The studio version of The Who was a great band, with good-to-great albums and great singles, but that version of the band wasn’t the whole story. The Who were a band whose live persona and sound were extremely different from their studio counterparts, and it’s just as well, because there are a lot of people (myself included) who consider The Who the greatest live rock band they’d ever heard. This album, along with Isle of Wight, is a fixture in my overall top ten, and I suspect that if the band put out any more full archive releases from around that time, they’d all get 10’s or F’s as well.
A note about the album before I proceed. There have been three different incarnations of Live at Leeds through the years. The first was a 6-track, 40-minute single LP version released back in 1970. In 1995, the band released an expanded 70+-minute, 14-track, 1-CD version, containing all of the non-Tommy material of the evening, plus a performance of Amazing Journey/Sparks. Then, in the early 2000’s, the band released the entire concert, placing all of the non-Tommy cuts on the first disc and the Tommy performance on the second. The 1995 version is the one I became acquainted with first, and it’s the one that largely converted me into a Who fan, so I (admittedly arbitrarily) am primarily considering that version in reviewing this album. Yes, this means that I’m essentially treating half of the final release as “bonus” material, but the Tommy performance doesn’t seem to have been given the same re-mastering treatment as the rest, so I don’t feel too unjustified in that.
Back to the album, the most superficial evidence that The Who live bore little resemblance to the band that had done A Quick One and Sell Out is that, aside from the performance of Tommy (which is somewhat abridged), only three tracks tracks on the album had previously appeared on Who studio albums (My Generation, A Quick One While He’s Away, Tattoo). Otherwise, the band dips heavily into its hit-singles catalogue, and also relies heavily on covers of oldtime rock-and-roll/blues numbers. They even kick off the show with a song, Heaven and Hell, that never made it onto any regular studio albums, and which was written primarily for the purpose of live performance. But more than the track listing is the sound: live, the band was LOUD, yet ferociously tight, and the sound demonstrates an awesome crunch without ever devolving into directionless noise. The instrumental dynamics are really something to behold; Pete mostly uses some of the most ferocious rhythm playing I’ve ever heard to lay down a foundation over which Moon and Entwistle can dominate the sound with amazing drum and bass lines, but he also puts out some great solos when needed. This album largely shows that Pete may not have always functioned as a “lead” guitarist in the purest sense, but there’s no question that he leads the direction of the songs at any point, and that Keith and John had an incredibly well-developed ability to follow his lead. And one mustn’t forget Roger, who, despite obviously not being in top condition (he sounds a little under the weather), still sounds incredible overall, introducing the fierce voice that would first manifest itself on a studio album with Who’s Next.
The familiar songs all receive major transformations, emphasizing that the band wasn’t content just to play its songs exactly as they were in the studio. The rendition of Tommy strips away all of the quiet acoustic aspects of the studio version (and I liked the quiet acoustic aspects, mind you), grabs onto the great riffs and turns the tracks into simply ferocious rockers. The highlight of this performance of Tommy, to me, is definitely the Amazing Journey/Sparks combination, with monstrous basslines and feedback in the latter, but while some of the rest shows the band as slightly tired and exhausted, most of the other Tommy numbers are great as well. The ending portion of We’re Not Gonna Take It goes down especially well, though I should note that Roger had to re-record his vocal track at a much later date, thus slightly marring the “authenticity” of the performance.
The non-Tommy material gets largely reborn as well. I Can’t Explain, Substitute, Happy Jack and I’m a Boy all get turned from cute little power pop ditties into full-blown hard rockers with Pete, John and Keith taking turns trying to blow my speakers out. My Generation kicks off a 15-minute medley, with Pete pulling out amazing guitar lines one after another (there’s a moment when the sound goes quiet and then Pete starts playing this shimmering guitar line that has to be one of my favorite moments in all of rock music, and definitely one of my favorite Who moments) and the others showing an amazing ability to follow suit (incluing Roger, who sings a reprise of the See Me Feel Me section and a variant of it at a later point). Magic Bus, which closes the show, turns into a 7 minute theatre piece, with Roger and Pete engaging of what has to be one of the most infamous (and rightfully so) vocal back-and-forths in the history of rock music. A Quick One … changes drastically from the excessively sissified original, adding power to the instrumental parts, some really terrific singing from everybody, a hilarious atmosphere and just enough clumsiness to work with the song. Tattoo breaks the pattern in that it’s done closely to the original, but it sounds great, so I’m not going to complain.
Oh, and don’t forget the great opener. Heaven and Hell gets sung by John, and it immediately demonstrates the unbelievable level of power and tightness in the band’s live sound. Pete gets off a FANTASTIC solo in the middle, but it’s in his function as a rhythm player that he shines most in this track, and Keith and John do a good job of showing why they could make a strong case as the best rhythm section in rock.
