DOUBLE LIVE! Grading the glory of the 1970s double album

The seventies was the time in music when everything was big. Sure, rootsy, down-to-earth post hippie singer-songwriters were plugging away successfully — in fact, the world of music was probably more diverse than it is today. Let me clarify, the world of music signed to contracts by profitable record labels was more diverse than today. But one thing was sure, rock music was a spectacle, and when that tour came through town, it was an event. Hard rock/prog rock bands tried to live up to that billing with long, exciting, grand live shows packed with theatrics. Ah, those were the days. Or so I hear and see on DVD. Now, of course, only the Gxgas and Kxty Pxrrys of the world can play an arena, it would seem, though a lot of those big rock bands from the day can still pull it off, because their loyal audiences are still around to lap it up.

Even punk, in its own disingenuous way, was about the show as much as anything else.

Anyway, I digress. In the seventies it became customary for musicians to try to capture this exciting concert energy with live albums. Lots of single disks, to be sure, but it was also the heyday of the bigass double live album. If you were an act of any prominence at all, chances were you’d release at least one or maybe two during the course of the decade. Not only were they easy and cheap contractual filler but they also became a phenomenon unto themselves, and such career-making successes as Frampton Comes Alive!, Cheap Trick at Budokan and KISS Alive! made the live album even more essential to a band’s career. Frampton was by no means a super-popular solo act before the surprise success of his live album, and “I Want You to Want Me” was a fairly tame and lame cut until Cheap Trick amped it up a hundredfold and had Japanese girls scream along with it. Sometimes a double live was used almost as a greatest hits record, while other times it focused more on the album the band was currently touring.

Naturally, as a big music fan, I have a ton of these live albums, and I thought it would be fun to rate some of them. These are the ones I found on my hard drive that I’ve spent some time with. Only double albums qualify. If there’s a well-known double live album that’s not here, it’s because I don’t own it and am therefore unqualified to write about it. Or I’ve forgotten about it. So feel free to remind me of some others I may have forgotten about.

What are the judging criteria? Well, that’s easy. These will be rated out of ten.

1. Are the live versions/arrangements any good? Do I actually prefer some of the live versions to the studio albums? 

2. Is it a good cross-section of the band’s best material? How much filler is there? Tuneless jamming may have filled up the grooves but may not be great to listen to.

3. Can you feel each act’s distinct live energy and character oozing off that vinyl? Do you feel you were there that night (or those nights)?

4. What’s the sound quality like? Some of these albums sound godawful, like they were recorded in a cardboard box, but some feel like you are right there. Now, to qualify, I know full well that many, if not most of these albums were doctored. A slightly wonky background vocal or a dodgy guitar note? No problem, we’ll fix it in the studio. That kind of cheating doesn’t please me, but heck, there’s no way of knowing for sure, so we’ll just forget about that issue.

Funny story. I used to own a Fairport Convention live album from the eighties. Loved it and wished I had been in the audience. Later I found out that whole dang thing was recorded in a studio, and applause from a Ralph McTell album was added later! Why? I dunno, ask them and Island Records why the foolishness.

Now, to the albums! You’ll find some YouTube links in there.

Thin_Lizzy_-_Live_and_DangerousThin Lizzy – Live and Dangerous (1978)

This is one of the most esteemed live albums of all time, and deservedly so. Ireland’s mighty Lizzy had just busted out with Jailbreak a couple of years before and were capitalizing on their new North American success. Part of the album was recorded right here in Toronto! And you can feel the supreme confidence of the band. Phil Lynott sings like a tough angel, Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson are transcendent with their tasty, nimble leads, and the songs are a great selection from their career, at least from the albums after 1972. Thin Lizzy is one of the giants of hard rock due to that perfect blend of Irish lyricism, heavy, exciting sounds, and Lynott’s fiery rock star persona and common touch. Lizzy perfectly captured its moment of glory with this essential album.

1. 10/10    Songs like “Southbound“, “Still in Love With You” and “Emerald” beat the studio versions hands down. In fact, all of the songs may be superior to the studio versions!

2. 7/10    Mostly perfect, but there are far, far better songs than “Baby Drives Me Crazy” and “Sha La La” they could have chosen. Side 4 is kind of weak.

