Graham Reid | | 4 min read
The live album -- or double live as was standard in the days of vinyl -- has had a chequered history in rock: some live albums defined an artists career (Frampton Comes Alive, Thin Lizzy's Live and Dangerous) and others added little to the sum of our knowledge (most of Dylan's).
Some artists regularly drop live albums (Paul McCartney, who has a huge backlog of songs to draw from) and others seldom do (U2 have been refreshingly economic on that count).
The double live in a gatefold sleeve usually appeared after three or four studio albums when bands had moved from clubs to concert halls or stadiums, and were in need of a breather. The live album as stop-gap (Lou Reed's Rock'n'Roll Animal) has been common enough.
There have been a few live albums which have achieved considerable stature, chief among them the Rolling Stones' Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! recorded at Madison Square Garden in November 1969.
The timing was significant: the decade in which British bands had taken American music back to the States (notably the blues-based Stones) was coming to a close; their short tour had started in Colorado three months after the optimism of Woodstock; and they had anticipated huge outdoor concerts in July that year with their Hyde Park show which closed the chapter on the late Brian Jones and introduced new guitarist Mick Taylor to their audience.
They were also touring on the back of their exceptional Beggar's Banquet of the previous year and were cocky enough to know that Let It Bleed (which would be released a week later and effectively capitalise on their touring profile), was also right on the money.
After an unsteady period (Satanic Majesties, drug busts, the departure of Jones), the Rolling Stones were at the top of their game. And their audience which once screamed now came to listen and watch. The show was about the band, not the audience and the Stones had made that significant shift from a pop band to a rock band.
And so in late November they came to Madison Square Garden for two nights (the Thursday being Thanksgiving) with BB King and Ike and Tina Turner opening. Everyone was there: critic Lester Bangs who later reviewed this album for Rolling Stone, Jimi Hendrix backstage, their notorious manager Allen Klein then also seducing the Beatles, a drunk Janis Joplin, Chuck Berry, composer Leonard Bernstein, the Maysles brothers filming backstage who had covered the Beatles in '64 and would later deliver the Stones' Gimme Shelter, blues writer and Stones biographer Stanley Booth, 16,000 fans each night . . .
And the concerts were recorded with a view for official release (Love in Vain came from a Maryland gig the night before) to counter a bootleg of their Oakland show which had already appeared.
The album, a single record shorn of fat, appeared the following year and was immediately hailed as not just a snapshot of the band at their peak but an authentic document of what a rock'n'roll show should be.
Writing about it Bangs bemoaned the current state of stadium rock (groups like the Band and Creedence Clearwater going through note perfect versions of their songs, other just pompous or dull) and that what the Stones did was bring grit and a rare passion to their music.
The songs didn't sound the same as the records but were more urgent -- and necessary. Bangs noted that the energy levels rose constantly over the course of the two sides of vinyl (just 40 minutes) and that Keith Richards' playing on Street Fighting Man "takes the show out on a level of stratospheric intensity".
The set list was interesting of itself: they went right back to Chuck Berry's Carol and Little Queenie which they had played at the dawn of their career and even further back for Love in Vain, a Robert Johnson track which had been their inspiration while still in short pants.
They were acknowledging the primal American music of blues and early rock'n'roll and then, by way of their own Jumpin' Jack Flash, Midnight Rambler and Honky Tonk Women, hauling them into their own vision.
Four decades later the album still stands as a thrilling and instructive rock'n'roll album -- and of course the anniversary edition comes with more, much more.
There is a five track extra disc of previously unreleased songs which include a stinging boogie and bluesy version of Satisfaction, their stadium pleaser I'm Free, their blues tributes in Prodigal Son (Richards on acoustic, Jagger on downhome vocal mannerisms) and You Gotta Move. There is also their always controversial Under My Thumb (as if they cared).
And there is more. A third disc gives 12 songs from the BB King and Turners' sets which if nothing else reminds you that -- despite his manifest faults -- Ike Turner was one of the great originators of this music. The Turners kick in with a boogie-woogie piano and horn instrumental version of Spencer Davis Group's Gimme Some Loving which segues into Tina on a throat tearing version of Sam Cooke/Otis Redding's Sweet Soul Music.
They drop the mood for Son of a Preacher Man, get down to business on Proud Mary, pull back again for I've Been Loving You Too Long, get it up again with Lennon's Come Together and go out with Wilson Pickett's soul-rock stomper Land of a Thousand Dances.
Then there is the DVD: five Stones songs opening with Prodigal Son and You Gotta Move delivered by a coolly confident Mick sitting at the microphone with a bedraggled Keith playing superb acoustic blues. Then there is some footage of Mick and Charlie on a bitterly cold day trying to set up the cover shot with a donkey on motorway while wind whips around them. (You can see why in the actual shot done later Charlie was jumping for joy).
Then there is more concert footage (mostly the camera is unwaveringly on Jagger) and finally them at an airport in San Francisco a week later waiting for a helicopter with members of the Grateful Dead. They are flying to another gig. Although the travel arrangements are screwed up they are laughing and happy.
And why not? It was the end of a tour during which they had been introduced for the first time as "the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world".
They were. Top of their game, unstoppable and in control.
The helicopter they were waiting for was taking them to their final gig of the tour, a free concert at a speedway called Altamont.
And that too, in another way, changed everything.