Being a confirmed live album fiend, who often (let’s face it, usually) prefers a belting live take of a favourite song to its original studio version, I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘Live Albums that Changed the World’ supplement that comes with the current (December) issue of Classic Rock. Inevitably, though, there were omissions that struck me as nothing less than glaring. So, I hereby present for your consideration my top five live albums not included in the supplement:
5. Ten Years After: Live at the Fillmore East 1970 (released 2001). A much better reflection of the exemplary talents of these British blues rock titans than the Recorded Live (1973) set that was released towards the tail end of their heyday, this lavish double CD set is full of moments of live sublimity that more than justify comparisons to their more illustrious contemporaries, Cream. Epic head trips such as ‘Love Like a Man’ and ‘50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain’, both clocking in at just under ten minutes, feature staggering instances of marvellously fluid extended soloing from Alvin Lee, while the more frenetic workouts find the guitar supremo engaging in some mesmerising sparring with the formidable bass behemoth that is Leo Lyons. Utterly brilliant, and criminally underrated.
4. Magnum: Marauder (1980). Ah, early Magnum. So frequently ridiculed, and so unfairly maligned – notably, for reasons that I am still unable to fathom, by the guy who actually wrote the songs, Mr Tony Clarkin. I don’t care what anyone says, for me, Magnum’s peak as songwriters and recording artists was the pre-On a Storyteller’s Night era (allowing for the wobble that was The Eleventh Hour (1983), and for the fact that the redefining, commercial-glory-heralding Storyteller’s Night (1985) deserves to be regarded as a classic in its own right). To me, early Magnum brilliantly continued a venerable British tradition of epic fantasy rock inaugurated by Uriah Heep, and thankfully prolonged to this day by Gary Hughes and Ten.
Alongside the proto-AOR genius of ‘Changes’ and ‘If I Could Live Forever’, the original 1980 release of Marauder featured superb renditions of stirring yarns such as ‘The Battle’, ‘Reborn’ and ‘Lords of Chaos’ – pints of mead and Fighting Fantasy gamebooks at the ready, people! Later remastered editions of the album also tagged on the band’s stunning, contemporaneous Live at the Marquee EP, which featured more of their best fantasy-themed songs: ‘All of My Life’, ‘Invader’, ‘Great Adventure’ and ‘Kingdom of Madness’. Smooth-toned troubadour Bob Catley sold all of this material just as convincingly as the ballads, for which his affinity is legendary; and, for all five protagonists, perhaps the finest moment is the shimmering eight minute musical journey that is ‘In the Beginning’. Mr Clarkin, I’m begging you – we need more of this stuff back in the set now!
3. Rush: All the World’s a Stage (1976). Rush are undisputed live album kings. Not only because they are inarguably three of the most staggeringly gifted and inventive musicians ever to grace the rock genre, but also because they have had an uncanny knack of marking every phase of their startling evolution with a top-notch souvenir of the live Rush experience at the time. Asked to pick my favourite live Rush album, I think I’d more often than not go for their first – even though they undoubtedly went on to greater and more progressive things at later points in their career. All the World’s . . . captures the band recapitulating the best of the significantly Zepp-infused material from their first three albums while also marking the beginning of the next phase of their evolution with an astounding performance of the title track of their breakthrough album, 2112 (1976). The impeccable trio of Lee, Lifeson and Peart play with aggression and youthful vibrancy throughout, while also alerting the world to the cultured refinement they all commanded as instrumentalists, that would become their hallmarks. Highlights? The extended take on early epic ‘By-Tor and the Snow Dog’ is almost as compelling as ‘2112’, while shorter cuts such as ‘Bastille Day’ and the aptly titled ‘Anthem’ bristle with energy and élan. Oh, and just how great does Geddy Lee’s voice sound on those songs?
2. Uriah Heep: Live (1973). In contrast to Deep Purple, the giddying chaos of whose live performances always swirled around the serene and remarkably unflappable Roger Glover, Uriah Heep’s classic line-up is notable for the extraordinary fact that it did not have an anchorman, as is attested by this remarkable warts & all double album that caught the band at the height of their early 70s glory. The frantic powerhouse drumming of Lee Kerslake; Mick Box’s pulsating wah-wah guitar snarling away like a terrier on speed; the antics of flamboyant frontman par excellence David Byron, balanced by a pure voice that could attain to moments of real sublimity in spite of his lack of technical polish; the unbridled aggression with which Ken Hensley attacked the Hammond organ (when he wasn’t playing a dazzlingly mean slide guitar on ‘Tears In Your Eyes’); and the magnificently free-flowing, ceaselessly inventive brilliance of bass guitar genius Gary Thain – all of these elements amounted to a frontal musical assault that was all the more exhilarating for the sense of teetering on the brink of disaster that always accompanied the ride. This legendary set, recorded on a January night in Birmingham, is chock-full of magic moments from the late, great messrs Byron and Thain (notably, ‘July Morning’ for the former, ‘Sweet Lorraine’ for the latter – and ‘Sunrise’ for both of them) and confirms beyond doubt that, at their best, Uriah Heep were among the very greatest live bands that Britain ever produced.
1. Journey: Greatest Hits Live (released 1998). Come on, Classic Rock. Could anyone seriously argue that the classic line-up of Journey is not a contender for the title of Greatest Live Rock Band of All Time? I could easily have included the earlier Captured (1981) live opus, still featuring Greg Rolie, and wonderfully showcasing the strength of Journey’s pre-Escape material. However, I decided to elect for this collection, featuring the ultimate Perry/Schon/Cain/Valory/Smith incarnation of the band at the very peak of their powers, from 1981-1983, and including what are arguably the definitive versions of many of their most famous songs. So many magical moments are to be found here: ‘Don’t Stop Believin” divested of its more recent associations and abounding with the emotional power that make it an enduring classic; the jaw-dropping solo duelling of Schon and Cain in ‘Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin” (and check out Perry on the second verse); the fragile beauty of ‘Faithfully’ and ‘Open Arms’; the irresistible sugar rush of ‘Any Way You Want It’; the bittersweet end-of-night melancholia of ‘Still They Ride’; the gun-slinging fireworks of ‘Line of Fire’ . . . frankly, I feel bad about not name-checking every single song. Truly a masterclass of peerlessly refined and utterly captivating musicianship, the only gripe I can have with this essential album is the fact that one of my all-time favourite songs, that was always superb live – ‘The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love)’ – is not included.
Final comment: for anyone who struggles to understand why so many fans just can’t stomach the idea of Journey without Steve Perry, the music on this disc explains it over and over again. Three words made famous by Tina Turner: Simply. The. Best.
Update: And then, of course, there’s the one that occurs to you immediately after you’ve posted – being Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s magisterial One More from the Road (1976). Sorry, Rush, Magnum and TYA – you’ll have to bump down a place!