3. 10/10  Oh yeah, you can feel the heat on this album. You can jump around like a madman to this one!

4. 9/10   Great mix overall. Everything’s clear. I think this was one of those doctored albums (oops, said I wouldn’t mention that!). Aside from a slight boxiness to the vocals, really good, heavy sound.

36/40

Rush_ATWASRush –  All the World’s a Stage (1976)

Similarly, Canada’s Rush capitalized on the success of the Ayn Rand-influenced (more’s the pity) 2112 album with this double live monolith. Rush was a much heavier band then than it would later become, but the albums don’t necessarily do that justice. Well, this does! For three dudes, these guys are making a HUGE sound. Alex Lifeson sounds like an army of Lifesons, his guitar sound is so huge. Neil Peart sounds like he has ten arms. Geddy Lee’s banshee wail is right in your face. A nice-sounding album, but perhaps an acquired taste for those of you allergic to that helium croon. I’m only about 66% sold on seventies Rush myself (I much prefer the eighties and after), but there’s no doubt that the band’s best material up to that point is represented here.

1. 9/10   Well, duh. These are rock’s greatest musicians, after all. “Bastille Day” is FUCKING MASSIVE! I also appreciate the merger of “Working Man/Find My Way”, because those tunes aren’t good enough to be worth a single track themselves.

2. 9/10  Well, “Bastille Day”, “2112” and “Lakeside Park” are here. What more do we need? “In the End” works well too. I docked a point for the absurdity that is “By-Tor and the Snowdog”.

3. 10/10  The raw energy of this album is so very impressive. And so very different from the slicker but still fun Rush we know and love.

4. 9/10   Another one with kind of boxy vocals, but man, that guitar sounds GOOD.

37/40

spaceritualHawkwind – Space Ritual (1973)

Hawkwind was THE space rock band, and still is. They were druggie (at that time) voyagers to the limits of the musical cosmos at a time when the shiny superficiality of glam was the flavour of the month. Hawkwind’s studio albums are gloriously weird and full of great tunes, but as festival-crashing anarcho-hippies, the live setting was the band’s true home. And the Space Ritual tour must have been something to behold! I rather assume that Hawkwind was the only band at the time that contained a dancer with insanely large bare breasts, but there were also cosmic poetry readings composed by Bob Calvert and sci-fi legend Michael Moorcock, and myriad bizarre improvised electronic sounds from a chap named Dik Mik. This album is a frenzy of savage, hypnotic grooves, outer limit guitar solos with Echoplex, cosmic lyrics and bizarre noises. And the tunes are pretty memorable too!

1. 10/10   Hawkwind strips the songs down to their thunderous beats and riffs, a permanently cresting wave of glorious sound.

2. 9/10   Mostly perfect, and the new songs, “Born to Go” and “Orgone Accumulator” are great. I had to dock a point because one of my favourites, “We Took the Wrong Step Years Ago”, is not here.

3. 10/10  When we hear this album, we are totally jealous of the lucky, deafened punters who got to attend the shows. Mission accomplished!

4. 8/10   I’m 100% sure the guy recording the sound was on something, which is to be expected. Also, this is a bit earlier in the seventies, so maybe things were not as advanced. But there’s a slight muddiness that may have been unavoidable. Nothing to turn us off, mind you, but I’m rating things, after all.

37/40

Jethro-Tull-Bursting-OutJethro Tull – Bursting Out (1978)

You kids today may not realize that Tull was a very, very big and popular band in the seventies, even after they started making intellectually rarified folk-rock albums like Songs From the Wood. Ian Anderson’s combo had a huge following and was known for a theatrical live show that found band members assuming surreal onstage personae worthy of Monty Python. Not fellas who took themselves too seriously. But what musicians! The band features the deft guitar stylings of Martin Barre, the god of thunder drumming of Barriemore Barlow, Anderson’s surprisingly skilled acoustic guitar playing (and some flute, of course), a fine keyboardist in John Evan, AND a future Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music (Dee Palmer) creating sophisticated arrangements and playing pipe organ! All of Tull’s history to that point is on display, from the early blues days to the prog-rock opii, to the current folk-rock stage, all crafted together in a vastly entertaining live show.