And then there’s the covers, three of which were on the original six-track version. Fortune Teller (which segues into Tattoo) may be a little sluggish at first, but it has enough power to make it work, and once it picks up steam, it equals any other version I can imagine. Young Man Blues, one of the band’s signature stage pieces in the era, starts with some terrific vocal-guitar call-and-response, then breaks into a frantic instrumental break featuring Pete soloing at a breakneck pace and then going nuts trying to squeeze sounds out of his Gibson SG, before coming back together for a huge finish. Summertime Blues, then, makes a good case for being the band’s best cover, and the best version of the song ever done. Let’s face it, it would be hard for another version of it to surpass the powerful and tight playing of this, or especially for somebody to a better “boss voice” than John does (Boris strikes again!). And finally, as the liner notes say, there is “the best pre-Beatles British rock’n’roll song bar none,” Shakin’ All Over. It’s just more great rock’n’roll with more great howling from Roger, more insanity from Keith and John, and more great soloing from Pete.
Now, for a long time, I considered this their best album bar none, and figured that when I got around to making one of these sites, this would be getting the top grade. The problem to me is that, for the time, this was actually a pretty average show from the band, and didn’t showcase them at their very best. This was their first performance in England after six weeks of touring the US, and they were playing a full length Tommy every night and (presumably) starting to get a little sick of it. In fact, if you read the excerpts from an interview they did that day (included in the liner notes), you will see that the guys, particularly Pete, were really getting tired of performing. Plus, as mentioned, Daltrey, while sounding great, still sounds like he’s not at his very best. On the other hand, though, I guess these problems speak more to the band’s credit than anything else; if a substandard Who concert can be considered the standard for live concert albums for almost 30 years, imagine how these guys would do on a good night!
The Who were arguably the greatest live rock band of all-time. Want proof? Look no further. After the ambitious (some would say “overblown”) epic that was Tommy, the timing for this back-to-basics release was perfect, as it showed a side of the band – The Who as a hard rock band – that hadn’t yet really been captured on record.
Even the album’s packaging, with its brown bootleg-like cover, was inspired, and the album showed off their incredible band interplay, precocious individual personalities, and strong sense of humor better than any of their previous offerings. Along with Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970, this is the best (legally available) album that showcases their live prowess; I’d also recommend checking out The Kids Are Alright DVD/soundtrack.
Live At Leeds captures The Who at their primitive best, and the band’s tremendous energy and impeccable chemistry overwhelm flaws such as shoddy production (largely corrected on the ’95 reissue), at-times less than perfect vocal harmonies, occasionally meandering songs, and some leaden guitar work from Townshend.
Taken from two shows at Leeds University when The Who were at their absolute peak as road warriors, this set shows off both their fierce power and catchy popcraft, and its best moments are simply stunning. For example, cover songs such as “Young Man Blues” (Mose Allison) and “Shakin’ All Over” (Johnny Kidd and The Pirates) are excellent examples of the band’s “maximum r&b” side, with suitably violent, exciting performances that approach heavy metal.
Their cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” was even more inspired and would widely be considered the definitive version of the song, highlighted by Pete’s grungy power chords, Roger’s commanding vocal performance, and of course John’s tongue-in-cheek, deep bass vocal spotlights. Perhaps “Substitute” doesn’t offer much that the original studio version didn’t, but it’s still an excellent song and performance, and “My Generation” and “Magic Bus” are completely transformed from their original versions.
Really, “My Generation,” which runs for 15:46 and segues into several other songs, most from Tommy but some unrecognizable as Roger ad-libs some r&b shouts as the band thunders away behind him, was, in Pete’s own words, an “attempt to mix all the bits of our history together in a one great, huge deafening din.”
Despite some of the aforementioned meandering indulgences and leaden riffing, consider the attempt a rousing success, and “Magic Bus” is likewise extended far beyond its original running time (7:48), though it mostly sticks to the familiar melody. Still, this chugging beast of a song was tailor made for The Who’s live skills, as the band recklessly (and heavily) charges ahead, adding exciting ad-libs (catchy call and response vocals, stellar harmonica wailing by Roger) along the way.
It’s quite the spectacular finish to a spectacular live album that only got better with the 1995 reissue, which expanded the original’s mere six songs into a robust fourteen, with markedly improved sound quality as well. Again, as with “Substitute,” the versions of “Tattoo,” “I Can’t Explain,” “I’m A Boy,” and “Happy Jack” don’t really add much to the studio originals aside from grungier presentations, but “Heaven And Hell” was a terrific Entwistle offering never correctly captured in the studio, and more stellar maximum r&b came in the form of Benny Spellman’s “Fortune Teller.”
