Year of the Gatefold

Ah, the live album. The gatefold sleeve, plastered with tons of live pics of your favorite band, holding four sides of music recorded live on stage, where it really mattered, performing before an audience of worshiping fans. The best live records drop you in the front row, where the thick, humid air smells like a mixture of weed, puke, and sweat; where your ears take a pounding from a PA system bigger than your house as the crackle and pop of firecrackers echoes through the arena. Some say that the 1970s was the Decade of the Live Album, and if any single year should hold that same distinction, it’s got to be 1978, when an unprecedented number of live sets arrived in record stores (remember them?) to add color to the soundtrack of our youth.
Call it The Frampton Effect. ‘Frampton Comes Alive!’, Peter Frampton’s 1976 double-live release, spawned 2 hit singles and topped the Billboard charts for a whopping 10 weeks, and went on to become the best-selling album of that year. The record remained in the Top 100 for 97 weeks, well into 1977. Live albums by Bob Seger, The J. Geils Band, Joe Walsh, and Rush also reached deep into the Top 40 in 1976. The success of these records had a significant impact on the industry. And in the world of pure Hard Rock, the Top Ten success of Kiss and their ‘Alive!’ and ‘Kiss Alive II’ albums was also hard to ignore.
At a time when the rockers of the era were struggling mightily to get on the radio, the monster success of Frampton’s live album suggested there might be another way to break through. The Record companies saw the gazillions being made from records that cost relatively little to record. And so mobile recording units rolled out for virtually every tour that hit the road in 1977; those recordings would bear fruit the following year. Notable live records from Alice Cooper, Rainbow and Foghat appeared in ’77, but the sheer number of HR/HM live albums released in 1978 is stunning… I count no less than TEN significant live records hitting the market between January ’78 and January ’79.
1978 kicked off with an expanded field recording of Ted Nugent captured in the wilds of America in ’76 and ’77. Unleashed in January, ‘Double Live Gonzo!’ showcases The Nuge’s big guitars and even bigger mouth. His guitar prowess already firmly established, Terrible Ted’s live album is peppered with politically incorrect between-song raps that have become the stuff of legend (just ask Atlanta band Nashville Pussy). But the real value in ‘Gonzo’ lies in it’s capture of Nugent’s classic-era band in a live setting, and how it provides Nugent-the-guitarist the opportunity to put up or shut up… And as we know, Ted never shuts up. I remember walking around with friends, blasting this out of a portable 8-track player, feeling all badass as Nugent’s raunchy raps echoed off my neighbors’ houses.
After the Nugent extravagonzo, there came an almost 5-month lull, the calm before the storm of live releases that would hit in the second half of the year. Thin Lizzy opened the floodgates in June with ‘Live and Dangerous‘, a 2-record set that reached the #2 spot in the UK. While it’s safe to say that Nugent’s ‘Gonzo’ is 100% pure NUGE, Thin Lizzy’s ‘L&D’ is another story. Debate endures regarding just how much of this album is ‘live’… but, seriously, who cares? What matters is the end result, and ‘Dangerous’ is a worthy celebration of the Lizzy experience. Shamefully short at just 50 minutes, it’s overflowing with fantastic songs played with charisma, passion, and flair. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the show.
Recorded in Japan during guitarist Uli Roth’s final two shows with Scorpions, ‘Tokyo Tapes‘ came out in August as a Japan-only release. Nothing like waiting until the last minute to capture the Uli-era Scorps live! I didn’t catch this one until it was released domestically the following year, but when I did, mind = blown. There is some truly jaw-dropping guitar playing within these grooves, and each and every one of us should take a moment to thank their higher power that Dieter Dierks and RCA records rolled tape during Roth’s final 48 hours with the band. ‘TT’ contains some jarring edits that break the ‘concert experience’ feel, but overall this collection really cooks.
Also in August, Sammy Hagar decides to return to his monstrous Montrose roots and release a live album balls-out with scorching rockers. ‘All Night Long‘ was recorded in San Francisco, San Antonio, San Bernardino, Santa Cruz and Santa Monica… I’m not kidding. I snapped this one up after learning that the band on the record was 3/4 of Montrose, and the track list includes two songs from the mighty Montrose debut. The Red Rocker keeps this single-disc live outing tight and punchy, and Sam reveals himself to be a smokin’ guitarist. ‘All Night’ is the first and only live album that I’m aware of where the final song fades out —while the band is still playing! Like having to leave the concert before it’s over because your ride wants to be home early.