1. 9/10    With all these talented chaps onstage, Tull didn’t really need to change much, but there are some clever medleys and truncations (a shorter version of “Thick as a Brick”, for instance). “Sweet Dream” and “Minstrel in the Gallery” are gigantic, maybe not better than the studio versions, but different in a good way.

2. 8/10   I appreciate the selection of songs from Heavy Horses and Songs from the Wood to go with the older material. However, “Too Old to Rock and Roll” is a terrible song, and we could all do without the long flute solo improvisation. Waste of part of the show there, dude. Play the flute in context. At least it’s not a drum solo. However, still a fine selection of the Anderson’s best songs overall.

3. 9/10    Like the Rush album, this shows a rawer, heavier side of Tull that is sometimes buried by all the fancy album arrangements. Sounds like a show at which I would have gone apeshit.

4. 9/10   Great sound. Not too arena-echoey. Well-balanced, what needs to be up front is up front. Perfect sound for the era.

35/40

cover_333107112010Horslips – Live   (1976)

I love Horslips, the gods of Irish folk-rock, who practically introduced modern rock n roll to the Emerald Island and were in 1976 riding the wave of such great albums as Dancehall Sweethearts and The Táin, and were just about to invent Irish new wave as well. Despite my respect for the greatness of Horslips, I do not love this album. I’m sure the band was trying to capture its current show, but the overall song selection is not that great, the vibe is a bit sloppy and the sound is not great either. You can’t even really make out the between-songs banter very well, let alone the lead vocals. The band plays well, of course, and it’s not like I regret owning the album, but it’s half the album it should be. More care should have been taken over it. A later single-disk live album (The Belfast Gigs) is superior. Great, great band, but this album does not capture it well enough.

1. 7/10  I can’t really complain about the arrangements – they’re awesome musicians, but everything seems a bit drawn out. The extended workout of “Dearg Doom” does not come across as self-indulgent, I must admit. Nonetheless, I’d take the album version over any of these.

2. 7/10  I’d be happy to just hear The Táin live, frankly. Some of the band’s rock originals were not as hot as their more inspired folk-rock concept pieces. Did they really need to play a 15-minute version of “Furniture”, which is a bit of a clunky song anyway? It’s an OK selection of tunes, but they could have tightened it up.

3. 8/10  It is a warm, welcoming set of music by a skilled band that hadn’t quite started rocking yet, as it would on later albums. So the meandering hippiness of the album is representative.

4. 6/10  These guys are good enough singers that maybe half-burying the vocals wasn’t necessary. There’s kind of a haze hanging over the sound quality, which I do not like. Maybe you will, though; we all have different tastes.

28/40

BBInConcertCoverThe Beach Boys – In Concert (1973)

In 1972 The Beach Boys were almost musical pariahs in the U.S. The hippies had abandoned them and they certainly didn’t fit with glam or heavy rock, since their sound had become more rootsy. So all these silly people were missing out on incredible records like Sunflower, Surf’s Up, Carl and the Passions/So Tough and Holland. The Brits still loved them, though. Still, this album was recorded in the U.S., so there must have been a sizeable enough following to tour big venues. Anyway, this Brian Wilson-less live band was augmented by a lot of backing musicians as well as hot new members Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin. Despite the size of the band, it’s an earthy recording that features not only those hoary old surf-era favourites, but also selections from their excellent recent recordings, which is a good thing, because those albums are amazing. The band was not an oldies jukebox just yet! Mike Love is as annoying as always, but Dennis, Carl and Chaplin are quite compelling. Alan Jardine … well, he’s mostly okay. However, they should not have been playing “Don’t Worry Baby” without Brian Wilson, or they should have let Carl sing it. Hearing Alan straining to hit those high notes is physically painful — because he fails. Poor Alan.

1. 8/10  You can’t really mess with classics, so they wisely do not. I can’t say I’d take any of these over the studio versions, but songs like “Sail on Sailor” and “Darlin'” are quite rousing. But making Alan stretch to hit those high notes, that’s a crime.

