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GRATEFUL DEAD “EUROPE ‘72”
Cumberland Blues/He’s Gone/One More Saturday Night/Jack Straw//You Win Again/China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider//Brown-Eyed Woman/Hurts Me Too/Ramble On Rose//Sugar Magnolia/Mr Charlie/Tennesee Jed//Truckin’/Epilogue//Prelude/ Morning Dew
Dear readers, I am in love. You see I have a new phone (see our corresponding top five this week) only some nine years after buying my last one (which is pretty good for me. At the same time my chronic fatigue has been driving me monkeynuts and I’m barely sleeping at the moment, leaving whole great vast wastelands of the night empty. So it’s the perfect time to have come across ‘DeadCast’, a wonderful little invention that connects to a radio station in San Francisco that does nothing else except play Grateful Dead concerts 24/7. I’ve owned my phone for several weeks now and I must have heard about three full concerts every day, from the glorious technicolour all-singing all-dancing European jaunt of 1972 right through to the ailing Garcia’s last work in 1995 that seems to come in monochrome. I’ve always found that when I get into the Dead’s music I really get into it and can’t listen to (or write) about music the same way – effectively modern jazz played on ‘proper’ instruments, there’s nothing quite as transcendental as a Dead concert when the band are in full swing. Naturally my thoughts have turned towards reviewing them last week while I’m still in the ‘zone’ and although I’ve baulked at writing about all 200 ‘Dick’s Picks’/archive concerts from the Dead canon this live-album-with-new-material is fair game (talking of ‘zones’ I’ve only just discovered the Dead did the music for the Twilight Zone remake of the 1980s – guess what my other obsession this past month has been, albeit the original unbeatable black-and-white epics? There’s a Stephen Stills episode too so expect a ‘top five’ sometime soon...)
As the Dead’s only triple album, ‘Europe ‘72’ is their most comprehensive live record for anyone looking to why Dead concerts were so renowned. It wasn’t so much a tour as a 20th century raid: no less than seven band members, all with families, various road crew, recording engineers in charge of taping the album, secretaries and pr people travelled over along with a hefty amount of equipment (including a 16-track recorder back in the days when such things were rare even for studio recording). Immigration officials seeing that lot coming to play ‘music’, back in the days when European bands could only look on with envy at what their American brethren had, must have been rubbing their hands with glee at the chance to bust half the people and impound most of the equipment. Yet by Dead standards things went off pretty smoothly, helping cement the band’s reputation abroad as a real live band that could survive away from their Haight Ashbury upbringing. It’s a shame, in fact, that the Dead never pulled off any major tour like this again because by most accounts it brought the band together just when they needed it (more on why later) and some of the reviews of that tour were the best the band ever got. Then again, like most things with the Dead, perhaps they were already plenty big enough and didn’t want to get any bigger – the original vinyl edition advertises ‘songbooks’ and ‘t-shirts’ for sale, crass commercialism that seems the antithesis of the Dead (however well Jerry’s ties and ‘Cherry Garcia’ ice cream continues to sell).
Every genre is in here somewhere: heavy rocking, country, folk, blues, psychedelia, plus whatever-the-heck-genre-the-noisy-morass-the-jam-at-the-end-of-Truckin’ represents. The Dead shows off their quiet, reflective, mournful sides and their noisy, stomping rocking sides like never before, taking in short pop ditties and a mammoth jam that, on CD, takes up the whole of two sides of vinyl despite including only two recognisable tracks. There are better Dead live sets out there (‘Live/Dead’ from 1969 is still my favourite, with an opening hour of pure telepathic genius) and others have better material (‘Grateful Dead’ aka ‘Skulls and Roses’ from 1971 features ‘Wharf Rat’, which makes it a masterpiece in my book even if nothing else on the album quite reaches such heights). But ‘Europe ‘72’ is the most rounded and full experience of what it was like to be at a Dead show and why the Dead have a loyal following like no other – the closest fans could get to re-creating the Dead concert they’d just seen in their living room until the band’s dissolution in 1995 and the first in an ongoing series of several hundred archive concert releases. For many fans ‘Europe 72’ is more special than all of these tapes, even if it’s only slightly better than the mean average of all these recordings, simply because it was the first and for 23 years best representative of what it meant to be a Deadhead, highs and lows all lumped together.
The band are in good shape too in 1972, despite two horrendous events which both would have killed off lesser bands. The first is an ongoing management issue: always among the more trusting, passive-aggressive of bands, the Dead swap one difficult manager for another, giving the gig to drummer Mickey Hart’s dad Lenny and then watching in horror as he runs off across the border taking their money with him (Hart Senior is arrested when he tries to go back home a few months later, but the Dead never get their money back). Understandably Mickey, whose only just begun to trust his dad himself after a childhood where he was largely absent, is distraught and leaves the band for three years despite several measures by his colleagues to get him to stay. Thankfully this doesn’t hurt the band as much as you might think. Cutting the band’s drum attack back to one drummer again (like the Dead has been in 1967) doesn’t rob the band though as much as give them new life – founding drummer Billy Kreutzmann never played better than at the 1971-72 shows and some of his performances on this album are exemplary (‘Tennessee Jed’ might be one of the Dead’s most boring songs but Billy’s counter-attack drums are a joy to behold). The money troubles, too, are nothing new for a band who’d only just paid off several thousand dollars worth of debt to their record company in 1969 after albums two and three went a little, err, ‘over budget’ compared to their sales. The second event is more worrying. Keyboardist Pigpen had been growing frailer by the year as a wild childhood spent drinking took its toll and this sadly ends up being Pig’s last project with the band that he put together before his death in mid 1973. Going on tour against Dr’s orders, Pig doesn’t even get much of a chance to say goodbye, with just two vocals and one writing credit on the entire triple record (thankfully he gets another, even greater song on the CD re-issue which does help restore the balance a little). Fans and band alike saw the end coming, but it was no less of a shock when Pig struggled to the end of shows and even though his role in the band had been declining from day one (when the Dead were more or less a blues covers group) his presence in the band was essential, the ‘Earth’ plug the Dead needed to connect them with the ground every time they took off into the stratosphere. His ‘Two Souls In Communion’ really should have made the record, a gorgeous outpouring of bitter regret and self-loathing as lyrical and inventive as anything Garcia and Hunter wrote for the band. Pigpen’s death, at just 27, was a momentous loss; there’s still talk in the Grateful Dead team of putting out a ‘tribute’ to Pig featuring his eight last demo recordings on CD for the first time soon – if they’re up to this song it should be a very special release indeed.
