Guilty pleasures: The classic-rock live album

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by Mark Saleski

Superfluous. Meaningless. Pointless. Redundent. Obligatory. No, I haven’t been playing with my thesaurus. These are just some of the words that are often used to describe live recordings.

Me, I’ve always loved them. Way back in high school and college I was gripped by the rawness and urgency in some of my favorite concert albums … an electricity that sometimes rendered their studio counterparts, well, superfluous. (By the way … this isn’t to say that there haven’t been some superfluous, meaningless, pointless, redundent and obligatory live records. There sure have. But that’s another day’s topic.)

So, here are some of my favorite live records (and they were indeed records when I first bought ’em). No special order here. This ain’t a competition. And they’re all from the era of so-called Classic Rock … because that’s when I fell in love with them.

ROLLING STONES – GET YER YA YA’S OUT/LOVE YOU LIVE: Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out might have been the first Stones record I bought. It was a leap of faith, really. Up to that point most of the music I’d been listening to had that “chainsaw” sound (Black Sabbath, Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin — only the loud tunes, though … none of that strummy acoustic guitar crap!). But I had spent a lot of time injesting every rock magazine I could get my hands on. With years of Rolling Stone and Creem under my belt I was bound to run across something about the Stones. So I took a chance and was rewarded with a record that definitely expanded my (narrow) horizons. This is the Stones at their loose-yet-tight best. I’ve included Love You Live here because, being so enthused about my new discovery, I went right out and got some more. It’s not as cohesive as Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out, and certainly a little sloppier, but the El Mocambo side is a load of fun.

PETER FRAMPTON – FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE: The albums from which Frampton never recovered. This was a huge record. It sold a boatload of copies. Hits were all over the radio. Everybody owned it. (Cripes, even my dad liked this record!) We all rooted for Frampton after this. But there was that Sgt. Pepper thing … and also “I’m In You” … yikes!

CHEAP TRICK – LIVE AT BUDOKAN: Just about everybody I knew owned a copy of this one. Even though we were all sick of “I Want You To Want Me”, we could never get enough of “Surrender.”

LYNYRD SKYNYRD – ONE MORE FROM THE ROAD: If you leave out “Free Bird,” the Southern-rock “Stairway To Heaven,” this record is full of great dixie-fried rock. All those guitars, all that hollerin’!

JIMI HENDRIX – BAND OF GYPSIES: LIVE AT THE FILLMORE EAST: Two words: “Machine Gun.”

LITTLE FEAT – WAITING FOR COLUMBUS: Many years after my chainsaw-only phase had passed, my cousin turned me onto Little Feat. Wow. How did I manage to not hear about these guys? I might have heard “Dixie Chicken” on the radio (but of course ignored it … I mean … where’s the slammin’ power chords?!) but that’s about it. This record yet again opened me up to the possibilities of blues, maybe a little jazz and even a little country. Damn, I wore that thing out … and replaced it eventually with a nice new 180-gram vinyl copy.

GRATEFUL DEAD – DEAD SET: Not the typical Dead choice. Most people rate Live Dead or Europe ’72 above this. But I always thought that the playing, while less ‘experimental,’ was just so tight and funky (plus, the version of “Samson and Delilah” is, as Ferris would say, so choice).

J. GEILS BAND – BLOW YOUR FACE OUT/FULL HOUSE: While Full House is sorta the more bluesy cousin of Blow Your Face Out, I lump them together for the same reason as the aforementioned Stones records: I bought them back-to-back. Blow Your Face Out was first. I had been looking for a copy of the song “Give It To Me”. My local record shop didn’t have a copy of Bloodshot so I had to “settle” for Blow Your Face Out. Screw “Give It To Me”! Now I’ve got “Musta Got Lost”, “Detroit Breakdown” and a cool cover of “Where Did Our Love Go”. After listening to it a couple of times a day for a few weeks (I was a relentless bastard back then … gees, my poor parents!), back to the store I go to get Full House. “First I Look At The Purse”, “Whammer Jammer” … I’d hit the motherload.

FOGHAT – FOGHAT LIVE: Dave Marsh likes to berate stuff like this by labelling it “boogie rock”. And ya know what? It is boogie rock. It’s also loud, excessive, and fun.

TED NUGENT – DOUBLE LIVE GONZO: OK, this one breaks a lot of my own rules. For one thing, it’s not a particularly good recording … and the sequencing is kinda messy. But there was just something else about it. Raw. Nasty. And defintely loud. (Maybe I just thought titles like “Yank Me, Crank Me” were cool. I was just seventeen!)

THE WHO, LIVE AT LEEDS: This one, of course, makes a lot of folks’ Top 10 lists. It should. The Who at their most ferocious. At times coming close to metal on a blistering “My Generation.” Then getting a little loose on a trippy Magic Bus.

THE TUBES – WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM LIVE: “A poke in the eye with a blunt stick?” No, just a weird rock record. Full of sexual inuendo, great guitar playing and crazy lyrics. “Don’t Touch Me There”, “Mondo Bondage” and the anthemic “White Punks On Dope.”

KISS – ALIVE!: My first exposure to Kiss was via the record Rock and Roll Over (remember that Peter Criss-does-Rod Stewart tune “Hard Luck Woman”?). A buddy of mine had it on 8-track. I thought that the music was pretty cool. Lots of crunchy rhythm guitar. Kinda agressive, etc. Then I see the photos and see all of the makeup, bloodspitting, firebreathing … man, now I just love it! Then I get a copy of Kiss Alive. This it it. Loud, loud, loud. I maintain that I would have loved this stuff without all of the gimmicks. They did write some great rock tunes — and yes, some stupid ones too … but, hey, this is the 1970s we’re talkin’ about here!

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