2. 10/10  This is a perfect live album for the Beach Boys. All them chestnuts are there but also incredible songs like “The Trader” and “Leaving This Town”, as well as deep cuts like “Let the Wind Blow” and “You Still Believe in Me”.

3. 7/10  It’s a damn fun show, maybe already getting too slick, as things would get big-time after that whole “Brian’s Back” debacle. Did they really need all these backing musicians? They shoulda had the balls to play everything themselves without these extra five guys!

4. 7/10  It’s okay sound, but a little echoey and washy … maybe there were just too many guitars to try to integrate into the mix! Considering there were four or five guys playing guitar at any given time … the vocals are mixed pretty well, though.

32/40

Genesis-Seconds_Out-FrontalGenesis -Seconds Out  (1977)

Genesis was riding a new wave of popularity, and it must have tickled the members that A Trick of the Tail had outsold any of their albums with Peter Gabriel as singer. So of course, they celebrated with a live set that includes the lengthy “Supper’s Ready”, one of Gabriel’s signature numbers. The band is, of course, killer, with mega-drummer Bill Bruford helping out, in addition to the beyond-tasty stylings of Hackett, Banks and Rutherford. Phil Collins had not quite developed his own confident vocal style just yet, so on most of the tunes from the past he seems to be trying to approximate Gabriel’s vocals, but it does no harm — he sounds great. And the song selection is beyond reproach, featuring classics like “Carpet Crawlers” and “Firth of Fifth” along with new classics like “Afterglow” and “Dance on Volcano”. An essential album for Genesis fans.

1. 10/10   Genesis didn’t need to mess with arrangements — they could pull it all off. The truncated “Musical Box” section is a fun addition. Very dramatic.

2. 10/10  Nothing to complain about here. As noted, a combination of early Genesis classics with some material that represents the newer albums well.

3. 9/10   The band’s perfection almost takes a little away from the proceedings, since it’s all very polished, but heck, that’s as small a quibble as you can get.

4. 10/10  Crystal clear, every instrument defined. Rockin’ drums and you can actually hear Hackett clearly for once.

39/40 (that’s right!)

R-1601582-1260886500Barclay James Harvest – Live (1974)

Oldham, UK band BJH’s early albums are a fusion of folky prog with full orchestration. The band wasn’t particularly successful in mega-selling terms, but it had a sizeable following. BJH has provided many memorable songs over the years, also featuring some great vocal harmonies. In order to attempt to reproduce the sound of their albums, they did the only thing they could do: they turned the mellotron up to 12. This is the ultimate live ‘tron album. The other thing this album is about is guitar solos high on the neck. John Lees just loves to get in there and shriek on the electric. Those two elements are exciting, though it gets a bit samey after a while. Still, many of the very staid studio versions of their songs find new life and energy in the live setting, and even some of the quieter ones are improved (the delicate “Galadriel” in particular is very sweet).

1. 9/10  As I implied, songs like “Summer Soldier” and “Medicine Man” are actually much improved when all the extra arrangement fooferaw is stripped away. They are high-energy and exciting. Most of the arrangements are quite dramatic.

2. 10/10  You could not ask for a better early BJH selection, including their early classics “Mockingbird” and “For No One”, as well as the aforementioned, spectral “Galadriel”.

3. 9/10  It’s definitely a rawer band than you’d expect, loose and swinging. There’s definitely an energy here.

4. 7/10  It’s OK sound overall, but things are kind of dense for a four-piece band — the mighty ‘tron overwhelms everything else at times with its intensity.

35/40

0004228215232_600Barclay James Harvest – Live Tapes (1978)

Yep, one double live album wasn’t enough for BJH! Thing is, in the intervening four years things had changed a lot. The band had gone from mellotronic prog gods to a combination of CSN and soft rock (albeit good-quality soft rock), and commercial prospects had improved (including a massive German following!). “Hymn” was a big hit and subsequent singles did well. This is a very slick album, so it’s interesting to contrast the few duplicate songs from the previous album with this one (“Crazy City” in particular, while still rockin’, is a lot less raw). I might argue that duplicating songs on live albums four years later was a bit silly. Anyway, the band does a great job of presenting newer catalogue favourites like “Poor Man’s Moody Blues”, “Suicide?” and “One Night” quite prettily, with some ace vocal harmonies. It’s all a bit slick and softer, but still, some nice renditions that have a different energy to the ultra-sedate studio versions.