As well as re-instating Kreutzmann as the lean, mean lone drummer the Dead deserved in this period, the band have another thing going for them in this period in the shape of Keith Godchaux, the band’s new keyboardist who joined on the 1971 tour but really comes into his own here. Fans have argued about Keith’s merits and worth ever since he joined; my feeling is that he’s perfect for the groovy, eclectic band the Dead were in the early to mid 70s when his light and flowery touches offer such a contrast to Pigpen’s earthly organ swell they take the band in different directions simultaneously; without Pigpen there and on the band’s harder-edged and more commercial late 70s material he often sounds a little lost. Along with the studio ‘Wake Of The Flood’ this album is Keith’s greatest moment with the Dead, turning ‘Tennessee Jed’ into a Wild Western slice of fun, soaring away in a marvellous simplistic solo in the rocky ‘Sugar Magnolia’ and making ‘He’s Gone’ sound like it’s a song in mourning about much more than the loss of some money and a manager. Shy and self-effacing, Keith couldn’t have been less like Pigpen (or Pigpen’s persona anyway) but his telepathy with Garcia in particular in this period is spot-on and must have been a huge sigh of relief for a band who needed to read each other at a split second’s notice. Keith also brought along (or should that be the other way around given that it was she who contacted Garcia about ‘your new piano player’ and wouldn’t take no for an answer?) his wife Donna, a similarly under-rated singer who turns in better performances on Elvis’ late 60s/early 70s singles than the King himself. She never fitted into the band musically as well as her husband, but again her presence in the first few years was welcome, particularly on ‘Sugar Magnolia’ which is transformed from a cute little country song into a hard-rocking duet. Along with ‘Sunrise’, Donna’s gorgeous song from ‘Terrapin Station in 1977, this is her greatest moment with the band and strong enough to help you overlook the occasional off-key squawling in later Dead concerts.
‘Europe ‘72’ is an album of beginnings and endings, then, recorded on a for-the-times whacking great mixing desk that travelled everywhere with the band on their first ever European tour (following a couple of one-off shows in 1970 and 1971). Most of this album was recorded in the UK’s Wembley Stadium (about 18 months before CSNY broke the record for attendance there) and Lyceum London Theatres, with some songs added in from performances in Amsterdam, Paris and Copenhagen. After five years touring America more heavily and more successfully than most bands, a trip to Europe seemed like an ‘adventure’ and the obvious thing to do by a band looking for a new direction – even though, given Pigpen’s ill health and their money troubles it probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do (the band went heavily into debt by bringing such a large touring crew, but successfully gambled on the sales of this record paying off the costs for the tour). While the Dead did tour Europe again (most famously with a show at the Egyptian Pyramids in 1978), it was never on quite the same scale again. As the souvenir of a make-or-break tour ‘Europe ‘72’ is hard to beat, although it’s probably fair to say that this album is also the point when the Dead stop trying to convince the general record-buying public to ‘hop on the bus’ and the band start releasing records with fans in mind instead. As a result this record got wildly differing reviews at the time of it’s release and continues to get them now – one poll I saw about ten years ago had ‘Europe 72’ listed in ‘best live albums’ and ‘greatest triple albums’ (admittedly quite a small category) and number nine on the ‘worst records of all time list’.
Somehow the idea of sitting through two full hours of the Dead, including one formless 40 minute jam has put lots of people off over the years – although as the converted among you will agree, somehow two hours doesn’t seem anything like long enough either to take in all the sights and sounds of a Dead concert. As ever with the Dead there are things that work really really well (a gorgeous floaty ‘Jack Straw’, the sweet-and-sour ‘He’s Gone’, a mammoth rock jam of ‘China Cat Sunflower’ into ‘I Know You Rider’ and a howling, mournful ‘Morning Dew’), things that work out ok if you’re in the right mood because at least no other band is daft/great/unique enough to do them (a 30-minute atonal version of ‘Truckin’ anyone, arguably the simplest and least suitable song in the entire Dead canon for such a coda?) and things that simply do not work (‘Cumberland Blues’ is one of the band’s most irritating songs which doesn’t deserve a second version just two years after the studio original, ‘Ramble On Rose’ and ‘Tennessee Jed’ are among the weakest of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter’s usually mighty high quality partnership and three limp country covers would test the patient of a saint (unless he’s Saint Stephen)). To say its hit-and-miss is an understatement: if only the band had spent longer whittling down the selections from the nights when they were really on it this album could have been a masterpiece (a lot of the 1972 shows are either out officially or broadcast on DeadCast; the bonus tracks on the CD re-issue also offer proof of this), as it is it’s merely another Dead near miss.
It’s a shame, too, that circumstances meant that the band were forced to release yet another live album so soon (a year) after their last (a double record this time). Now, before any Deadheads shriek in horror at that sentence let me explain: ‘Grateful Dead’ aka ‘Skulls and Roses’ is another album where original material is sandwiched by (generally weaker or previously released) cover songs – filler material by the usual rock and roll standards, even if traditional storytelling songs like ‘Brown Eyed Women’ are arguably as much of the story as the more modern sounding originals. The band had enough material across these two years to make up a really strong all-original effort: ‘Jack Straw’ ‘Wharf Rat’ ‘Bertha’ ‘Playing In The Band’ ‘He’s Gone’, maybe even a few songs that ended up on Garcia or Bob Weir’s first solo albums or Pigpen’s ‘Two Souls In Communion’ (arguably his greatest song), played at the end of the tour in Germany. Even on the heels of ‘American Beauty’, one of the Dead’s most rounded, mature and popular efforts, this would have made one hell of a follow-up. Hearing the strength of this material spread across what ended up being five different discs on two different records always seemed like a shame, however valuable it was to get the ‘full’ feeling of a Dead concert across on vinyl for the first time. Thankfully the band will go back to the studio and do things properly after this, recording the under-rated ‘Wake Of The Flood’ as a part tribute to Pigpen and part declaration of faith as the band near a decade together – a folky album on these same lines from the ‘Skulls and Roses’/’Europe ‘72’ material would have been delightful. And I’m not the only person to think so either – Robert Hunter even had an idea for the title (‘Ramble On Rose’) and track selection before Garcia sheepishly told him the next batch of compositions would be spread across live double and triple albums. Ah well, even in part, this record still manages plenty of magic while teaching fans the occasional virtues of patience!