This version of “A Quick One, While He’s Away” is world’s better than the studio version (though the best version is the one on The Kids Are Alright), and likewise “Amazing Journey/Sparks” showed just how much heavier and more powerful Tommy came across on stage. In short, in 1995 one of rocks greatest live albums just got a whole lot better. Play it LOUD. Note: In 2001, the band also released the double cd Live At Leeds: Deluxe Edition, whose first disc contained the non-Tommy part of the show and second disc was comprised of the Tommy performance.
Take your pick; my preference is for the 1995 reissue above the other two, but you can’t go wrong with any of them.
February 14th, 1970 was one of the most important days in rock and roll history. Why you ask? Well, because of one concert, performed by The “Horrible” Who, “Live At Leeds”. “Live At Leeds” is said by some, including myself, that it is the best live concert album ever. The sound is great, the quality is excellent, and the band’s playing is exceptional. Now, I’m not trying to give a rundown on how the performance sounded, but it was pretty damn good.
But I’m not here to talk about the bass dominated Heaven and Hell, Magic Bus, or even the 15:00 minute My Generation rendition. I’m here to talk about the side of Live At Leeds that only some people know, the epic second disc to the concert, the disc they do a rendition of Tommy. The second disc of “Live At Leeds” is what makes this album the best live album ever. The Who played the rock opera Tommy between A Quick One, While He’s Away and Summertime Blues. Now on to the review……..
The Story of Tommy
I’m going to give a brief summary of what Tommy is about. Tommy is about a boy who is deaf, dumb and blind. At the beginning of the story, Tommy’s father, Captain Walker, was supposed to be lost. While Captain Walker is supposedly lost, Tommy’s mother finds a new boyfriend. One day, Captain Walker comes home while Mrs. Walker’s boyfriend is there. Captain Walker kills him, which leads to Tommy becoming deaf dumb and blind.
Even though Tommy is deaf dumb and blind, he learns the game of pinball, and instantly becomes a pinball wizard. While Tommy is kicking peoples assess at pinball, Tommy’s parents try to find a cure for the boy, but nothing helps cure his problem. After seeing numerous people, Tommy’s parents get fed up, and they break a mirror. Because of this, Tommy somehow becomes free. He is instantly becomes a star. He soon throws away his stardom, and realizes his love for his family.
By the New York Times”the best live rock album ever made.”
The second disc starts with the applause and talking of Townshend that is very common in the first disc. After a bit of talking and fooling around from the band, the music starts with the beginning of Tommy, Overture. Overture is a musical intro to get the album started, combining parts from 1921, See Me, Feel Me, Go to the Mirror, Christmas, and We’re Not Gonna Take It. Towards the end of Overture, a guitar solo takes over the song. Pete eventually shouts out “Captain Walker didn’t come home, his unborn child will never know him. Believe him missing with a number of men, don’t expect to see him again.” Pete quickly wraps up the solo, as the band goes into It’s A Boy. The Ox (John Entwistle, for those of you who don’t know.) starts off 1921 where the piano would start it on the studio Tommy disc.
Roger takes the helm at vocals, booming strong lyrics through the microphone. Amazing Journey comes next, and is by far one of the best on the album, mainly because it sounds more free flowing than on the album. Pete pulls out some great riffs, and John has the thunderous bass sound going as well. Roger sounds great, singing: “Sickness will surely take the mind where minds can’t usually go. Come on the amazing journey and learn all you should know.” Amazing Journey leads into the monstrous instrumental Sparks. The layering of the guitar and the bass is exceptional, as each have stellar parts. Sparks is probably the darkest track thus far on the album, but is still exceptional. Eyesight to the Blind is filler, as well as my least favorite on the second disc. The lyrics are annoying, even though Roger does a good job with them. Once again the guitar and bass is great, as it makes up for a crappy song.
Christmas is up next. It is about Tommy’s worried parents, and how they want to find a cure for him as soon as possible. Christmas has one of the most upbeat tunes on the album, even though it goes in and out of darker parts. Roger’s emotions grow more intense as the song goes on, leading to an abrupt ending. There is an odd transition from one of the most upbeat songs on the album, Christmas, to one of the most solemn and depressing sounding songs, the Acid Queen. It starts with a mysterious sounding guitar part, as the bass and drums soon follow. The lyrics are haunting, adding another aspect to the song. “I’m the Gypsy the acid queen. I’ll tear your soul apart. Gather your wits and hold on fast, Your mind must learn to roam. Just as the Gypsy Queen must do, You’re gonna hit the road.”
At this point in the story, Tommy’s parents are taking him to a gypsy to see if she can cure him using drugs. Next is the classic off Tommy, Pinball Wizard. Everybody knows the guitar part to this song. Keith does some excellent drumming, and John’s bass is stellar throughout, making Pinball Wizard one of the best sounding songs on the second disc.