1. 8/10  They play it safe, almost perfectly duplicating the studio versions of the songs, though with a little more oomph. A couple of them even transcend here, especially “One Night“, “Taking Me Higher” and “Poor Man’s Moody Blues“, which are quite ethereal.

2. 7/10  The best of the last few albums are all here. However, I’d like to have seen some of the lamer songs, like “Hard Hearted Woman” and “Polk Street Rag” replaced with some nicer ones.

3. 8/10  Well, it sounds like a great night out in a gentlemanly way, but the band sounds way more youthful and exciting on the previous double live album.

4. 8/10  The instruments sound great, but the vocals are too reverby and a bit distant. I guess this might be aimed at duplicating the sound of live vocals, but considering that the vocal blend is key to enjoying this band, it’s a bit of a misstep.

31/40

cover_23151422102008Be Bop Deluxe – Live in the Air Age (1977)

I’m cheating a bit — this album was a single disk + a 7-inch. Why? Hell, who knows at this point. But I love BBD and Bill Nelson, so I’m gonna talk about it. Be Bop Deluxe started as a glam band but ended up sort of a funky, fun pop band, then on their last album played a key role in developing futuristic new wave. However, BBD was all about Nelson’s arty songwriting and his extremely dextrous, jazzy lead guitar. He managed to show off without being annoying, a rare achievement. A great band with several near-perfect albums. So a real double album would have been nice! The main disk is great, featuring awesome songs like “Maid in Heaven” and “Life in the Air Age”. I’m not happy that their masterpiece album, Modern Music, was totally left out though. What the eff? The band plays great and it’s certainly an indication of what a wonderful live band BBD was, but this release does not do the greatness of BBD justice at all. Things also get jammy, too, which I dinnae like, laddie.

1. 7/10   The songs are rendered well, and the extended solo of “Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape” should be required listening for guitarists. But that side-long jammy thing on the 7-inch? That’s just easy listening jazz noodling. Charlie Tumahai’s backing vocals are super-fun.

2. 6/10   The set leans too heavily on the Sunburst Finish album (the one with the hit “Ships in the Night”) for this to be a good selection.

3. 8/10  This sounds like a hell of a lot of fun … I’d have been there in my flares, bowing to Nelson’s transcendent greatness and looking for a stoned bird to snog!

4. 7/10  Good stuff in that everything’s clear — but I think the midrange is a bit cluttered, says the soundman in me. A bit woofy.

28/40

220px-RenCarnegieRenaissance – Live at Carnegie Hall  (1976)

Renaissance is in some ways the ultimate seventies art band. Only in that decade could you get away with a full-on fusion of rock, folk and classical music, with a singer (Annie Haslam) who combined operatic stylings with folkiness redolent of Sandy Denny and Maddy Prior. Then there was the classical pianist and the sit-down acoustic guitar player. And lyrics by a “poetess”. So if you are a huge punk fan and hate “pretension”, this is NOT for you. I like it when people have their own thing, so I dig it, and Renaissance had some beautiful songs. The albums were fully arranged for orchestras and stuff, so this was an opportunity to demonstrate that these pieces also worked well with all that frippery taken away. And they do! That keyboardist, John Tout, uses synths well to fill in the gaps, but for the most part it’s those lovely vocals, guitar and cutting Rickenbacker basslines that carry the day. Grandiose, joyous, this is some very nice music well rendered.

1. 10/10  You wouldn’t think this could work, but it does due to exquisite arrangements, well chosen parts and the sheer quality of the music being played. I’ve never loved a bass solo before this album…

2. 9/10  A great selection from the band’s many albums. “Ashes Are Burning” and “Mother Russia” (an epic about Soviet dissidents) sound huge.

3. 8/10  Sounds like an elegant concert experience indeed. Rock music for the sophisticated set. It does sound bit formal, but then it would.

4. 9/10  Good sound. Very clear.