I’ve loosely debated here before whether it truly matters where a live album was recorded – apart from sound and clarity, of course. While most AAA live albums have been relegated to our in-depth discussion of live records (see http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010_09_19_archive.html ), we have covered a few now (mostly for their unique, unissued material) recorded in such disparate places as New York and Leeds (two cities almost the polar opposite of each other...) and here we have another four venues to choose from (five if you count the bonus tracks). The Dead claimed that they could tell the countries they played apart culturally (the German audiences tending to be loudest – the band reckoning the WW2 damage-surrounded Hamburg infusing the spirit of their playing; the Amsterdam audience the most respectful, perhaps because of the sheer history at the Concertgabauw venue the Dead played in), while acknowledging the same fringes of Deadheads at each and every show (the ones trying to climb up on stage partying, those lost in their own musical world and those who’ve come for a natter with friends and a nice day out by the burger van where the music is an added extra). Garcia even added, in one typical insightful rap of the time, that Europe meant ‘order’ whilst America meant ‘chaos’ because ‘it simply hasn’t been around long even to have a form or an order’. What the Dead do here is bring chaos to a slightly muddier, murkier, set-in-its-ways-world and the effect is somehow more staggering than it is in when the Dead play to American audiences, even when heard on a record (the way the band tip to breaking point – and beyond sometimes – seems especially ‘wrong’ in a hall built for revered and rehearsed orchestral performances and all the more thrilling for it!) While I’d never claim to be able to tell which venue is which without looking, there does seem to be some hint of difference in the way the band plays (‘Sugar Magnolia’ and ‘Tennessee Jed’, both recorded here in Paris, are much ‘louder’ and aggressive than the way the band tends to play them throughout the rest of the 1970s; the Lyceum show in contrast sounds meandering and longwinded, even by mid 70s Dead standards). I’d love to know more about who dictated this triple set’s running order and why – hopping about from one song to another, with audience participation mixed down low so you don’t notice the join and with the ‘Weir’ songs stuck together there’s always been something ‘not quite right’ about the jolts from one track top another on this record that even some nifty fades and the natural space where you should be turning the record over can’t hide or explain.
The Dead certainly ‘fitted in’ to Europe much more successfully than Mouse’s hilarious cover artwork attests. While the Dead don’t exactly find the ‘pot of gold at the end of the rainbow’ as featured on the front cover (with one huge boot striding over from the Unites States), they aren’t the hapless, un-co-ordinated and vulgar stereotype American-abroad featured on the back cover either (memorably sticking an ice cream into his head because, well, that was the image Americans had abroad back then. And did again when George Bush was in office). Two of the most striking Dead images not involving skeletons, Mouse got his inspiration after hearing that the band had witnessed an amazing ‘double rainbow’ while on tour – where he got the inspiration for the ‘ice cream’ kid on the back, though, he’s never said!
Overall, then, ‘Europe ‘72’ is a nice souvenir of a milestone tour that captures the Dead at a tipping point in their career, halfway between the ‘rustic Americana’ and Pigpen-based blues of their past and halfway between the slicker, more produced band the Dead become (largely against their will) in the rest of the decade. If you’re new to the Dead and the first thing you hear is the 30 minute jam based around ‘Truckin’ then you have the perfect right to run away screaming and think that this band and everyone who listens to them is mad – but if you hear the album in order and accept it as a record that’s trying to show off every possible side of one of the most complex American bands that’s ever existed, then you’re in for a treat and even the cul-de-sacs and less successful experiments belong here – simply because the Dead were about including everything and no other band would be brave (or foolish – delete where applicable) to let such experiments go through. The Dead aren’t at their peak here and the fact that the ‘new’ songs are outnumbered and to some extent outshone by their old material is a bit of a shame, but given that the Dead are playing in foreign alien lands, with an ailing keyboardist and a new member in tow, whilst suffering from the loss of a drummer and most of the band’s money, ‘Europe ‘72’ isn’t half an impressive artefact. Like most Dead releases but more so, true Deadheads will love it all, casual fans will love bits of it and the rest of the world will just go ‘two hours of country covers and atonal jams – what’s all the fuss about, eh?!’ Frankly, it’s their loss – for anyone whose been touched by the grinning Dead skeleton of fate, we know better and listening to any other music never sounded quite as full, rich and transcendental ever again.
‘Cumberland Blues’ always struck me as a strange choice for the record. Compared to most Dead songs ‘Cumberland’ doesn’t possess the same space for jamming that most other songs on this album do, at the time of release it was only two years since the original had come out (on the ‘Workingman’s Dead’ album) and the song was never quite as popular with Deadheads as the other ‘re-treads’ here such as ‘Morning Dew’ or ‘Sugar Magnolia’. Like many a 1970 Dead song, this is about the struggle of the working classes, this time a miner whose been working so hard he barely has time to see anything of his missus and yet one who fears for his job as so many around him are out of work they would do anything to enjoy even this rotten, hard life. Famously an ex-member of the Cumberland mine told interviewers ‘I wonder what the guy who wrote this song would think if he knew a band like the Grateful Dead would record it?’, a backhanded compliment for composers Garcia, Hunter and Lesh who do a pretty good job at trying to write a traditional protest song. To be fair, this version of the song is light years better than the rather ragged studio original and the instrumental section in the middle is especially good, growling and howling the miner’s pain in a much better realisation of pain than the original, which rather treated the whole thing as a joke. The harmonies are much tighter too, despite being live (a bit of re-recording in the studio perhaps?) and new boy Keith Godchaux is in particular good form, adding a rolling rollicking piano part that wasn’t on the original and brightens the song up tremendously. It has to be said, though, ‘Cumberland Blues’ is too new a song to get a second airing just two years later and despite some improvements this song isn’t different enough to warrant it’s release. Most fans would also plump for almost any other ‘Workingman’s Dead’ over this one too – period performances of ‘High Time’ ‘Dire Wolf’ ‘Black Peter’ or ‘New Speedway Boogie’ from the European tour all deserve a place on the album more. Perhaps the Dead were simply thrilled to be in Britain for (almost) the first time and figured they ought to play one of their most traditional-sounding English folk songs on the tour?
