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“Grateful Dead – Europe ’72: The Classic Album That Should Have Been”

I am writing this the day after Donald Trump just got elected to office as President of the United States, a man entirely lacking in experience in a political office, a man whose recently failing casinos in Atlantic City give him a clear miserly motive for running for president, a man who has embodied a culture of hate and condescension in his actions and in his words. Whatever you’re making of this madness, whether you’re within or without the most powerful country in the Western Hemisphere, one thing’s for sure: we need our music now worse than we ever have before.
Right now I’m listening to a Hank Williams cover by “the hippies.” It’s a song, “You Win Again,” a couple tracks into Europe ’72 (yes it’s on my computer, though this album is actually making me wish I owned vinyl, an accomplishment not even my recent inclusion of Neil Young’s “Alabama” on a mixtape could manage), that is probably one of the worst on the album. But it’s a tactic of the band’s nonetheless, it’s a way of showing their roots.
It also might be similar to the reason why they ever perform the song “Goin’ down the Road Feelin’ Bad” in the first place. Per prevailing Deadhead lore, this is the tune they’d bust into when they were actually getting TOO MUCH ENERGY FROM THE CROWD. For anybody who’s never heard the Dead’s stage banter, the knack for commanding the crowd is definitely formidable, along with the music itself, and so some force needs to come along and quell this excessive attention they’re getting, or Christ, they’ll end up dead like John Lennon. This is what this is all about.
And it could also be why they didn’t put more care into compiling Europe ’72. I mean the sequencing of songs, here, more than anything, but also just the incredibly impersonal aspect of just calling it “Europe ’72,” and not actually harvesting any concrete geographical images for when we call this event to mind. As far as I’ve gathered, ’72 is a pretty big deal among fans — my mom almost always cites it when she’s reminiscing on her high school music listening practices, but Jesus, it’s hopelessly jumbled. The second song on the album, “One More Saturday Night” (all these songs have pretty much a uniform, blanket production technique, which isn’t really good or bad), happens to be like the ideal closeur of an album, from the race-to-the-finish, frantic repetitions of the chorus toward the end, to the fact that even in the lyrics it’s longing for the weekend to last longer, when they know it can’t. The band is literally rushing to get everything in that they can. And then, oh, there IS more time.
And it’s “Jack Straw,” arguably the greatest song, and performance of this song, in the entire Dead catalogue. This “Jack Straw” version should be mentioned with the short list of elites, like The Beatles’ “Penny Lane,” maybe Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” the Rolling Stones” “Gimme Shelter” and the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider,” or whatever you prefer. No true fan who ever heard this song ever doubted the band’s ability to transcend. It’s a song that like The Doors’ “Moonlight Drive” could use some cheesy spoken-word faux-poetry intro., but the Dead would never do that, or they DID never do that… and in a way it’s a shame, because they don’t always know how to showcase their own songwriting invincibility.
I’m listening now to “Brown-Eyed Women,” a song that earlier in this post I’d considered a sort of DOCILE, SEQUENCEABLE number, and Christ, even this sh** is climactic. Maybe “Ramble on Rose” early on? No, that song’s just too GOOD.
Ok, so we’ve got the cover. “You Win Again” is one of the very few songs on Europe ’72 capable of occupying part of the early portion of a track list. The rest of these songs are “hard acts to follow,” they “bring the house down,” throw in whatever cliche you want to but they just have a FEEL about them.
This all obviously begs the question of does it MATTER that Europe ’72 as an album actually seems less than the sum of its parts? Also was 1972 and around there the age of the ALBUM, to a greater extent than before? Maybe, with The Who and the Stones past their primes, those both being bands with penchants for releasing singles alone (“Substitute”/“Jumpin’ Jack Flash”). I happen to notice that Owsley Stanley, the band’s old British “sound guy and acid hookup,” as reported in 2015’s brilliant Rolling Stone Collector’s Edition, is absent from the the credits for Europe ’72. This album is just weird in general: what’s up with the crowd noise cutting out so quick? In fact, it’s a perfect argument for why live albums are better arranged according to whole concerts, because no band has this much climax in them in one day, and nobody even needs it.

 

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