36/40

BobSegerLiveBulletBob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band – Live Bullet (1976)

When I was a kid I hated the song in Chevrolet commercials. I found out it was by Bob Seger, so I proceeded to ignore his existence. I also hated “Night Moves”. Later on I discovered that Seger was once the down-n-dirty king of Detroit rock ‘n roll — he wasn’t always a purveyor of cheesy radio ballads. His early seventies discography is a celebration of hoarse-voiced, high-octane pure rawk, and all of that energy is distilled in this awesome concert experience that feels more like a revival service than just a band coming through town. So while this sort of thing is not my usual cup of tea, this album sure is, ’cause it’s so much dang fun. Who can resist the energy of “Katmandu” or “Nutbush City Limits”? Or Seger’s expert but sincere banter to the crowd? This IS seventies rock in its purest form.

1. 9/10  What’s to say? The Silver Bullet band rips through every song like a hurricane, soulful, funky, classic.

2. 9/10  All of the songs that must be here, from “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” to “Turn the Page”, are here.

3. 10/10  Like I said, this band is hot (some really tasty organ playing), and you can feel the heat coming through your speakers. Seger’s vocals are great.

4. 8/10   Nothing wrong with it. Crowd noise could actually be louder, considering the participatory nature of this kind of show.

36/40

Queen_Live_KillersQueen – Live Killers (1979)

Everyone who hasn’t lived under a boulder for the last thirty years knows that Queen was the ultimate big-rock live experience, led by the over-the-top theatrical persona (and perfect vocals) of Freddie Mercury, as well as the supreme musical abilities of Brian May and Roger Taylor (and who can forget John Deacon’s salmon-pink short shorts?) So you would expect a live album to bring that experience into your living room, to some extent. This mostly succeeds but is marred by surprisingly muddy, dense and therefore underwhelming sound. Too bad that Queen didn’t put out a more representative live album, but this is not a half-bad relic of their prime. Perhaps the curious are best served by some of the excellent concert DVDs that have come out, especially the one recorded in Montreal.

1. 10/10   Hell, it’s Queen!

2. 10/10  Hell, it’s Queen! AND they didn’t just stick with the mega-hits. My favourite Queen song, the album track “‘39” is here, as is the mind-blowing glory of “Brighton Rock” (perhaps overly long, but hell, IT’S QUEEN!).

3. 8/10  Well … it’s Queen. I wish I was there, but the sound takes too much away from the experience.

4. 6/10  Really muddy, too dense. In need of a serious remastering job. Really disappointing. Stick with the bevy of great concert DVDs that have been released instead. Although … it is Queen.

34/40

Rock_of_Ages_(The_Band_album_-_cover_art)The Band – Rock of Ages (1972)

There are very few bands of which we can say, “If you don’t like this band, you are a DUMBASS!”. This is one. You have to have stone ears not to revel just a little bit in the glory of those three ragged voices in harmony, that wonderful songwriting that evokes all of North American history, the funkiness of Helm and Danko, the inventiveness of Hudson and the soul of Manuel. Oh, and Robertson was OK too. We are lucky to have this album, because that slick weirdness of The Last Waltz doesn’t do the trick as a legacy. This raw, energetic live album, recorded with a horn section arranged by Allan Toussaint, is the ultimate roots rock party, and even features some unreleased live songs (“Don’t Do It” is a great song). If you collect The Band’s discography, don’t give this a pass just because it’s a live album.

1. 10/10   It’s THE BAND! Sure, I can do without that “Genetic Method” keyboard solo, but these guys don’t need to mess with their tunes … they just get out there loose and start grooving. The horn section is a great addition, adding that New Orleans jazziness.

2. 10/10  A perfect selection from their albums. “Stage Fright”, “Rag Mama Rag”, “Unfaithful Servant”, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” … oh yeah.

3. 10/10  I’m not getting tired of writing at this point, I swear. It’s just … it’s THE BAND.

4. 8/10  Not sure you could really do much better than this in 1972, but there’s a lack of clarity that could be improved.