‘He’s Gone’ is a new song and one of the best. Originally the song was Garcia and Hunter’s snarling put-down of Lenny Hart after the band’s manager ran off with all their money and, by Dead standards, the lyrics are harsher than normal (‘Like I told you, what I said, steal your face right off your head!’) However in time the song’s languid, lovely melody and poignant chorus (‘He’s gone – and nothing’s gonna bring him back!’) began to mean an awful lot more to the band, generally played in concert with a ‘deadication’ to someone who’d just died, whether they were in the public eye or part of the Dead’s extended family (for a time in 1973 most performances of ‘He’s Gone’ were for Pigpen). Certainly Garcia’s lush, relaxed melody sounds more like a tribute than a song of condemnation and his guitar-work on this song is particularly strong, with a choked, chunky guitar part that has a gruff sound quite unlike anything else around in 1972. Hunter’s written a better set of lyrics than this occasionally lazy list of metaphors, but as ever there’s much to enjoy from the Dead’s hippy philosopher, especially on the yeaning middle eight that expresses determination that the events won’t get the band down and are just one more worldly obstacle in their quest for spiritual togetherness (‘Lost one round but the price wasn’t anything, just a knife in the back and more of the same’). The Europe ‘72’ version may come early in the song’s incarnation (the Dead performed it right up to their last tour in 1995), but this original is by far the best, the band hitting just the right note of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and heartfelt sincerity and the harmonies of Garcia, Weir and Lesh wrap around each other smoothly for near enough the last time (Lesh gave up singing for a few years due to throat problems and even afterwards the band never really attempted the sort of close-knit harmonies heard here). One of the highlights of the record and certainly the best new Garcia-Hunter collaboration here.
‘One More Saturday Night’ is a rocking Bob Weir song that was only six months old at the time of release, having appeared on Weir’s first solo album ‘Ace’ in May 1972 (which is effectively the ‘missing’ studio Dead album from 1971-72, seeing as Bobby is backed by the rest of the Dead throughout). In time this song came to be the band’s ‘party’ song, generally appearing either as a rocky set opener or as an upbeat encore after a run of more lyrical performances. Like many a Dead song, this one evolved considerably in time and is already a great deal more powerful and aggressive than the rather timid interpretation heard on ‘Ace’, though not quite as all-out rock as the band’s late 70s and 80s performances of it. The highlight of the song is undoubtedly the guitar interplay between Garcia’s Chuck Berry impressions and Weir’s chunky rhythm, which mesh together in a style closer to the Stones’ work than most Dead songs (being that much younger than the rest of the band and playing rhythm in a band that uses bass as a second melodic part rather than a rhythm one meant Bob hardly ever got the chance to play a ‘normal’ rhythm part and when he does it’s nearly always on songs he wrote himself). The one part that doesn’t quite come off is Godchaux’s flowery piano: while usually bang on the money in these early days this Jerry Lee Lewis style lick doesn’t quite work on what should be a ‘guitar’ song. Empty and silly, with the only really memorable part of the garbled lyric coming when a group of Gods reveal they’ve designed planet Earth not for noble suffering or as a practice for what comes next but simply as a place to party, this song has enough of a groove to be a fine party record. It’s not in the same league as ‘Sugar Magnolia’, though, Bob’s other ‘rocking’ song of the period and the guitarist’s lyrics aren’t quite up to Bob Hunter’s.
Side one, though, might well be Weir’s shining moment with the band (along with the ‘Weather Report Suite’ from 1973). ‘Jack Straw’ is a Hunter lyric about an outlaw named Jack Straw – our UK politicians will know that name better as the name of a labour foreign secretary of the 1990s who might have been born several centuries later but still fits this song’s ‘lovable rogue outlaw’ persona quite well. The real Jack Straw was a British peasant who revolted during the Great Revolt of 1381 which, like most medieval uprisings, was due to excessive taxes. Unusually, there aren’t any more folk stories or poems that have built up around him (despite being quite a notorious figure of his day), so Hunter must have really done his homework on this song! The name is largely forgotten now (except to Dead fans and those who consider Blair’s Labour Party to be ‘outlaws in office’) but the name was passed down to a certain type of English bird (those known as the ‘whitethroat’ or, fittingly, ‘warblers’ which both feature the same distinctive habit of using straw in their nests). Hunter’s lyric is one of his best, with an us-and-them attitude closer to Robin Hood, with the storyteller clearly on the side of the outlaws as the song is given to us in the first person, usually chiding his followers on to be faster. There’s a classic opening verse where the outlaws’ supportive spirit is already stretched to breaking point (‘We can share what we got of yours, because we done shared all of mine!’) and a lyrical description of the almost balletic poise the outlaws have as they ‘hold up’ the rich to fund their lifestyle. Of course, things go wrong and the stakes get higher, Straw recounting how ‘we used to play silver, but now we play for life’ before fleeing from the law on ‘the fourth day of July’. However happy and genuinely well meaning the band of outlaws are, Hunter doesn’t stint from his depictions from the difficulties they face, the song poignantly ending with Straw backtracking to bury his old friends in a ‘shallow grave’ (all he has time to dig) before making one last, less jokey urging to his friend that ‘you’re moving way too slow’. Weir’s music is more than up to the words, though, with a epic melody that builds in intensity every verse and an excellent structure that passes the vocals between himself, Garcia and Lesh, in the true spirit of the ‘sharing’ nature of the lyrics. Garcia’s gentlemanly rogue, in particular, is an excellent performance and Jerry is on the ball throughout the song with some of his best work caught somewhere between urgency and grief. More than one fan has pointed to the similarities between Jack Straw in an un-named past (presumably the 14th century if this really is the ‘Jack Straw’ of legend) and the Grateful Dead in the present; persecuted and hunted despite being a very minor inconvenience to the law. Whether the band intended it or not, they certainly deliver one of their more sympathetic performances here on a piece that’s arguably the best composition and the best performance on the whole triple album. Superb.
