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Jul 02 2011

Popular Culture (Music) 20110701: The Who. Live at Leeds

Live at Leeds was the first live recorded record album by The Who that was legitimate.  There were plenty of rather crudely recorded, pirated versions of many of their live performances, but back in 1970 those analogue ones, mostly recorded by audience members under cover, rapidly were degraded by the very process of analogue to analogue copying, making even third generation copies almost unintelligible.   That is too bad, because some of those performances were great.

After the huge success of Tommy, and the concomitant success of the associated tour, Kit Lambert and The Who decided to record an actual live record that would capture their sound.  Live at Leeds did it well, but was too short because of the limitations of vinyl records at the time.  Remember, and I have covered this topic before, only 45 minutes, give or take a few, were possible with the vinyl technology at the time.

Let us examine what is really a wonderful record.  Note that there is very little video available, so that just the music is usually given here.  By the way, the album charted at #3 in the UK and at #4 in the US.

On Valentine’s Day in 1970 there was held a music festival at Leeds University in England.  The top act at the festival were The Who.  Kit Lambert and Townshend wanted to get an authorized live album out because of the numerous bootleg recordings that were going around at the time.  Some of their very best live material was performed there, and my personal feeling is that they were at the very peak of their live careers.

The LP was originally released 19700516 in the US on MCA and Decca, and on 19700523 in the UK on Polydor and Track Records.  This is unusual, since The Who records were generally released in the UK before the US.

I really like this LP.  Not only is the music excellent, they covered a number of hits written by others.  There was also in a very few early pressings a copy of the contract that they had to play Woodstock.  I know of at least one person who thought that he had the original contract when he found it in a couch that he bought second hand.  Since there were only 500 of the albums released with the copy, if it were from the actual album and not a photocopy it would probably be worth quite a bit anyway.

Let us get right to the music, and I shall comment from time to time.  Unless otherwise specified, all material is written by Townshend.  The first song is Young Man Blues (Mose Allison):

Listen to the sharp bass and drumming!  They were in perfect counterpoint, and Townshend’s guitar was also excellent.  Daltrey was in good voice for this one as well.  This is more R and B than rock, but Townshend’s arrangement of it made it rock as well.

Here is the same song from The Isle of Wight festival, with video.  I think that the Live at Leeds sounds a bit better (the audio from Isle of Wight was lost for decades, and only recently has been restored, but at least there is video there.  I have not been able to find a Townshend demo for this song.

Still wonderful!

The next song was one of my favorite songs by the band, Substitute.  I sort of self identify with it.  Let us listen to it now.

This is Townshend at his most clever in writing skills.  Not only the music, but the lyrics as well.  “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth” completely defines the Baby Boomer generation, and I must admit that I had one as well.

Here is a lip synched version of the studio track.  I like the studio track very much, and you can tell that it is synched because Moon HATED to sync!  You can see that he only pretended to play his drums.  The actual soundtrack was blotted and the studio version was, well, substituted.  This is from 1966, long before Townshend had home studio recording equipment to make demos.  I LOVE this song!

Once again a cover, I think that the Live at Leeds version of Summertime Blues is the supreme one, very much overarching the original Cochran one and everything that came since.  Please enjoy it with me, again.

Here is the Cochran one, not bad but not The Who:

It is not bad at all, but just not quite “hot” enough for me.  I think that The Who did an excellent job for it.

Here is the version from Woodstock.  Now you know that Entwistle was the bass voice.  I like the Leeds rendition better.

The last song on the first side was the rendition of Shakin’ All Over, by Frederick Heath, aka Johnny Kidd.  His original charted at #1 in 1960, but most of us remember the dynamite version from Live at Leeds by The Who.  Here is version by The Who:

Once again, there is no Townshend demo for it, but there is the original from Johnny Kidd and the Pirates.

Wow!  This is from 1960!  It is much more progressive that I would have ever thought.  Now you all know why I take the trouble to write this series!  I LEARN lots of things.  I need to dedicate an entire piece to him, because he died way too young, but that is for another time.

This number ended the first side of the original record, and the second side opened with a very long version of My Generation, sort of a medley.  Let us examine it.  It is mostly lots of Tommy, with other songs not often heard again mixed into it.  I hope that you enjoy it.

Note how that the instruments and the voices perfectly meld into something wonderful.  That is rare in live performances, and The Who were probably the very best live bands in their time.  You would have to use lots of evidence to convince me otherwise.  Here is the other half of this piece:

The final cut of the record is Magic Bus, a perennial favorite of fans of The Who.  Here is the Leeds version:

Here is a version with video recorded a few months later at The Isle of Wight music festival.  Obviously this is late in the set, because Moon is drenched with sweat.

Here is Townshend’s demo of the song.  It is quite different than the final product from the full band.

I was going to add the parts that came out on the CD that were not included on the LP, but that would make this piece way too long.  Instead, I shall treat them next week.  There are some really good songs on it.

I hope that you have enjoyed hearing why The Who were known as one of the very best live performance rock bands.  I just realized that the only exposure to The Who that most younger folks have ever had is through the TeeVee show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.  When I bring up The Who to them, almost to a person no one knows about them.  However, if I bring up the TeeVee show, almost all of them immediately know to whom I am referring.  It is a shame that they do not teach the classics in school!

Warmest regards,

Doc

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