The next two songs, Do You Think It’s Alright, and Fiddle About, deal with Tommy’s uncle, Uncle Ernie. Tommy Can You Hear Me follows, as the band sings. “Tommy can you hear me, can you feel me near you? Tommy can you see me, can I help to cheer you? Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy.” Pete sings the next song, There’s A Doctor. The husband finds a doctor that can supposedly cure Tommy. The results follow in Go To The Mirror, as the doctor finds that Tommy is “incurable”. Roger’s vocals are strong, and Pete’s guitar part as well as John’s bass part blends nicely together to create another solemn sounding song. Smash The Mirror follows, with smooth vocals, and a bass driven part. At this point in the story, Tommy’s parents are fed up with Tommy, and throw him at the mirror, where he becomes free.
Miracle Cure is a simple song where Pete is singing “Extra, extra read all about it, pinball wizard, in a miracle cure. Extra, extra read all about it, extra.” Sally Simpson is a four minute filler that is mostly guitar driven. That leads into one of the best songs on the album, I’m Free. I’m Free is a lot faster than the Tommy version. Pete’s guitar goes well with Roger’s vocals, making a nice mix. Tommy is singing about how he has become free.
Tommy’s Holiday Camp is a one minute filler that Uncle Ernie (a.k.a. Pete) sings. The last song on the second disc is by far my favorite of the album, We’re Not Gonna Take It. Its got the same tune from the opening of the album. Roger vocals are fitting in the first part of the song, as Pete and John rock out. After the first part of the song, the song becomes darker, as it goes into See Me, Feel Me.
Roger sings “See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me” four times at the beginning, then goes into a more sophisticated part, where Roger sings “Listening to you, I get the music. Gazing at you, I get the heat. Following you, I climb the mountains. I get excitement at your feet. Right behind you, I see the millions. On you, I see the glory. From you, I get opinions. From you, I get the story.” Everybody intensifies as the song grows more and more, until it slows down when Roger sings the last verse, and the other guys play the last notes of the opera, which then brings Tommy and the second disc of “Live At Leeds” to an end.
Only two words can describe the awesomeness of the second disc of “Live At Leeds”: mind blowing. As I said earlier, the sound is excellent, and the band’s playing is exceptional. If you don’t already have “Live At Leeds”, I would suggest getting this, the deluxe edition, because aside from getting the first disc, you get this one as well.
Even though the first disc of “Live At Leeds” is a classic, you really can’t judge Live At Leeds as the best live album ever until you’ve heard the second disc of “Live At Leeds”.
I realize it’s a common place – calling Leeds the best live rock album, but hey, what can I do? It’s stronger than me… In case you’re not competent: The Who may have been the third best studio rock band ever, but they were certainly the best live rock band ever. At least, at the time when Leeds was released. The old version included only six songs, three of them covers. The recent remastered version adds a whole eight more, thus making it a much more efficient and finished product.
The effect you get from listening to this stuff is awesome. I mean, at first it sounds like a horrible cacophony; but after a couple of listens, when your ears grow used to the sound, you’ll slowly come to realize that the murky noise generated by the band is actually just a shield under which resides some masterful riffing, fantastically fluent bass lines, steady drumming and powerful singing. And the next stage is to recognize that the ‘murky noise’ actually helps produce such a magnificent effect on the listener; namely, if Townshend weren’t drenching all of his riffs and solos in that dirty distortion, loudness and quasi-chaos, the band would have hardly been any more interesting on stage than, say, Iron Butterfly.
Most of the songs on here are old hits, but I assure you they are very hard to recognize. ‘Happy Jack’? It isn’t a lightweight, bass-dominated pop ditty any more – it’s a powerful rock tune with a roaring guitar and Daltrey sounding as if he was singing ‘Rule, Britannia!’, not ‘Happy Jack wasn’t tall, but he was a man’. ‘I’m A Boy’? Where are those sissy backing vocals and soft guitar lines (not that I have anything against these in the studio version)? They are replaced by powerful windmills!
‘Sparks’? Oh, yeah, ‘Sparks’? Where’s that classical guitar strumming? No, no, be prepared for a monstrous assault on your eardrums, like a thousand wild rhinoceros! It’s hardly possible to think that that thunderstorm on stage was being created by just two guitars and a drumset, but it is so – no overdubs.
‘Magic Bus’? The former three-minute Bo Diddley-ish single has been transformed into an 8-minute theatrical piece with Roger and Pete bartering for the right to drive the magic dingus. And Pete’s riffing at the beginning of the track, when he duels with his own echo coming off the walls, is probably the best example of his amazing guitar technique on the album… maybe even in general. Meanwhile, John sticks to his simple bass riff, distorting it so far that he almost gives the impression of steadily, calmly drilling the stage. Listening to it intently in headphones drives you crazy.