Alas ‘You Win Again’ is probably the weakest recording on the album. While some sloppy performances of unsuitable cover songs are part of what the Dead concerts were all about, this one is one of the sloppiest and certainly in a top five of least suitable songs. A hoary hank Williams country song, the song possesses just one verse and not much of a melody so I’m always amazed at how popular it is – and how many people covered this song (Johnny Cash did the best version around of this song, although it’s a moot point whether there can be a ‘best’ version of a song so bad). The Dead haven’t bothered to learn the song, either, starting half-heartedly as the band pick out some notes and Garcia stretching his vocal way past what’s comfortable in a middle eight which, in that key, even Brian Wilson’s falsetto would struggle to nail. The highlight of this song is another surprisingly gruff guitar solo from Garcia that’s over far too soon and Keith Godchaux spoofing some hillbilly honkytonk in his chordal playing in the third repeat of the song’s lone verse. The band will do much better with this song’s ‘loser’ persona on, err, ‘Loser’ among other songs – this narrator is simply too self-pitying to be likeable.
‘China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider’ was always one of the band’s more successful live songs, ‘China Cat’ having a stately pounce and distinctive hop that made it naturally recognisable for live performances. China Cat is an incredible song, the sister to Ray Davies’ ‘Phenomenal Cat’ from ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ in 1968 (close enough in time to make me wonder if Garcia and Hunter knew the song firsthand), a daft poetic song about a chesire cat’s mysterious journeys in the night which makes the one from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’ stories seem positively tame. There are millions of great versions of this song out there, but this is one of the better ones, taking the song at a slightly faster lick than the ‘Aoxomoxoa’ original (from 1969). Garcia also knows this complicated nonsense song inside out, now, after several dozen performances compared to the mouthful of the original and the rest of the band have nailed its groove down well, with Godchaux’s piano especially really embellishing the song’s playfulness nicely. The unexpected chord change heading into the instrumental after the second verse is a signpost for some wonderful band interplay too, as Garcia stretches out knowing the rest of the band will catch him if he falls (which he never does). If the original was the Dead at their most psychedelic (with lyrics like ‘copper dome Bodhi drip a silver kimono like a crazy quilt stargown’), then this version is fully in keeping with 1972’s prog rock, stretching the song past it’s natural end and having fun exploring every avenue around the riff. Even for the Dead their interplay in this section is quite terrific and they nail the subtle change into the traditional song ‘I Know You Rider’ much better here than on most performances. While far from the best ye olde folk song the band did, its simple five line-five verse feel is highly fitting for the ‘china cat’ on his long journey crying out to those he’s left behind how ‘you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone’. Fans who want to hear what the original version sounded like should look out for the Byrds compilation ‘Never Before’, where America’s ‘other’ greatest band of the 1960s attempt this song as their long-delayed follow-u[p to the number one ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ (which is abandoned when they come up with ‘Eight Miles High’ a few weeks later). Harder rocking and more primitive than the Dead’s version, it’s the missing link between the ‘folk year’ of 1965 and the ‘hard rock psychedelia’ of 1966. The Dead’s version, though, is pretty special too and while I’m not sure if this later recording is actually better than the original it is very very good, especially the addition of an a capella section right at the end of the song.
‘Brown Eyed Women’ is a lesser bar-room epic from Garcia and Hunter, that might have sounded quite nice stripped back to the bare-bones in a studio setting (a la ‘Workingman’s Dead’ or ‘American Beauty’) but sounds a bit rushed and hurried here. While Garcia is as natural as ever, it sounds to me as if the rest of the band simply don’t the know the song that well yet. Lesh’s bass is particularly out of synch with the rest of the band, unusually, peaking during the ‘quiet’ moments and going limp in the ‘busy’ ones. Perhaps that’s because there’s so little here to really remember – the song just sort of ambles along without really doing much until we hit a sudden loud chorus that’s repeated a few too many times for comfort (‘Brown eyed women and red grenadine, the bottle was dusty but the liquor was clean!’) It’s yet another tale of a Jack Jones, working class man down on his luck, this time a bootlegger from the deep South during the depression (interesting that this album should feature two ‘Jacks’ and that this figure should share his name with the butcher from Dad’s Army – which had been running four years at the time this album came out – and in many ways reads like a Bob Hunter character). Unfortunately unlike Hunter’s other sensitive lyrics we don’t get to really learn this character’s ‘story’ – just the results of it, with Jones an alcoholic by the end of the song, so we don’t know quite how sympathetic we’re meant to be with him. At their best Garcia and Hunter were the best storytellers in the business, effortlessly re-creating an America from a hundred years earlier – but on this song inspiration seems to have let them both down.
‘It Hurts Me Too’ is an Elmore James cover that’s pretty awful too. If I was Pigpen I’d have been furious that such a bad performance of a song which the band hardly ever played (and quite honestly haven’t spent that much time learning) was left off the album instead one of my own, superior songs. Admittedly, there was talk at the time of Pig doing his own solo album, in the vein of Jerry’s and Bob’s (released in 1971 and 1972) so he may have been saving material for that – but if that’s true then why is the original ‘Mr Charlie’ on the record? And surely Pig was doing at least half a dozen cover songs at the time better – just listen to the ‘Bear’s Choice’ album (recorded in this era but only released after Pig’s death in 1973) where the rest of the band are a little shabby but Pig positively glows (‘Smokestack Lightning’ at least should have made this album!) Elmore James is famous for his slide guitar (George Harrison references him during ‘For You, Blue’ from the Beatles ‘Let It Be’ album) and the musical highlight here is Garcia trying to interpret that sound within his own characteristic playing, ending up with a hybrid of both on a solo that’s so slow it nearly stops all together. Lyrically this song should be right up Pigpen’s street, with its tale of being abandoned for another man, but the song isn’t right for his intensity or his chemistry, ending up sounding self-pitying instead of vengeful or hurt – it’s best known to modern audiences thanks to an Eric Clapton cover. The song suits him an awful lot better than the Dead. One of the Dead’s all time worst cover songs, this album is really falling apart in the middle...
