Backstory: Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72
10 November 2020 | Various Sources | James Porteous
Grateful Dead may be one of the most misunderstood bands in rock music. Or completely understood by people who do not like or understand them.
It does not really matter to anyone who enjoys their music, of course, but one of the real and true issues for any newcomer to The Dead is trying to decide where the hell to start exploring their music.
Every Deadhead has a favorite album they would recommend.
Some think it best to begin in order, starting with the early psychedelic era while others will recommend the more country-based period of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty.
All good suggestions, of course, and all are albums that will be explored in due course but I have often thought that this album, Europe ’72 might be the single best place to start.
The album was released in November 1972 as a three-record set. Remember this was pre-internet so the album just sort of appeared one day without much warning. Word did get out and I remember heading out, as a fairly broke 18-year-old, to my local record store to check it out.
I was a bit stunned to discover that it was three records. In those days bands hardly ever released two album sets, let alone three.
But here is was. In my hands.
Even more confusing was the fact that while some of the songs were known to fans, many, including Jack Straw and Brown-Eyed Woman seemed to be… brand new.
For the record, the following are also noted as having been ‘released’ on vinyl for the first time on this album:
Mr. Charlie [debuted 7/31/71; appeared on “Europe ’72” ]
Brown-Eyed Women [debuted 8/23/71; appeared on “Europe ’72” ]
Ramble On Rose [debuted 10/19/71; appeared on “Europe ’72” ]
Jack Straw [debuted 10/19/71; appeared on “Europe ’72” ]
Tennessee Jed [debuted 10/19/71; appeared on “Europe ’72” ]
He’s Gone [debuted 4/17/72; appeared on “Europe ’72”]
This all seemed especially odd given that Jack Straw (Bob Weir/Robert Hunter) and Brown-Eyed Woman (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter) would henceforth be considered two of the best songs either would ever right. But welcome to The World of the Dead.
Believe it if you need it
If you don’t, just pass it on.
That might not seem all that odd in this day and age but at the time it was impossible to ascertain whether these songs were in fact new or whether the listener had been asleep at the wheel and somehow missed their ‘official’ release.
All thoughts and questions soon passed to the wayside the moment the needle hit the vinyl. Talk about a long strange trip. The album covered every aspect of the band, from country to rock to way-out long jams.
The new songs were fantastic and the band, after seemingly losing their way for a while, showed they were in top form.
There is in fact not a bad song on this, and again, that is quite remarkable for a three-album set. No filler as we used to say.
Even the first side is quite remarkable: a rocking version of Cumberland Blues, the dreamlike He’s Gone and the trippy rocker One More Saturday Night.
As I say, that is just side one. I remember taking a bit of a rest before flipping to side two and here again, it was obvious that it was going to be a long, strange and wonderful trip.
I have truly lost count as to how many times I have listened to this album, either entire sides or particular songs.
I listened to it yesterday (hence this piece) and as usual, I found it truly remarkable that it would likely not only sound fresh to new fans, but to old fans like myself.
It ranks up there with The Band album, I think. And of course many of the Hunter songs spring from the same well drawn by Robbie Robertson.
I have included a few links and articles below that might help a newcomer to find their way around this strange opus. Much of it will be from Wikipedia, something I don’t often do but in this instance, their coverage is actually very good.
For newcomers, I would suggest putting this on and as much as you can in this day and age, just sit back and let it wash over you. The details can wait, but you can start with the song listing below, where I have made a notation of whether it is Jerry Garcia or Bob Weir or PigPen singing the lead vocals in their first instance so you can try to map it as it goes along.
One note, which I did not know until doing research, is that lyricist Robert Hunter is co-writer on most of the tracks. Hunter is now known as the quintessential Americana wordsmith who teamed up with Garcia for decades, but I had forgotten that at this point he was also sharing writing duties with Weir, who apparently had a falling out with Hunter and soon teamed-up with the equally talented John Barlow.
And finally, people will point out that this is sort of the ‘best of’ their extensive Europe 1972 tour and that is certainly true, and ALL of the other shows are available, but I would suggest sticking with this one before venturing forth.
Having said that, the list below indicates where each song was recorded so at one point one can easily begin taking part in another Deadhead ritual: search for your favorite shows!