‘My Generation’? Forget it! It’s a 15-minute suite, built on loads of driving riffs, some taken from Tommy, some probably invented right on the place! Oh, that Pete! He knows how to produce a carefully placed riff now and then. More important, he knows how to make a 15-minute improvisation really interesting: unlike Cream, he doesn’t just stick to a monotonous, occasionally boring solo, but instead leads the band into a set of different grooves, all built on these captivating riffs.
Some will sneer and say that he does that only because he simply cannot solo like Clapton, but that’s all right by me. He finds the perfect substitute. Not that he can’t solo at all, mind you: the few solos he plays are no slouch, either. The opening ‘Heaven And Hell’ (an apocalyptic tune written by Entwistle) should put Jimmy Page to shame, not because it’s more perfect technically, but because it really gets your blood pumping without being too self-indulgent and show-off-ey.
The best thing about this furious rock machine, however, are the three covers (the re-mastered version adds a fourth one, ‘Fortune Teller’, but for me it’s really a letdown: it starts off slowly and boringly, and even though it kicks off in the middle, it’s too late to get interested already. The Stones made it much more efficient, I’m forced to admit). Mose Allison’s ‘Young Man Blues’ is my favourite live number by the band (although I prefer the version on Kids): menacing sharp opening riffs, Roger’s famous vocal battle with Moon’s drums, and then the furious middle passage with Pete squeezing everything out of his Gibson. To me, this is what rock’n’roll was all about: fast, angry, uncompromising and intoxicating, with a good deal of teenage angst thrown in so that the fury and anger wouldn’t seem pointless or aimless.
Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’ is also reshaped beyond recognition and also turned into a hard rock fiesta, this time with all the band on parade: Pete beating out that famous eight-note riff, Roger screaming out the lines about the kid who didn’t go to work, Keith crashing his cymbals as usual and John adding incredible bass runs and the deep-voiced ‘boss lines’.
Finally, the Pirates’ ‘Shakin’ All Over’ closes off the covers with Roger overdoing himself (who could have thought it was the same guy that whined James Brown’s ‘I Don’t Mind’ on their debut LP and roared the mighty ‘SHAKIN’ ALL OUUUUUVEEEEEEEER!’ on here?) and Pete having fun with a chaotic guitar solo.
Oh, I forgot one more thing. Remember what I said ’bout that ‘A Quick One’ mini-opera on their second LP? Well, it might have sounded feeble there, but this concert version redeems it totally. It’s been slightly shortened, some of the most stupid bits have been thrown out, the rest has been speeded up and tightened, and the result is eight minutes of pure fun, powerful guitar and great harmonies. Unfortunately, the mix does not do justice to the singing; for a truly unique live version of ‘A Quick One’ check out Kids again.
There is, however, a slight sense of uncertainty and tiredness beaming through the general excitement. You won’t be able to notice it if you haven’t heard any live stuff from 1969, but if you have, you’ll be able to notice that Pete’s playing is somewhat more ‘generic’ and less improvised than it used to be. Considering the fact that he ought to have been trying hard that evening (after all, they were recording it), this is even more foreboding. And if you read the interview given on that day (included in the booklet), you’ll see that the band certainly wasn’t on cloud nine at the time. Sad, but true: Leeds was at least several months late.
They were already beginning to exhale, and playing Tommy for the billionth time wasn’t much of a consolation, too. Oh well. ‘You can’t always get what you want’, as fellow Mick once said. At least we got Leeds! And now, come to think of it, we got that other one, too… just take a look forward…
This is one of those albums that no review will ever do it justice. To understand how incredible this recording is you have to – sit down, put in the disc and be blown away by one of the greatest bands in history.
I first heard Live at Leeds when I was in my early teens. At the time my CD player consisted of Rage Against the Machine and Nirvana. This album came on and it drifted through my ears without me paying the slightest bit of attention to it. It wasn’t as heavy as contemporary music. So back on went the Korn cd! What can I say? I was young and niave. Well put it this way, I’m going to say(without sounding like an ass) that if you like good music then this is an essential.
I can’t describe the power of this album. What amazes me the most is the fact that this was recorded before The Who had even touched on their greatest albums to date in “Who’s Next” and “Tommy”. Im not going to deny it though, I am a huge Who fan so my views will obviously be different to someone new to the band hearing this album for the first time. Im still stuck for words though – If you are remotley interested in rock music or “great music” then this is an album for you. Throughout, the album is laced with witty comments and remarkable musicianship.