‘Ramble On Rose’ is a little better, a third Garcia-Hunter song that’s not up to their best work but does at least have a catchy, insistent tune and sweet, if confusing lyrics. We’ve commented before that many of Hunter’s lyrics are based around metaphors, of people feeling something ‘like’ somebody else – well, here’s a whole song of them! In total there’s 10 ‘just likes’ across the song, from storytale children Jack and Jill to Victorian murderer Jack The Ripper (what is it with all the ‘Jacks’ on this album?!) to the lesser known ‘Crazy Otto’ (a German piano player) ‘Billy Sunday’ (a baseball player who turned to religion and helped form the Evangelist Church) and the more generic ‘Wolfman Jack’ (yep, another one!) The chorus is confusing in context, consisting of Garcia asking ‘did you say your name was rambling Rose?’ which doesn’t seem to bear any relation to the rest of the song, although it could be another of Hunter’s alter egos here (if anyone can ramble in a song, it’s him – hence the very clever middle eight ‘I’m gonna sing you a hundred verses in ragtime, I know this song ain’t ever going to end!’) There is an end to the song, though, one which tells us a sort of generic morality tale that ‘the grass ain’t greener, the wine ain’t sweeter, either side of the hill’ – possibly the story that all the characters in this song should have learnt (it’s certainly true for Frankenstein, who finds his world torn upside down when he creates his monster and the biblical tale of Jericho too, though I can’t say Jack The Ripper probably had too many sleepless nights seeing as he was never caught). Lovably daft, but impenetrably written, ‘Ramble On Rose’ sounds like one long in-joke we listeners aren’t really in on and even it’s author admitted in an interview of the time that it was ‘pure whimsy’. Alas, compared to the similarly loveably daft ‘China Cat Sunflower’ Garcia’s melody isn’t quite so memorable and the song isn’t quite as well loved by fans, although it is an improvement over both ‘Brown Eyed Women’ and ‘Tenessee Jed’. By the way, listen out to a funny noise about 4:15 that sounds like someone rubbing a balloon really fast – presumably its a bit of music equipment going awry although perhaps it was one of the many historical characters on this song making themselves known?
‘Sugar Magnolia’ is an old Dead classic and despite being only two years old at the time (it appeared on ‘American Beauty’) it’s already one of the established Dead classics in the set and sounds completely different to the rather timid studio original. Although not quite as butch’ as the muscly late 70s versions (the closest the Dead ever came to heavy rock), it’s obviously a lot more rock and roll than the country-ish studio version. Bob Weir’s lovely set of changes sound tailor made for radio airplay (which this song got a lot of, even though it was never technically released as a single) while Hunter’s corresponding lyric manages to be simpler than normal whilst still suitable for the Dead. Sugar Magnolia sounds like a sister of Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl’, a good time lass who can brighten up a room with her smile and – in a memorable couplet – knows exactly how to be valuable to the narrator: ‘She takes the wheel when I’m seeing double, pays my ticket when I speed’. A song born for dancing, Magnolia’s riff is as infectious as she is, pretty and easy on the air without being hollow or false. One of those classic rock songs written around some mythical creature of perfection, Magnolia doesn’t seem to put a foot wrong: a ‘summer love’ in ‘spring, fall and winter’, waiting patiently backstage while the narrator ‘sings to you’ (a nice break of the fourth wall there). Famously, Weir didn’t even know what the end of the song was when he began taping his lead vocal, Hunter scribbling the last two verses furiously and thrusting them to the vocal booth during a break (the Dead recorded ‘American Beauty’ on a very tight schedule, although that doesn’t show in the finished album at all). The Dead have played better versions of this song over the years (just listen to Garcia trip over himself at 4:50), but at the time those unlucky enough not to have heard how one of the Dead’s best loved songs had altered when played live were thrilled enough – especially with the coda that extends the song by another two minutes, features a terrific duet with Donna Godchaux and was even played separate to the main song for a time in the 70s (a piece Deadheads logged as ‘Sunshine, Daydream’). Does ‘Sugar Magnolia’ deserve its place on the album less than two years after release? Well, yes and no – it’s not as welcome as new material would have been, but it’s different enough to make its addition to the album worthwhile.
‘Mr Charlie’ is the last of Pigpen’s songs to be released in his lifetime and if you didn’t know his story better you’d assume that this is another wild child who died young singing a jokey song about the drugs that killed him (the band may have denied it a little at the time, given that it was illegal and all, but ‘Mr Charlie’ is a famous acronym for cocaine and a joke that a good percentage of Deadheads would have got). Did anyone tell the famously anti-drug Pigpen, though, who died of liver failure caused by nearly two decades of excessive drinking and never touched drugs his whole life through? What we have here is a song that works against type: Hunter wasn’t really one for drugs either, yet his lyric is as mischievous and eye-winking as any number of similar ‘drug’ songs of the day (from Lennon’s ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey’ to any number of Stones songs). Despite their reputation for being ‘druggies’, only the Dead’s ‘Casey Jones’ features another reference to a drug, making this a highly unusual lyric (especially in the wake of the band’s bust of 1970 in which Pig was arrested for use, despite not having used a drug in his life ever). One alternative reading is that ‘Mr Charlie’ is also a longstanding term used by black slaves to describe their white masters – given his many links with African Americans (who treated the boozing Pig as one of their own during his teenage years), is this song instead a reference to a slave rebellion (‘Going to scare you up and shoot ya! Mr Charlie told me so!’) It may well be that this is another ‘joke’ song, a pastiche of all the sort of songs Pig usually sings, complete with references to a ‘shotgun’ (which may be literal or may be a drug addict’s needle), money troubles, women troubles and ‘alligator wine’ (‘Alligator’ being one of Pig’s most popular songs). There’s a curious chorus, too, of ‘woolly bully, jooba jooba’ which references both the Sam and the Shams’ one big hit and The Beatles’ ‘I Am The Walrus’. Pig struts his stuff as fine as ever and his tune is everything a Pigpen song should be – strutting with confidence and talking in a conversational, confessional style – but Hunter’s lyric adds a new dimension here. After proving that he, too, could write a Pigpen style song (‘Easy Wind’ from Workingman’s Dead’, a song many fans naturally assumed was written by Pigpen given that he sung it so wholeheartedly), could this be Hunter trying to do a ‘pastiche’ of this material? Is this a joke? And if it is, did Pigpen know? Less impressive than a lot of other Pigpen songs of the time, it’s still preferable to ‘It Hurts Me Too’ and one last welcome glimpse of a terrific singer taken long before he should have been.
