Last time we did the live albums was a big hit. So the only reasonable thing to do is come back for an encore (crowd screams). We’ll be looking at a few little ditties that you might have heard, and maybe one or two that you haven’t. Are you ready, 1001 readers? Let me hear you! (crowd screams). Alright, 1-2-3-4:
Jacques Brel, ‘Olympia 64’ (link)
Ecoute: le chanteur plus celebre en France – le roi de la chanson Francais. Nous commencons avec ‘Amsterdam’, un chanson que je connais grace a la version de Dresden Dolls. Cette disque est 28 minutes seulement: il est assez bien, mais, pour moi, un petit peu trop ridiculeux, avec l’accordeon et la Theremin et les chansons traditionelle, malgre la voix fantastique de M. Brel et la reaction enthousiaste du public.
Sam Cooke, ‘One Night Stand! Live at the Harlem Square Club’ (link)
Like the James Brown album on the last live round-up, it seems that soul in this era was best when performed in front of a receptive audience, at least for master showmen like Brown and Cooke. While many live albums indulge in studio skulduggery to fix stuff, this one seems to have been released with all its rough edges left in, giving it a raw, exciting feel together with the masterful performances by Cooke and band. Great stuff here. This is Cooke’s only appearance on the list. At the time, he was running a label and writing and performing his own songs at a point where that was unheard of. Who knows where he would have been had he not been killed in mysterious circumstances aged just 33.
Grateful Dead, ‘Live/Dead’ (link)
The Fillmore clubs have become synonymous on this list with long, improvisational jams (Allman Brothers being another example) so of course the Dead lugged their 16-track into Fillmore West to record this, an album which starts with a 23-minute song (‘Dark Star’). With fewer than ten songs over 90 minutes, it felt like I was listening to this forever, but it achieves its presumable intended purpose as background music (probably for skinning up to).
Jerry Lee Lewis, ‘Live at the Star Club, Hamburg’ (link)
Maybe the best rock’n’roll album ever? Recorded during Lewis’s early 60s wilderness period (the record-buying public did not like the fact he married his cousin’s daughter, who was 13), this is a performance of extraordinary energy, pace and intensity. The songs are played so fast it’s as if the performers had to catch a plane in an hour; when Lewis says he’ll slow it down (with ‘Your Cheating Heart’), it’s only relative to the 1000mph speed of the rest of the set. You’re exhausted just listening to this stuff, particularly on the Spotify version, which turns a 37-minute album into a breathless 22-minute sprint. There are Megadeth albums with less aggression and tempo than this.
Motorhead, ‘No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith’ (link)
It’s fairly surprising to have two Motorhead albums on the list, as while everyone justifiably loves classic single ‘Ace of Spades’, less have explored the ‘Head back catalogue, and a lot of the stuff on Best Of albums suggests that the band only has one mood. This live album, surprisingly recorded in locations other than Hammersmith, features ‘Bomber’ and ‘Motorhead’, but doesn’t teach me anything new about Lemmy, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke or ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor.
The Who, ‘Live at Leeds’ (link)
Recorded around the same time as ‘Tommy’ (which we’ve not covered yet, but which we will), this album sees the band generally playing the hits: ‘Substitute’, ‘I’m A Boy’, ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘My Generation’ and ‘Magic Bus’ all appear (the latter two dragged out to 15 and 8 minutes respectively). There’s also covers of ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘Shaking All Over’. The Who’s reputation as a great live band precedes them, of course, and they were a great studio band as well. I’m not sure there’s anything essential here that you couldn’t get out of a Greatest Hits, but it was hardly an ordeal to listen to.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse, ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ (link)
Our seventh and final visit to Young comes at a time when he was feeling threatened by punk and concerned about his own obsolescence. His response was this, a live album with no previously-released material, most of the audience reaction mixed out, and studio overdubs, attempting to take his sound into new territory as he headed into the 80s. There’s an acoustic side and an electric side. It proved inspired: ‘Powderfinger’ is regarded as one of his best songs, and ‘My My Hey Hey’ opens the album with Young playing solo in wistful, mournful style, and finishes the album with Crazy Horse playing it in a heavy, bleak style. I’m not sure about ‘Welfare Mothers’ or ‘Sedan Delivery’, one-note thrashes, however, there’s a whole lot to like on this.
Weird to think the live album ever died when you listen to albums of this quality; however, these were different times. The rise of the VHS, the DVD and ultimately the YouTube video made it easier to understand a band’s dynamic in a live setting, meaning the live album nowadays is pretty much a dead scene, used generally to paper the cracks when the artist hasn’t got anything new, or to fleece more money out of the marks. Still, there’s some genuine thrills in this week’s batch: check them out. (In case you’re wondering, no, ‘Stop Making Sense’ is not in the 1001.)
Next week: A look at some of the most heavily-represented artists on the list.
Status update: 707 listened to (71%), 294 remain.