Live albums can carry a special fascination for rockin’ pop fans. Though I generally prefer the finished pop product of a studio track (and my younger, purist rock ‘n’ roll self would likely strike me for thinking that), there’s something exciting about a document of rock ‘n’ roll played live. Sure, many–maybe most–of our cherished live albums have benefited from a little studio sweetening, but the live feel is there, and that’s what counts.
The first live album I remember at all was my sister’s copy of The Live Kinks, the only Kinks record in the household collection when I was a teenager. I didn’t pay much attention to it–the only Kinks song I knew was “Lola,” and The Live Kinks certainly predates that–but I did occasionally try to play The Kinks’ live version of “The Batman Theme,” because, y’know…Batman! That track was part of an in-concert medley on The Live Kinks, so it was tricky to isolate the track and ignore “Milk Cow Blues” and “Tired Of Waiting For You,” neither of which interested me at the time. (And yes, my contemporary self would surely strike pissant li’l young me for not recognizing the brilliance of “Tired Of Waiting For You” a bit earlier in the timeline.)
My sister also owned a copy of the second Woodstock collection, and a live Procol Harum record. I’ve been trying to remember the first live record that was specifically mine, and I think I have to go all the way up to senior year in high school, spring of ’77, and the release of The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl. That album was the first time I ever rushed to the record store to buy an album on its release, and I loved that record. The Beatles live? Yeah. Yeah, I’m in. I haven’t yet heard the new CD reissue (re-titled Live At The Hollywood Bowl), though I’ve read the complaints that it’s just a straightforward, unvarnished reissue, not the remixed, re-vitalized concert document we were promised. I’ll get it soon anyway. Live Beatles!
My second live album was probably Got Live If You Want It! by The Rolling Stones, or perhaps The Cowsills‘ In Concert, both purchased used in that same spring of ’77 for fifty cents each at Mike’s Sound Center in North Syracuse. Later that year, I succumbed to (imaginary) peer pressure and joined the bazillions of people who owned a copy of Frampton Comes Alive! Even just typing that sentence bores me. I received KISS‘s Alive II as a Christmas gift that year (and my main interest was one of the studio tracks, a cover of “Any Way You Want It” by The Dave Clark Five). I subsequently picked up a used copy of its predecessor, Alive!, on a trip to Cleveland somewhere in there, too.
And my acquisition of live records is just a blur after that. My friend Tom turned me on to The Runaways‘ Live In Japan; the others that meant the most to me were The Ramones‘ It’s Alive!, The Heartbreakers‘ Live At Max’s Kansas City ’79, Cheap Trick At Budokan, and a bootleg cassette of The Flashcubes live in ’78. I had some bootlegs of live stuff by The Sex Pistols, The New York Dolls, and Elvis Costello & the Attractions, and two separate sets of neighbors in the ’80s turned me on to James Brown‘s Live At The Apollo and Otis Redding‘s Live In Europe.
The live album I wished for most was a live Monkees album; resurgent Monkeemania granted that wish in 1987, with the release of Live 1967, which I adored in all its rough ‘n’ ragged glory (and which I later upgraded to a 3-CD Rhino Handmade edition). Later in 1987, I attended a Monkees concert and discovered a new Monkees live album, 20th Anniversary Tour Live, recorded the previous year and sold only at concessions on the ’87 tour. In those days before social media, most people didn’t even know the album existed. In fact, when I reviewed the album for Goldmine, I had to prove its existence to editor Jeff Tamarkin before he would run the review! That’s the only time in twenty years as a Goldmine freelancer I ever had to do that.
My few remaining Holy Grail albums include one live record, a 2-LP set of The Bay City Rollers‘s mid-’80s reunion tour of Japan. I’d still love to hear that one, but I do already have a Rollers live album (also from a Japanese concert, but from the ’70s rather than the ’80s). That makes it a lot easier to live without the rare–and presumably pricey–’80s set.
I still get the occasional live CD–cool, relatively recent releases from The Grip Weeds and Lannie Flowers come to mind–and I’m sure there are many, many more to come. And I recently listened to Alive! and Alive II, the first two KISS live albums, for the first time in years. And they kick. I still love it live.