Heaven and Hell(4:30)
Muffled talking, background noise and cheers from the crowd are the cliched start to a live album although I wonder if that cliche began with this recording? As soon as you here Entwistle’s thundering bass tone stamp out the notes E,A,D,G you know the magic is about to start. Bursting in with a powerful riff and mind-blowing drum beat, this is the perfect way to start the performance. Written by Entwistle, this song was never recorded in the studio which baffles me as it would have fitted perfectley onto Who’s Next. The greatest song to never have been recorded in the studio. 5/5
I Can’t Explain(2:16)
Starting exactly the same as the Clash’s “Clash City Rockers”, this is classic Who. This is an absolutley timeless song that was at the fore front of the Who’s set for 25 years. The orignal recording also featured Jimmy Page on second guitar. Not my favourite Who song but that doesn’t stop it being a true rock classic that shows the Who at top form. 5/5
Originally performed by Billy Spellman and covered by numerous other artists including the Rolling Stones. This is a great Rock n Roll song that is driven by Daltreys vocals. Although the song starts quite slow, it begins to rock halfway through. 5/5
My favourite song on the album that I hadn’t previously heard before. The lyrics are smart and witty with an incredibly catchy chorus. This also demonstrates the Who’s great use of backing vocals that benefit the song greatly.5/5
Young Man Blues(4:56)
Another cover song which was originally done by Mose Allison. As the title suggests, this is a more bluesy song. With it’s stop start feel and great vocal lines, you can see why they chose to cover it and make it their own – chosing songs to cover seems to be a talent the Who posesed as their choices were exceptional. Can I give this song 5/5 as well? I guess so. 5/5
Many favour it as being one of the greatest songs ever. Im one of them. 5/5
Continues straight on from Substitute, this is another of the Who’s hits. Again demonstrates the Who’s great use of backing vocals and Townshend’s great song writing ability 5/5
I’m a Boy(2:40)
Starts off with vocals from Townshend until Daltry comes crashing in to rock out. Another great, great song. Not much else to say really. 5/5
A Quick One, While He’s Away(8:25)
This is a small rock opera about an old engine driver who seduces a little girl. Breaks off into lots of different sections that all remain great to listen to. 5/5
Another two songs that I hadn’t previously heard. Starts off slightly weak but picks up pace and begins to rocks out hard. Another strong performance. 5/5
So powerful, so catchy – this is a highlight of the album which can be seen by it being used on the Who collection album. Unbelievable. 5/5
Shakin All Over(4:15)
Another catchy song. Ive found now that every song is getting 5/5 so i’ll keep the song by song reviews a little shorter as they are all classics. 5/5
Bursts in a lot faster than the studio recording. It’s reputation speaks for itself – My Generation is the Who at they’re very best. 5/5
When I first looked at the album I noticed this was a strange choice for the last song but when I heard what this song was like live, I understood why. Great way to end an unbelievable concert. 5/5
Ok so I gave all the songs 5/5. Some will say that this doesn’t give a true review of each song but there isn’t a bad song on this album or a song that deserves less than full marks. Make your own judgements on the songs and go and buy this album. An epic performance from an epic band.
You honestly can’t understand how remarkable this album is until you hear it for yourself. 5/5
Following the worldwide success of Pete Townshend’s rock opera, Tommy, consolidated by their blistering appearance in the movie of the Woodstock festival, the former Shepherd’s Bush mods were now a bona fide ‘serious’ albums act and were freed from their tag as 60s singles merchants. Their stage shows now lasted well into the three hour mark, usually involving an entire performance of Tommy and a host of oldies and blues and rock ‘n’ roll chestnuts, all boosted by Pete’s guitar pyrotechnics, John’s Entwistle’s thundering bass and Keith Moon’s apoplectic drumming. What’s more, singer Roger Daltrey had grown into the role of charismatic, mic-twirling frontman. Aside from the Rolling Stones (who had released their own masterful live document, Get Yer Ya-Yas Out, the previous year), the Who were now the most exciting live act on the planet. If you need proof, listen to this…
With too many tapes from the year’s touring to go through (they ritually burnt them in the end) and with Townshend’s ambitious Lifehouse project running into early difficulties, the band decided to do the sensible thing and make a proper document of how damn good they were on stage. With this in mind they booked two nights at Leeds University and proceeded to give a performance of their mighty stage act at the time. Whittling the gig down to just six tracks at the time of release, the album came wrapped in a mock bootleg, brown paper sleeve with a free ephemera of their 60s ‘Maximum R’n’B’ Marquee club heydays – showing just how far they’d come.
With a 50/50 mix of Townshend numbers and standards the album kicks off with Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues” and never looks back. Keith Moon may well be remembered for his schoolboy antics with hotel rooms and Rolls Royces, but to hear him here in full flow is an object lesson in rock trio drumming. It’s a measure of the band’s power that they can take hoary old standards like Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and Johnny Kidd’s “Shakin’ All Over” and make them their own.
