I recently posted a review of the fabulous new Cheap Trick LP, ‘We’re All Alright’ and it prompted a number of emails and text messages from friends of B&V. The messages were all very similar in nature. To paraphrase, most of the messages were something like, “Enjoyed the review, I used to listen to Cheap Trick’s ‘At Budokan’ all the time.” It seems that all of us of a certain age remember and love that live album. It truly was a huge record. It was to Cheap Trick what ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ was to Peter Frampton or what ‘Live Bullet’ was to Bob Seger. Simply put, it was a career defining live album.
Since I spend way too much time thinking about and listening to music I began to think about great live albums and ponder compiling the B&V list of essential live albums. It’s an idea I’ve been toying with for a long time. However, the list in my head would probably be a little unwieldy. I’m not sure I could fit it all into one blog post. I can be, well, a little wordy.
As I was thinking about this list of live albums, I began to realize that there’s some great live music that’s been released over the years, but not necessarily on the full-on, classic double-live-LP format. In many cases, there have been what I call “hybrid” albums released by some of rock’s greatest bands. By “hybrid,” I mean part studio album, part live album. Think of these albums like a hybrid car, part combustion engine, part electric. I’m not talking about albums with a bonus live cut, or the stray live song like the Stones’ ‘December’s Children” or the Faces’ ‘Long Player.’ I’m talking about albums that are split between live and studio cuts.
I’ve always struggled to categorize the Hybrid albums. In the early days it felt a little like cheating, to augment studio recordings with live cuts. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that in many cases, combining the energy of a band’s live shows with additional studio tracks actually makes sense. Sometimes bands struggle to capture the lightning they generate on stage in the studio. Besides, art is art, who am I that I should view music so narrowly? I will say, when I eventually (and it is inevitable) get around to writing the essential live LPs list, I won’t include these Hybrid records… I am a flexible, but I remain a purist at heart.
Here then, are the B&V list of Essential Hybrid Live/Studio LPs:
- Cream, ‘Wheels Of Fire’ – This Cream masterwork is probably the granddaddy of the whole hybrid concept. This would have been a classic album if it had just been the single LP of studio cuts. Songs like “Politician” and “White Room” were instant classics. The blues covers, “Sitting On Top Of The World” and “Born Under A Bad Sign” remain amongst my favorite. Cream, always a legendary live act, included a second album of live cuts and holy shit, are they amazing. They take the song “Spoonful” made famous by Howlin Wolf and written by Willie Dixon and stretch it to almost 17 minutes. The Ginger Baker drum solo “Toad” is also of a similar length and paved the road John Bonham and Neil Pert would travel.
- The Allman Brothers Band, ‘Eat A Peach’ – The Allmans, reeling from the loss of founder and leader Duane Allman cobbled together studio cuts recorded with Duane, new studio cuts and leftover cuts from the Fillmore East. That may sound like a patchwork, but this is one of the Allman’s best albums. “Mountain Jam” is a monumental Duane Allman/Dickey Betts jam and I love that it took up side 2 and side 3 of the vinyl album. This was a fitting farewell for Duane. The studio cuts include the sad, acoustic “Melissa” and one of my favorite Gregg songs, “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More.”
- U2, ‘Rattle And Hum’ – U2 took a ton of critical backlash when this LP followed their masterpiece, ‘The Joshua Tree.’ Frankly, I think that criticism was horse shit. This is the sound of a great band discovering their roots and their inspirations and paying tribute to them. There are some great, great songs on this album including “Desire,” “All I Want Is You” and “Angel of Harlem.” The live stuff stands up amongst their best – the covers “All Along the Watchtower,” and especially “Helter Skelter” are both great. The live version of “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” augmented by a choir is transcendent. “Silver and Gold” live is the definitive version of the song… even though Bono is a little confused about what the blues were…
- Cream, ‘Goodbye’ – On their farewell album, Cream return to the format that served them so well on ‘Wheels of Fire.’ Although in this case, it’s a single album with one side dedicated to live stuff and the other to studio cuts. The most famous track from the studio album is “Badge,” co-written by Clapton and George Harrison. I love the live stuff, especially the take on “Politician.”
- Guns N Roses, ‘Lies’ – The band has always said that side one of this album was recorded live and released on an indie label as ‘Live Like a Suicide.’ There has been a lot of question about the veracity of that. I still like this album. The cover of “Mama Kin” helped Aerosmith make their comeback. “Move To the City” is just a dirty boogie. The second side, ostensibly the studio side, has the great tune, “Patience.” Although I must admit, there was quite a bit of controversy, deservedly so for the use of a racial slur and a homophobic slur on “One In A Million.” It’s cringe worthy, yes. Axl has apologized but that doesn’t make “One In A Million” any less problematic. That aside, the acoustic version of “You’re Crazy” may be the definitive one. And I like the dark humor of “Used To Love Her,” but then I had a lot of bad relationships back in the day…
- Genesis, ‘Three Sides Live’ – I hesitated to include this album, as it’s a full on live album, well for three sides, with an entire side of studio cuts. What separates it from say, the Stones’ ‘Flashpoint’ which had 2 studio tracks at the end of the live performance, is the volume of studio cuts. Plus the song “Paperlate” is one of Genesis’ best tunes.
- Page/Plant, ‘No Quarter: Unledded’ – When Robert Plant decided to join the long list of artists who did MTV’s Unplugged series, he decided to follow up what Rod Stewart did when he brought in his old partner Ronnie Wood. Plant brought in Jimmy Page. While most unplugged projects were all live performances, Page and Plant augment some of the great acoustic live stuff with reworked versions of old songs. “Nobody’s Fault” and “No Quarter” are given complete reworkings in the studio. They augment the classics with three great new songs that even include some world music elements on “Yallah” and “City Don’t Cry.” One of the better unplugged recordings out there.
I recommend all these records, although I’ll admit GnR’s “Lies” isn’t for the PG-13 crowd. I’d probably skip the tune “One In A Million.” These albums represent some of the best stuff these bands have done, and while you might not find them on my essential live LP list, they certainly boast some great live cuts.