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This was the third live double or triple album in the Dead's past five releases, revealing how the group's reputation rested on their live performances. Indeed, the liner notes simply stated: "There is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert." The album contained considerable new material in addition to versions of tracks found on previous studio albums.
Despite the band being out of the country, Europe '72 showcased the Dead's mixture of Americanbluegrass, folk, and country influences, and provided the culmination to the band's early 1970s sound. Archetypal American images abounded on "Jack Straw", while "Cumberland Blues" and "Tennessee Jed" were firmly rooted in their regional feeling. "Truckin'", which had recently become the band's first hit song, catalogued its own troubled-but-resilient pathway through American life. The Dead's start-stop-restart segue of "China Cat Sunflower" into "I Know You Rider" also linked their psychedelic past into a more traditional context. Reviews specially praised the track "(Walk Me Out in the) Morning Dew", a ten-minute rendition of the melancholy folk standard that features guitar crescendoes from Jerry Garcia.
Originally a triple album on vinyl, Europe '72 was later reissued as a two-disc CD in 1990 and again in 2001 with bonus tracks as part of the band's box set, The Golden Road (1965–1973).
Europe '72 has been the Dead's best-selling live album, and one of their best-selling albums overall, achieving double platinum status in the U.S.
Although Europe '72 is billed as a live album, the songs featured on the release were subject to significant overdubs after the fact, specifically with respect to the lush harmony vocals. Unadulterated multitrack recordings of the performances used for the album are no longer available (because they were simply snipped from the multitrack concert tapes whereupon the band overdubbed directly onto them, destroying the originals) but, for example, the available two-track soundboard recording of the May 10, 1972 show indicates the band had not yet figured out the vocal arrangements for "He's Gone" that would later be overdubbed in the United States.
These "lost" original multitrack recordings have been recovered. Early in 2011, dead.net has announced a release of the complete Europe '72 shows, every note played on all 22 shows for the tour, under the name Europe '72: The Complete Recordings. Initially, this was to have been around 60 CDs but this was later revised, coincidentally it was claimed, to be 72 CDs. Once the final box set was completed, there were 73 CDs.
Per dead.net, as a hedge against the costs of the nearly two-month trip, the Dead’s label, Warner Bros., paid for the band to lug around a 16-track recorder to capture the entire tour. Demand from fans was higher than expected, and the limited numbered box set of 7,200 copies sold out as a pre-order in less than four days. The first three thousand copies ordered were also given a custom personalization option. A music only version without the limited box set accoutrements has been made available, though this may be limited in release as well. The box set shipped in September 2011. Those who purchased the box set had mixed opinions of its sound quality. Some were delighted by the new mixes, but many participants in the online discussion at deadnetcentral.com argued that although the sound improves upon that of previously circulating recordings in some respects, it is quite disappointing in others. An especially common complaint was that in many cases Keith Godchaux's piano, a crucial element of the band's sound during this period, is buried so deep in the mix that it is nearly inaudible.
Europe '72's packaging was designed by Alton Kelly and Stanley Mouse under their Kelly/Mouse Studios name (they also did other Dead albums) and set against mostly white, empty foldouts. The front cover shows a large Truckin' boot crossing the Atlantic, while the back cover depicts the corresponding Truckin' fool smashing an ice cream cone against his forehead. (Some of the ice cream flying through the air spells out the word "LIVE".)
The inside cover credits are in a reserved type font, but do not forget to list "Family", including Mountain Girl. The included color booklet contains photos of European sites and the concerts, a quote from Revelation, and a long account of how the tour split into two factions, the Bozos and the Bolos, with references to St. Dilbert and the Feast of Fools.
On the cover of the 2003 CD re-release, the former back cover now becomes the front cover, and likewise the former front cover becomes the back.