It all climaxes with the band’s “Magic Bus”; a grade B single in 1967 now turned into a monster rocker complete with comic call and response and Daltrey’s fearsome blues harp. Subsequent reissues of the album for the CD generation gradually added the entire setlist from the night, including the entire Tommy suite, “A Quick One While He’s Away” and John Entwistle’s underrated “Heaven And Hell”, the best opening number any live band ever had. Rolling Stone hailed it as the best ever live album, and they may still be right…
As successful as Tommy would prove to be for The Who, it would also prove to bring about a series of difficulties that were to undermine the band, the way it saw itself, and the way the audience saw it. The problem with the famed rock opera was that the sound of the record was not even remotely reminiscent of the way The Who sounded on stage, and since many people discovered them through Tommy they had no idea of the volume and electricity the band generated when playing live.
How could they address that situation and make newcomers realize how they really sounded, and show their old fans that they were as demolishing as ever? The answer was to be named “Live At Leeds”, and nowadays any fan of rock & roll knows the words. They are inscribed into the collective soul of rockers, and into the cognition of those who have experienced music in its purest form.
“Leeds” found the different band members at the point in which they realized The Who was to be what they were to do for the rest of their lives. Not because they were making a substantial income, but because they had found something they truly excelled at, and something that truly inspired others to do their best.
The original album was released in 1970. It featured 6 songs. These included some early rock & roll covers, and some Who classics that were mostly expanded (“My Generation” clocks at almost 15’, and “Magic Bus” is twice longer than the studio cut – not to mention aurally explosive in every sense). The album omits Tommy completely – there is just a brief “See Me, Feel Me” interpolation during the “My Generation” jam, but that is it
Then, a CD resissue surfaced in 1995, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Shepherd Bush’s boys as a band. That release had 14 songs, including a fair share of early Who classics (“I’m A Boy”, “Happy Jack”, a thrilling “A Quick One”) along with a superb booklet. It goes without saying that the sound quality itself was taken care of, and that the crackling noises that plagued the original vinyl (and which were so noticeable the album came with a sticker saying they were not a fault of your record player) have vanished in thin air.
If I am not mistaken, this was the CD that marked the commencement of the remastered albums which were to surface between 1994 and 1997. And the CD also featured a lot of stage banter, spotlighting the wit of Pete and the irreverence of Keith bar none.
Finally, a deluxe 2 CD set was released in 2001. It included the entire concert, only that the Tommy numbers were moved into a separate disc, disrupting the original flow. And something that I did not like about this 2 CD set was the fact that Daltrey overdubbed far too many vocals. The 1995 disc had some overdubs, granted, but the difference became noticeable on the 2 CD set. From what I have just said, you can tell that my money is on the 1995 rerelease (that is, the single CD).
I felt it was important going through the different incarnations of the album. But in each and every case (notwithstanding the differences in length, track listing and faithfulness to the original performance) the same message is put across: The Who were at the top of the game after the extensive Tommy tours. Other contemporary live records prove it.
Ultimately, “Live At Leeds” acts as a reminder of the role the band was to occupy in history, and as an incontestable definition of them not only onstage but also in every walk of life: a sort of brute force that enshrined the biggest elegance and intellect you could come across in the music scene.
In that sense, “Live At Leeds” is an outright triumph. And making it your very first Who purchase is an excellent way of getting acquainted with them.
The live rock ‘n’ roll album has never gotten a lot of respect. Conventional wisdom says that a rock show is best experienced in the moment, with a beer in hand and beefy bouncers nearby cracking skulls. Experts also maintain that live albums exist only to fulfill contractual obligations and feature much self-indulgent posturing and tiresome sing-alongs.
Nevertheless, I have a soft spot for the live rock ‘n’ roll album. At its best (and even its worst), the live rock ‘n’ roll album is a fascinating snapshot of a particular time and place. Think Bob Dylan sneering down an audience of European hipsters on Live 1966, or Otis Redding charming an audience of European hipsters on Live in Europe, or the Rolling Stones burning down Madison Square Garden just over a week before Altamont on Get Yer Yas Yas Out. The drama of these moments is hardly diluted when reduced to just the music. You’re not in the moment, but you still experience the moment in a very real way decades after it has drifted into the ether. Play fucking loud, indeed.
Live at Leeds, culled from a concert performed by the Who on Valentine’s Day 1970 at Leeds University in England, is not only the best live rock ‘n’ roll album ever, but the best rock album period. It also happens to be my favorite album of all time, making it perfect for inclusion in this series and another notch in my belt of good taste.
Fuck the competition. Sgt. Pepper? Pet Sounds? We’re talking rock ‘n’ roll here, not belabored “artistic” statements with strings and French horns and shit. (As much as I love those albums). Rock ‘n’ roll is about carpe diem, seize the day. It’s about being loose, naked, free, dirty, and instinct-driven. It’s about four guys who hate each other off stage but complete each other on it making music more relentless and pulverizing than even the desire to die before you get old.