38/40

Bob_Dylan_and_The_Band_-_Before_the_FloodThe Band and Bob Dylan – Before the Flood (1974)

Bob Dylan released a ton of live albums, but this one with The Band released to commemorate the money-making tour they had just done together is the best. Why? Because The Band is backing him. The Band’s own material is better represented on Rock of Ages, but Dylan himself benefits greatly from having these dudes on board. Dylan was on fire at this time — he bellows those vocals with aplomb. “Bellow” is appropriate — dude was not going for subtlety. And though he bellowed, you can still tell what song he’s singing, which is good. These days, you can’t tell what song he’s singing at all. Which is why I walked out of a Dylan concert in 2013. Sorry, folks, I don’t get it. He’s just fucking with you these days. But back in 1974 he was a vital creative force, and he and The Band tear through classics from his discography like a pack of hungry wolves. Great, visceral stuff. The acoustic set stuff is also great.

1. 8/10  Some of these songs have never sounded better (“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, “Like a Rolling Stone”), so considering the scale of musical celebrity here, that’s pretty impressive. The Band’s own stuff sounded better with them horns on Rock of Ages. Some of Hudson’s synths don’t work so well with the material.

2. 8/10  Well, you can’t really complain about a combination of the complementary best of two of rock’s greatest acts. Though with the size of Dylan’s discog, I could personally do with out fluff like “Lay Lady Lay”.

3. 8/10   Dylan’s bellowing wears on one after a while, though I imagine it was a very interesting show to be at. It may have been mainly for the money, but The Band always gave their all.

4. 7/10  Not great. Kind of thin-sounding, and none of the instruments sound as good they should.

31/40

WOACoverWings – Wings Over America  (1976)

Of COURSE Macca had to outdo everyone with a triple album! And, well, he is a Beatle, so we’ll let him, I guess. This is actually a great album that is a lot of fun. Wings may have been fluff overall, but when the band was at its funnest, only a heart of stone could resist. Macca plays the best of Wings up to that point (and they didn’t do much good after) and a few Beatles chestnuts, as well as some ill-advised covers. He had a great band, particularly underrated guitar hero Jimmy McCulloch. And Macca may have been a control freak, but he allows band members their songwriting contributions, such as McCulloch’s “Medicine Jar” and Denny Laine’s “Time to Hide”. Neither of which are anything as good as Macca’s own songs. In a way this album kind of symbolizes the excesses of the seventies, 115 minutes of large-scale, good-humoured silliness. Tuneful silliness that leaves you feeling pretty darn good, so who’s gonna complain?

1. 8/10  A great band playing with confidence. There aren’t really any curveballs, but many songs sound definitive here. For instance, this is the best rendition of “Let Me Roll It“, and “Live and Let Die” sounds massive on this album. The mini-acoustic set with “Bluebird” and “Blackbird” is lovely.

2. 7/10  “Hi Hi Hi” is an abomination at any time. One point deducted for that. Not sure why “Go Now” is here. Did Laine even want to sing that? There are other bad songs too (“Magneto and Titanium Man”). But when an album has “Jet”, “Band on the Run”, “Rock Show”, “Yesterday”, “Lady Madonna” and “Let Me Roll It”, I’m inclined to be forgiving.

3. 8/10   Just what you’d expect, a bigass stadium experience, wide strokes, big statements. I feel a bit like I’m in the last row, viewing the musicians at ant-like size, but hell, that’s all I can afford!

4. 7/10  Sounds like a stadium but is infected with a bit of that muddiness that a lot of these albums seem to have. But not all of them, which means it could have been avoided. Perhaps careless CD mastering is to blame?

30/40

VitalvdggVan der Graaf -Vital (1978)

From the stadium with cheesy Wings to the club with … this! Van der Graaf Generator was a very distinctive prog-rock band indeed. Vocalist Peter Hammill kind of defines “acquired taste”, what with a vocal style that ranged from a beautiful whisper to an ear-piercing shriek (often changing from one to the other within a beat or two!) and his super-dramatic, dark, uncompromisingly philosophical lyrics. The band’s vibe was based on a bone-shaking organ sound, but by the time this album came out the band had changed lineups and the lead instrument was Graham Smith’s violin. Hammill had sniffed the winds of change and gone pre-post-punk on their most recent album (The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome) with a set of lean, stripped-down songs (and also removed the “Generator”). This concert, recorded at a small club, contains Van der Graaf Generator classics reimagined punk/avant-garde style, as well as newer material. It’s generally agreed that this super-raw album, which has terrible sound, is for VDGG fans only. Or for those in search of extremely visceral listening experiences. This is one of the most challenging bands of any era, so if you like challenges, try to crack this code!

