From the solo acoustic troubador, to the thunderous rock band in full flight, to the electro pioneer peeping above banks of keyboards and oscillator, there’s few things more thrilling than the experience of music being performed live in front of an appreciative audience.
The live album has been a part of the musical landscape ever since we had the ability to record music, however for me, it’s a format that reached its apex in the 1970s, when live amplification and recording technology had simultaneously reached points where it was feasible to capture a live act doing what they did best in the best possible light.
Of course there are some acts that, regardless of how brilliant they performed on stage, for whatever reason were not able to capture the spirit and energy of their live performances in the studio. That’s not to say that their studio albums were bad, it’s just that they were so much better on stage than those albums ever hinted at.
Here then are half a dozen live albums from the 1970s, which show the acts at the peak of their powers, blowing their studio albums clean out of the water. If you’re unfamiliar with any of these acts, these are the albums to investigate first, and in some cases all you’ll need are these and a well-chosen compilation.
Slade – Slade Alive! – 1972
Of course, Slade are best known for their string of irresistable hit singles throughout the early 70s. When it came to the commercial arm of Glam Rock, they had few peers, as not even the likes of TRex or David Bowie could match them for success on the singles chart. Slade’s strength lay in the fact that they were not just a great pop band, but
they were a thrillingly exciting kick-ass rock and roll band on the live stage, something that their hit singles didn’t always make obvious.
Released before the majority of their biggest hit singles hit the charts, Slade Alive! captures the band at a point that they were raw and loud keepers of the rock and roll flame, rather than a pop act leaning heavily on the crowd-pleasing numbers that many would expect. It’s an aggressive and unsubtle reminder of when a pop act could achieve huge commercial success by paying their dues treading the boards, rather than trying to take a short cut to fame.
Hawkwind – Space Ritual – 1973
Few acts offered a more unique live experience than Hawkwind, with their epilepsy-inducing light shows, oil-slides, relentless rhythmic thunder and six foot plus topless dancer Stacia. With all this taken into consideration, how could they possibly hope to capture this all out assault on the senses in the studio?
While Space Ritual fails to capture the more visual aspects of a Hawkwind show, it remains a uniquely pulverising listen and one of Progressive Rock’s most potent statements. The only downside of the album is the ommission of the band’s hit single, Silver Machine, though such is the album’s power that its absence is barely noticable.
Bill Withers – Live at Carnegie Hall – 1973
Oddly unappreciated these days, Bill Withers was one of the greatest Soul and R&B songwriters of his generation. Perhaps the lack of regard for him is down to the fact that he wasn’t part of the fashionable Stax, Motown or Atlantic stables, or maybe it’s down to the fact that his best known material, like “Lovely Day and “Lean on Me”, are accomplished examples of pop music at its most accessible, and therefore he’s not as cool to namedrop as some of his contemporaries.
Live at Carnegie Hall is a live document of Withers at the very height of his powers, sounding like he’s having the time of his life and spreading good-vibes to a rapt and adoring audience. A likeable live presence, Wither’s doesn’t sound like he’s trying too hard to impress, coming across as relaxed and friendly, gently leaning on his enviable songbook, while being backed by a band of top musicians. There are few better examples of live pop music being performed by a master of the craft.
Lindisfarne – Lindisfarne Live – 1973
A string of hit singles had established Lindisfarne as one of the leading lights of the early 70s folk-rock movement along with the likes of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. However, despite a couple of hit albums, by 1973 they had hit a slump in their commercial success and they went on hiaitus. During this downtime their record label put out Lindisfarne Live as a budget release, and its unexpected commercial success saw the band reforming.
A celebration of the band’s down to earth bonhomie and good-time showmanship, Lindisfarne Live is perhaps slightly under-produced, however it’s warts and all presentation is part of its appeal. The band member’s between song banter with their hometown audience is as vital to the success of this album as the band’s ability to seemlessly combine folk music with their commercial pop-rock leanings. The sound of a band not having to try too hard to win their audience across and succeeding.
Thin Lizzy – Live and Dangerous – 1978
As great as Thin Lizzy were in the studio, they never captured the energy and power that they displayed on Live and Dangerous. Phil Lynott’s ability to connect directly with each member of his audience is key to this album’s success, despite his occaisionally less than politically correct quips, however it’s also effectively a strong greatest hits set for the band, distilling their outlaw rock and roll appeal in a way that no compilation ever managed.
From it’s unintentionally hilarious artwork, to the band’s signature dual guitar attack, Live and Dangerous is a high-octane rocking blast from beginning to end, featuring definitive versions of the likes of “Jailbreak”, “Don’t Believe a Word” and “Dancing in the Moonlight”. It’s greatest moment though is the moment the band segues from ” Cowboy Song” to the immortal “The Boys are Back in Town”. As familiar and overplayed as their best known is, the way the band rips into is nothing short of spine-tingling.
Cheap Trick – Cheap Trick at Budokan – 1978
Cheap Trick are perhaps the ultimate example of a band whose studio albums never fully captured their live appeal. Bafflingly Cheap Trick at Budokan, was originally only intended to be released in Japan, however it sold so well on import that it saw an international release and became their most enduring statement, and while it may be pretty boys Robin Zander and Tom Peterson that feature on the front cover, it’s guitar player Rick Nielsen riff work and drummer Bun E Carlos’s kinetic energy that are the secret to this album’s success.
For all Powerpop’s reliance on studio polish, Cheap Trick at Budokan captures the sub-genre’s positive energy in a way that a studio album simply couldn’t. As good as the studio versions of “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender” are, they’re not a patch on the raucous energetic renditions on this album, where the riffs just rock harder, the melodies are assuredly brilliant and the choruses are asserted throughout.