ORIGINAL 3LP VERSION
A1. Cumberland Blues (Jerry Garcia/Phil Lesh/Robert Hunter) (5:47) Lead Vocal: Jerry Garcia
A2. He’s Gone (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter) (7:12)
A3. One More Saturday Night (Bob Weir) (4:45) Lead Vocal: Bob Weir
B1. Jack Straw (Bob Weir/Robert Hunter) (4:46)
B2. You Win Again (Hank Williams) (3:54)
B3. China Cat Sunflower (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter) (5:33)
B4. I Know You Rider (Traditional, arr. by the Grateful Dead) (4:55)
C1. Brown-Eyed Woman (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter) (4:45)
C2. Hurts Me Too (Elmore James) (7:18) Lead Vocal: Ron McKernan (aka Pigpen)
C3. Ramble On Rose* (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter) (6:09)
D1. Sugar Magnolia (Bob Weir/Robert Hunter) (7:04)
D2. Mr. Charlie (Ron McKernan/Robert Hunter) (5:40)
D3. Tennessee Jed (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter) (7:15)
E1. Truckin’ (Jerry Garcia/Phil Lesh/Bob Weir/Robert Hunter) (13:08)
E2. Epilogue** (The Grateful Dead) (4:53)
F1. Prelude (The Grateful Dead) (8:08)
F2. Morning Dew (Tim Rose/Bonnie Dobson) (10:35)
Jerry Garcia (lead guitar, vocals)
Donna Godchaux (vocals)
Keith Godchaux (piano)
Robert Hunter (songwriter)
Bill Kreutzmann (drums)
Phil Lesh (electric bass, vocals)
Ron (Pigpen) McKernan (organ, harmonica, vocals),
Bob Weir (rhythm guitar, vocals).
Recorded by Betty Cantor, Jim Furman, Bob Matthews, Rosie and Wizard; mixed by Bob and Betty and the Grateful Dead.
Europe ’72 is a live triple album by the Grateful Dead, released in November 1972. It covers the band’s tour of Western Europe in April and May that year, and showcases live favourites, extended improvisations and several new songs including “Jack Straw” and “Brown Eyed Women”. The album was the first to include pianist Keith Godchaux and his wife, Donna Jean Godchaux, and the last to feature founding member Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who died shortly after its release.
The European tour was expensive and logistically complicated, and the band’s record company hoped that a live album would recoup its costs. Consequently, the entire tour was recorded, with highlights making it onto the final release. Europe ’72 is one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed albums by the Dead. It was one of the first triple-record rock albums to be certified gold by RIAA; the album has since been certified double platinum. A second volume was released in 2011, in conjunction with the release of the entire 22-date tour as Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings. -Wikipedia
Prior to the Grateful Dead’s 1972 tour of Western Europe, the band had undergone several changes in personnel. Drummer/percussionist Mickey Hart left the group in early 1971, making Bill Kreutzmann the group’s sole drummer once again. Keyboardist Keith Godchaux was recruited, in September 1971, initially to augment founding member Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who had been hospitalized and was experiencing increasingly poor health. Additionally, Godchaux’s wife Donna (a former session singer who had worked with Percy Sledge and Elvis Presley) officially joined the band as a backup vocalist in March, shortly before the tour commenced.
As the band became more popular and they were booked into larger venues, the touring entourage encompassed extra road crew, administrative staff, friends and relatives, growing to 43 people who became known as the “Grateful Dead Family”. The tour began with two nights at the Empire Pool, Wembley on April 7–8, 1972. It progressed through Denmark, Germany (including an appearance on the TV Show Beat Club) and France. The Dead returned to the UK to play the Bickershaw Festival on May 7 (Kreutzmann’s birthday), progressing through Continental Europe again (including a show recorded for Radio Luxembourg) and ending with a four-night stand at the Lyceum Theatre, London on May 23–26. The final show was the last that featured McKernan as a lead vocalist; he performed at one more show the following month before retiring from music, dying in March 1973.
By the time the tour started, lead guitarist Jerry Garcia had switched from using the Gibson SG to a 1959 Fender Stratocaster. He had become increasingly influenced by country and traditional American music. Songs such as “Jack Straw” stemmed from these influences, while “Cumberland Blues” and “Tennessee Jed” had lyrics relating to American historical culture. “Truckin’“, which was then the band’s biggest hit single, talked about the band’s experiences on the road. The Dead began performing “China Cat Sunflower” (from Aoxomoxoa) as a medley with the traditional “I Know You Rider”, linking their psychedelic past with the group’s new direction.
The band hoped that the expensive trip to Europe would be financially offset by the release of a live-album documentation of the tour. Consequently, the Dead’s record label, Warner Bros., paid for the band to travel with a professional 16-track recorder.
Europe ’72 was the third live album by the Dead in as many years, showcasing how the group’s reputation was based on live shows. The album contained mostly new material, in addition to live arrangements of tracks found on previous studio albums. Garcia continued his songwriting collaboration with lyricist Robert Hunter.
Rhythm guitarist Bob Weir also collaborated with Hunter, though the pair subsequently fell out, leading Weir to collaborate with John Perry Barlow after Europe ’72. Pigpen made his third singing-songwriting contribution to a Dead album, writing “Mr. Charlie” with Hunter. The new songs were never officially released in studio form except “One More Saturday Night”, which came out as a single to promote the tour and then appeared on Bob Weir’s solo album, Ace. Consequently, Europe ’72 was treated as a new-material release as much as a live retrospective, and the new songs on the album were considered definitive versions.
Although Europe ’72 is billed as a live album, the songs were subject to various studio overdubs, particularly vocals. Several of the songs with Garcia on lead vocals were pitched sharp by as much as a half-step. Weir later said that the overdubbing was a mutual decision by the band and the record company, and both were happy to polish up the album for release.