Let’s talk about those four guys for a second. There’s Pete Townshend, the guitarist, the man we call the leader. He writes the songs, acts as the spokesman, and internalizes the contradictions and perpetual identity crisis of his band. There’s Roger Daltrey, the singer, the macho man’s man. He twirls his microphone and turns Pete’s introspective musings into fist-pumping anthems. There’s John Entwistle, the bassist, the quiet one. He lets his thundering fleet fingers do the talking. The guy in back is Keith Moon, the drummer, the destroyer. He will kill you with his bare hands. He’s also the most overwhelming musician ever to play rock ‘n’ roll.
When these fellas recorded and released Live at Leeds in 1970, it was equivalent to ripping a long smelly fart in an opera house. The Who had played plenty of those the previous year. The success of Tommy made the faux mods “more” than a rock band; they were rock opera singers, artists making statements with strings and French horns and shit on top of it. It was long way from Shepherd’s Bush and “Can’t Explain”, that’s for sure.
It was an evolution and it wasn’t entirely welcome. Townshend, he of the aforementioned identity crisis, paradoxically longed for and was suspicious of artistic legitimacy. This was, after all, a guy who smashed his guitar and then talked ceaselessly afterward about what it “meant”. Who else would have embraced the classical pretensions of rock opera on the studio version of Tommy and then proceed to tear them to shreds when he played the piece live with the Who? Rock opera made people take the Who very seriously, which Townshend loved and Townshend hated. The pendulum had to be swung back again. A roaring live document would remind people that the Who weren’t fey British pishers after all.
When Live at Leeds was originally released, it contained only six songs, hardly representative of the Who’s sprawling live show but damn potent nonetheless. Three of the songs were covers, including the single “Summertime Blues”. The other two had long been staples of the Who’s live act: “Shakin’ All Over” was originally a hit by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates and a standard for any rock band worth its salt in England; Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues”, the album’s devastating opener, was a more obscure number pumped solid by the Who with enough erectile Led Zeppelin juice to choke the Acid Queen.
The other three songs were among the Who’s most enduring classics, including a truncated “Substitute”, a hilarious “Magic Bus”, and a rambling 15-minute version of “My Generation” that not-so-succinctly summed up everything you would ever need to know about the band.
Having shoplifted a tape of Live at Leeds from a local used record store when I was 13, I had no idea what I was in for the first time I heard it. Up until then I had been spoon-fed finely manicured dance pop by the likes of Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson. My underdeveloped brain wasn’t ready for the non-stop pummeling that is Live at Leeds. Its rawness rubbed my cerebral cortex beet red.
Fortunately, I wasn’t a total dolt and eventually came to love what I was hearing. I soon understood what dynamite each part of the operation here delivered. Townshend’s soloing, especially on “My Generation”, sounds improvised but can’t be. It’s too melodic and directed to be drug-induced wonkery. Maybe the credit here should go to Entwistle, whose hard-hitting bass lines cling to Townshend’s like metallic tentacles, creating a framework that makes his magic possible. On “My Generation”, their jamming stops and surges in two minute intervals, with Townshend plucking staccato guitar parts and Entwistle honing in on him every step of the way. Together they rise and rise until it all collapses and starts over again. Meanwhile Daltrey scats bloody murder along the way like He-Man bellowing atop Mount Olympus.
Have I not mentioned Moon? In a band of instrumental superstars, he is the superest supernova . This is a man whose gift for spontaneous genius and disaster was wasted in the studio. The stage brought out the best in him. The 1995 reissue of Live at Leeds with its eight extra tracks brings this more into light, revealing just how brilliantly reckless Moon’s “timekeeping” was. Or should I say timing? To make a hackneyed “Seinfeld” analogy, Moon comes into “Amazing Journey” like Kramer through Jerry’s door (literally) by way of nuclear cannon. On “A Quick One While He’s Away”, the Who’s first (and probably best) rock opera, he brings eight minutes of breathtaking action to a climax with a swirl of cascading drum runs so tremendous that they are still echoing in the Alps somewhere deep in Switzerland.
Toward the end of “Magic Bus”, the last song on both the 1970 and 1995 versions, Moon finally appears to be mortal. His energy is sapped. After remaining silent for the first three minutes of the song, he charges in and demolishes everything again. No more, I’m done, he seems to say as the beat peters out. Then comes the Townshend staccato. A beat, a second beat, and Moonie is back in there pounding away stronger than ever. Entwistle adds to the stomp with his nimble digits. Daltrey scats some more murder. Why do I always expect the Who to be spent when I’m the one who’s exhausted by album’s end?
Live at Leeds was reissued again in 2001 with a complete version of Tommy from the concert on a second disc. I’m not a fan of buying the same album more than twice, so I’ve stuck with the 1995 version. Besides, Live at Leeds has no business mixing with Tommy. They exist at opposite ends of the Who spectrum. The rock opera and the fart.