‘Tennessee Jed’ is another rather rambling Garcia-Hunter song, one that unusually for this album is sung straight from the point of view of a slave/prisoner (someone with a ball and chain at any rate) being called back to his home city of Tennessee (presumably to answer some legal infringement). Poor Jed is having one hell of a time: a rich man ‘steps on my poor head’ (physically or metaphorically one wonders?), ‘drinks all day and rocks all night’ in an effort to escape his sad existence, has seen his dog kicked by the mysterious Charlie Fog and most worryingly ‘drops four flights and cracked my spine’. Presumably this is another of Hunter’s narrators prone to exaggeration (the only way Jed could possibly get to Tennessee with a broken spine is inside an ambulance), but it’s hard to get any real for him or his story. Garcia’s melody fittingly sounds like a dog with a limp, awkwardly moving forward a step at a time, but accurate as this musical picture is ‘Jed’ is quite a difficult song to listen to. The band try their best to jam out on it during the end of the piece, but only Garcia sounds comfortable with the limping time signature and the whole piece is in danger of falling part long before the end, with the whole of the Dead seemingly playing in different keys to each other. A song that reads better than it sounds, ‘Tennessee Jed’ is a song that needed more work and rehearsal and notably didn’t hang around in the Dead’s setlists for very long.
‘Truckin’ is another famous Weir-Hunter song from ‘American Beauty’ that had gone down a storm with audiences, although to the best of my knowledge Weir’s opening claim that ‘this is a number that made number one in California’ isn’t strictly true (again, this was a big radio hit but was never technically a single – there only ever was one bona fide Dead hit single and that won’t be till 1987!) Every line in the song is real and, for a time, the band intended to add an extra verse for each big event in their lives – sadly an idea that never came to fruit (ahem, here’s my go for 1972: We went over to play in Europe, Pig was looking sick as a dog, along the way with the crowds we found true love, but I have to tell you – losing all that money made it quite a slog’. Or 1977: ‘We got right off at Terrapin Station, ‘cause things weren’t looking too groovy, but after an 18 months hiatus we’re back again, promoting the Grateful Dead Movie!’ Or how about 1979?: ‘Godchaux go and God bless you, we’ve hired a keyboardist by the name of Brent, we’ve outlived the years we sang about on ‘Morning Dew’, and out next direction is ‘Heaven’ sent’. OK, I’ll stop now, I promise). The band may have only been going five years at the time the song was written but they’d already been through so much in that time that the chorus ‘what a long strange trip it’s been!’ already sounds hard fought for. The thin line between getting it right and wrong every night also led to one of the best Dead lines ever ‘sometimes the light’s all shining on me – and other times I can barely see!’ Weir’s melody has a swagger and informal feel to it that’s a dream for Hunter to fit lyrics to, while the song’s clever riff means that Garcia and Weir’s guitars are at odds with Lesh’s bass throughout, raising and falling in tandem like a giant musical see-saw, perfectly suiting the ups and downs of life in the lyrics. The studio original is laidback, funky confessional – the Europe ’72 version starts the same way (albeit with a more laidback, less urgent strut) but soon develops at around the five minute mark into an epic launchpad for one of the longest jams in the band’s history. Unusually Weir takes charge of where the song goes rather than Garcia (this is ‘his’ song I suppose), putting in some excellent chunky chord work before the band slowly back off and it’s Keith Godchaux’s piano that’s filling in the spaces with a floral decoration Eventually this version of the song clocks in at 13 minutes and is still just about recognisable as ‘Truckin’ when the song slowly mutates into next track ‘Epilogue’. Personally, I rate other period jam sessions based around this song more: the band sound like they’re reeling off the ‘song’ a bit too quickly in their haste to get to the jamming bit and there’s a large chunk of four or so minutes where not much is happening. Still, few bands can improvise as well as the Dead on a good day and this is at least close to the experience of being at a real Dead concert.
‘Epilogue’ itself is pushing it a bit though: five whole minutes of noodling which gradually gets further and further away from the ‘Truckin’ riff. In many ways this is the first ‘official’ appearance of ‘Space’ on record – the part of the show the Dead always gave over to experimenting and letting jams drift in any direction. Some versions of ‘Space’ can be hallucinatory – not the kind of music you’d want to listen to every day, but the sound of five or six people going someplace new instantaneously and offering new music you’d never hear outside this environment that shapes the way you hear all formed, categorised music thereafter. Some versions of ‘Space’ are a mess, with five or six people going in different directions all at the same time so that you end up tied up in knots rather than in some destination you wanted to go into. Sadly, while not the worst jame on tape, this ‘Epilogue’ is closer to the latter, Keith’s criss-crossing chords and Phil’s bass seemingly in another dimension to what’s actually quite a good am going on between Jerry and Bobby. Things do pick up slightly when the tempo gains a bit of speed at the 3:45 mark, but the opening three minutes are among the heaviest going of all ‘official ‘ lifetime’ Dead releases. The song also collapses completely around 4:30, just when Jerry’s finally picked out a pretty good four note riff that could have been the basis for a much more interesting jam.
Things continue with ‘Prelude’ (trust the Dead to do things backwards, although to be fair this is where the split between records five and six on the vinyl original occurred), a similarly formless jam that’s closer in spirit to modern jazz than anything else on the record. Keith, Jerry and Bobby are picking out the same three notes over and over again really fast while Billy’s drumming gets even more eccentric than Boris Johnson and the band are heading for a complete breakdown by the time we hit the seven minute mark. Frankly it would all be unlistenable had all this chaos and confusion not been leading up to...