1. 8/10  Well, it’s different. Some of the tunes aren’t even particularly recognizable. I applaud the chutzpah. But songs like “Still Life” are almost ruined. However, the atonal “Pioneers Over C” is strangely compelling, as is the medley of “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers/Sleepwalkers”.

2. 7/10  I don’t even know how to judge this. This is the non-classic lineup playing a bunch of new things and the classic stuff fucked-with. Let’s just leave this neutral.

3. 8/10  It’s raw and visceral, all right. I have a lot of respect for that. It sounds like a small club, sweaty, angry, loud.

4. 4/10  This album sounds like shit. I’m not sure whether that was intentional. Apparently there were some mistakes made, but if that were the case, maybe they should have scrapped it. Everything’s out of balance and a bit wonky. Still, I’m finding listening to this rather fun!

27/40

10 responses to “DOUBLE LIVE! Grading the glory of the 1970s double album

  1. Your reviews are enjoyable as usual. Funny, I’ve never been a huge fan of live albums, but I really rate Deep Purple’s Live in Japan, even above their studio stuff.

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  2. An interesting selection. Like bethnoir, I’m not a huge fan of live albums – Procul Harum and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra was a great one, though. A single album, so it doesn’t fulfil your criteria here.

    Many of the bands here are well represented. I love the Band and Horslips. I saw Tull many times in the seventies – including a tour where they were promoting the “Bursting Out” album. As a kid, Genesis were my favourite band but as soon as Gabriel left, so did my interest. I did not like Queen at all – you might be vaguely interested in the story where I didn’t book them on their first tour of the country at http://bit.ly/19tXbIr. Still, the World keeps turning.

    I was really pleased to see the Be Bop Deluxe reference. “Modern Music” is there on the BBC album on Hux Records “Tremulous Antenna” and features a great version of “Modern Music” (I’m listening to it as I type), recorded in 1976 for Radio 1’s “In Concert”. Incidentally, I saw them three times on their first tour as they were the support band for a Peter Hammill solo tour (see here: http://www.vandergraafgenerator.co.uk/solos.htm). A great band.

    Interestingly, I saw VdGG many times in the seventies too. A school friend used to live next door to PH’s parents in Derby so we met the great man a few times. However, the support band at the infamous Gryphon gig was String Driven Thing who featured Graham Smith, the violinist for VdGG on “Vital”. It all keeps coming around, doesn’t it?

    By the way – apropos of nothing – I’m anticipating the XPT’s new version of “Parachute” any moment. Any thoughts on “Parachute”? Original or the new version?

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    • Thanks for all these facts! I’ll have to read your Queen story.

      I love “Parachute” — I don’t really get why they would re-record it, but heck, it’s their music, they can do what they want. I’ll listen to it, but I rather doubt it’ll top the raw energy of the original.

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  3. I think I owned at least 8 of those, including the VDGG album, which I found odd in places, but still quite a rewarding album.

    Live and Dangerous was a monster. I bought that when it was released. My favourites from there were “Still in Love With You” and “Don’t Believe a Word”.

    I bought “All the World’s a Stage” on a whim in 1976, having never heard Rush before. That was a great intro to a wonderful band. I didn’t mind the “By-Tor” rendition, with the Page-esque guitar section.

    Honourable mentions must also go to the Tull, BJH, and Queen albums, but the best of the lot has to be Seconds Out. I think this was the first live album which managed to replicate a band’s studio sound whilst still retaining the excitement of a live performance. The sound quality wasn’t too shabby either. I saw Genesis on that tour. This album was a great souvenir.

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    • Seconds Out definitely showed that Phil had the goods for the job.

      I had the lp of Bursting Out in high school and I played it nonstop. “Minstrel in the Gallery” is particularly heavy!

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