9 Oct 1981 Dead Set
     14 Oct 1983 Dick's Picks Vol 6
     30 Dec 1983 30 Days Of The Dead (2018)
     24 Jun 1985 30 Trips Around The Sun
     27 Mar 1987 Dave's Picks Volume 36
     12 Jun 1987 Giants Stadium 1987, 1989, 1991 Boxed Set
      3 Apr 1989 Download Series Vol 9
      4 Jul 1989 Truckin' Up To Buffalo (DVD & CD soundtrack)
     25 Mar 1990 Spring 1990 (The Other One)
      8 Jul 1990 View From The Vault (video/DVD & CD soundtrack)
     20 Jun 1991 Download Series Vol 11
Other Dead-related Recordings
     Date Album Recorded By
     studio 1972 Ace Bob Weir
     studio 1972 Rolling Thunder Mickey Hart (titled "Pump Song")
     3 Apr 2022 Ace (50th anniversary edition) Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros
Other recordings
     Date Album Recorded By
     2004 Werewolves Of Atlanta: Halloween 2004 Dark Star Orchestra
     2011 Persuasions of the Dead The Persuasions
      7 Dec 2013 Dos Grateful Grass
     2015 Punk Is Dead Punk Is Dead

(a) also on the box set Europe '72 - The Complete Recordings

A documentary produced by David Gans and issued on Best Of The Grateful Dead Hour traces the development of this song

Further Information
For an online discussion of the lyrics to this song see the deadsongs.vue conference on The Well.
For more information on recordings see Matt Schofield's Grateful Dead Family Discography
For information on references in the lyrics see David Dodd's Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics
For David Dodd's discussion of this song on see Greatest Stories Ever Told
For online chords and TAB see


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