One of the Dead’s greatest versions of one of their greatest cover songs ‘Morning Dew’. Like most of the tracks that appeared on the Dead’s first eponymous album in 1967, it never really got a proper hearing originally: a combination of nerves and a sudden craze for ‘upper’ speed tablets meant every song was played reallyreallyeversofastgoshwow and this gorgeous song in particular always deserved a second go. Rising from the noisy ashes of ‘Prelude’, this post-apocalyptic ballad sounds especially apt, Garcia starting in a whisper and building up to a searing, heartbreaking climax some eleven minutes later. Composers Bonnie Dobson and Tim Rose wrote the song after watching the moving Gregory Peck film ‘On The Beach’, where the cold war turns hot and everybody except the inhabitants of an American submarine dies. The song’s long, drawn out rhetorical questions are the perfect hippie response to a world full of war and opposition for no visible purpose and while the song looks empty on paper, it sounds perfect when wrapped around Garcia’s gentle, fragile voice and gossamer light melody. Again, there are better versions of ‘Morning Dew’ around (including a particularly good one from Hollywood in 1971, which we’ll be discussing in more depth next week) and this song – by no means the most regular in the Dead’s setlist in 1972 – sounds a little under-rehearsed, with the band crashing notes and missing fills. All that said, the very human-ness of this version makes a lot of sense and by slowing down the tempo considerably the band get far closer to the heart of this song than they ever did in 1967. It takes a wild and hairy, surprisingly guttural solo from Weir to really breathe life into the song, though, and even that only occurs some ten minutes in. Anyone who wants to hear what the original sounded like should keep an eye to the ground for fellow AAA artists Lulu’s nosier, punchier version from 1967 (the same year as the Dead’s original) which I am also highly fond of. I wouldn’t say it quite makes sitting through the last 30-odd minutes worthwhile, but it does sound particularly revelatory and inspiring after so much noise and mess.
So, then, what to make of an album that on the one hand was cobbled together in a hurry to give the band some money and yet on the other hand is much longer (and at the time expensive) than all other live albums out on the market at the time except the multi-artist ‘Woodstock’? ‘Europe ‘72’ has much to offer the obsessive Grateful Dead fan - which by and large most Deadheads tend to be, as it’s hard to only partly like this band - especially at the time, before the huge great seas of bootlegged concerts began to appear officially in the post-Garcia world of the 1990s and 00s when the band were no more and fans could pick and choose their favourite versions of particular songs (which is exactly what I shall be doing next week, before the Dead trance I’m in works its way out of my system). In 1972 this album and the similar-but-smaller-and-somehow-lesser sister album ‘Skulls and Roses’ were the closest thing Dead fans had to a souvenir of the live show they’d just seen, where the band could turn on a knife-edge in any direction on a whim. Frankly, some of these whims simply don’t work and I do question either the taste or the workload of the person responsible for choosing the best songs because, frankly, there are better versions of these songs out there even taken from the same dozen or shows that were recorded especially for this album. But then, what critics often forget is that ‘Europe ‘72’ was certainly not designed to be the best live album around (the band would hardly have turned their best known song on the album into an often unlistenable 30 minute jam if they had), it was simply meant to showcase the highs and lows, thrills and spills of what life was like in the band. To this end they succeeded, offering a brave and eclectic selection of songs that only fail from seeming like a ‘real’ Grateful Dead concert in that the sum is much lesser than the parts. Usually a whole Dead show (and I speak this as one born too young to experience them first hand, but as a ‘taper’ whose studied hundreds now) is revelatory by the end if heard in the right way, with even the weakest songs sounding more interesting for the way it’s played and the context of what it comes between. Whether because of speed, naivety or an unwillingness to go through the tapes or select one good concert (even one per each of the three LPs would have done) ‘Europe ‘72’ doesn’t do this and so ends up being a rather lesser and lesser loved beast than the fabulous ‘Live/Dead’ (which is largely from just two shows), if better than later, more watered down shows to come (‘Reckoning’ and ‘Without A Net’, although I have a soft spot for ‘Dead Set’ and would put it on a par with this one). Basically there’s an exception to every rule at work here: the new material isn’t always top notch by Dead standards (though the best of it, like ‘Jack Straw’ and ‘He’s Gone’, most certainly is), the ‘old’ songs aren’t that different (although ‘Sugar Magnolia’ and ‘China Cat Sunflower’ most definitely are), the selection of old favourites aren’t necessarily what everyone would want or expect from a Dead show (although ‘Truckin’ is) and the cover versions are often flimsy and flat (although ‘Morning Dew’ is the perfect choice).
It’s a pic-and-mix Grateful Dead style, with all the hit-and-miss qualities you’d expect. It could easily have been one wonderful single LP without losing too much of its essence (our AAA altered line-up: ‘Sugar Magnolia’ ‘Jack Straw’ ‘China Cat Sunflower’ ‘I Know You Rider’ ‘He’s Gone’ ‘Ramble On Rose’ ‘Truckin’ (with early fade) and ‘Morning Dew’). That said it could also have been a stupendous box set with a good three hours’ worth of excellent material from the same shows that deserve to have made the album more than what’s actually here (‘Two Souls In Communion’ for starters, another Pigpen song ‘Chinatown Shuffle’ that oddly was included on the 1990 CD re-issue of this album but not the 2000-era one – no great loss but it’s better than ‘Hurts Me Too’ that’s for sure, Garcia’s solo songs ‘Loser’ ‘The Wheel’ and ‘Deal’ and period versions of such Dead songs ‘Cold Rain and Snow’ ‘Viola Lee Blues’ ‘Dupree Diamond Blues’ ‘Cosmic Charlie’ ‘Black Peter’ ‘Dire Wolf’ (very different with Weir singing lead), ‘New Speedway Boogie’ ‘Uncle John’s Band’ ‘Casey Jones’ ‘Brokedown Palace’ ‘Ripple’ ‘Candyman’ and ‘Friend Of The Devil’ all semi-regulars in the band’s setlists of 1972 and not yet featured on any live album). In truth, ‘Europe ‘72’ isn’t an album in it’s own right anyway, more a snapshot of the Dead on a particular day (or to be specific five days) in a watershed year, with the ‘boot’ on the cover between the two rainbows perhaps also signifying the step between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’. Come 1973 the band will have their own record company, a new studio bound record far more graceful and luscious than anything the band do here and Pigpen will be gone. You sense that somewhere behind this album’s promise of a great exciting journey to pastures new is a sad band waving goodbye to ‘stage one’ in their career as worries about stage two (with counterfeit albums, a tiring film production schedule and an unexpected 18 month hiatus in just two years’ time) are also in their thoughts. Give or take the ‘Bear’s Choice’ tribute to Pigpen (released in 1973), the first Grateful Dead box set (‘The Golden Road 1965-72’) sensibly ends here at the exact midway point of the band’s discography, although thematically ‘Europe ‘72’ should have come separately (perhaps with one disc on each?), perfectly splitting the eras in half. A stepping stone to greater things from a direction that had already seen many great things, there are few records you can buy that will take you on as many journeys as ‘Europe ‘72’ – and most of those journeys take you much further afield than Europe. A flawed, but endlessly fascinating LP. 6/10