A few weeks later in September, Blue Oyster Cult would offer up their second live album, ‘Some Enchanted Evening‘. Like Hagar, BOC would limit themselves to a single disc, and much to this young listener’s disappointment, include two covers. With a catalog as deep as BOC’s, why waste precious space on somebody else’s tunes? Where’s ‘Tattoo Vampire’? Where’s ‘The Golden Age of Leather’? And what about ‘Dominance & Submission’?? Thankfully, the stellar version of ‘Astronomy’ included is worth the price of admission all by itself. Despite the dubious song selection, ‘SEE’ would somehow become best-selling album in the Cult’s catalog. Go figure!
I remember walking into my local record store in early October and spotting Cheap Trick’s ‘Cheap Trick At Budokan‘ high on the wall behind the counter, with a $27 price sticker on it. CT had just released ‘Heaven Tonight’ in April; I was completely blindsided by this mysterious live record. ’27 bucks!?’ I exclaimed. The clerk explained that it was a Japanese import, and wasn’t coming out in the US. Shit. Somehow the 14-year old me came up with the 30 dollars (I seem to remember rolling coins…) and snagged it off the wall before anyone else did. Woohoo! ‘Budokan’ was another single-disc live record, (in a gatefold sleeve!) and featured three songs we’d never heard before. Allowance money well spent.
I have come to appreciate Aerosmith’s ‘Live! Bootleg‘, but back in October of ’78, I was disappointed. ‘Bootleg’ dispenses with the ‘concert recreation’ feel that most of the live LPs of the era went for; instead, it serves as a live retrospective, featuring recordings from as far back as 1973 and right up to March’s ‘California Jam II’ concert. It’s a mixed bag; performances by young scrappers in Boston clubs segue into recordings from the biggest stadiums on the planet, not in chronological order, all adding up to kind of a jumbled sonic documentary of the band’s heyday. Teenaged me wanted something more like what Lizzy or Cheap Trick had delivered. Still, two live albums from two of my faves in one month was pretty killer. Wait, what? THREE??
With ‘Bootleg’ and ‘Budokan’ still in heavy rotation on my turntable, Australian upstarts AC/DC joined the fray in late October with ‘If You Want Blood… You’ve Got It‘. The band had released their ‘Powerage’ album back in May and I was instantly hooked; this live album followed a mere 5 months later. Recorded at the Glasgow Apollo (see also: Status Quo’s ‘Live!’, portions of Rush’s ‘Exit: Stage Left’) before an absolutely rabid audience (ANGUS! ANGUS! ANGUS!), ‘Blood’ is a sweaty, raunchy workout that captures the band’s stage show as-is. I remember riding my bike home from the record store with this album clutched to my chest, trying not to bang it around and ding up the album cover. Which reminds me of a story…
So I’m at the record shop, and spot the record, marvel at it’s totally awesome front and back covers, and head to the front counter, where the clerk (let’s call him Steve) checks out the cover, and starts laughing. He says ‘You don’t really want to buy this piece of crap do you?’ I say, um, yeah, I do, and he starts yelling to another employee, ‘Hey man, have you seen this cover? HAWHAWHAW!!’ He looks at me once again and says ‘Really?’ Just then an older gent walks up to us (I presume was the owner or manager) and tells Steve ‘meet me out back in a minute’. Steve, with an *Oh Shit* look on his face, heads to the back room. The owner/manager rings up my sale, smiles and says ‘AC/DC! Cool!’ Never saw Steve there again. True story.
At some point in 1978 (details are scant) came a single-disc live LP from Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush. This is another record that I didn’t get hip to until a few years after it’s release. Marino was largely written off as a Hendrix clone decades ago, a stigma that prevented him from ever achieving the mainstream success enjoyed by his peers… although Frank Marino is entirely without peer as a rock guitarist. This guy OWNS every other rock player of the era. On the imaginatively-titled ‘Live‘, Marino, backed by his sturdy rhythm section, blazes through hippie-trippy highlights from his catalog, then shoots himself in the foot by including a Hendrix cover. The liner notes for a 2018 re-issue claims that there are no overdubs on this puppy, but hey, who knows. Call this one Single Live Gonzo.
As if to hammer home the fact that 1978 really was the Year of the Live Album, CBS Records released ‘California Jam II‘, a selection of highlights from the second Cal Jam concert that took place back on March 18. The 2-record set included tunes from Aerosmith, Nugent, Heart and Mahogany Rush. Dave Mason, Santana, Jean Michel Jarre and Rubicon (with Jack Blades and Brad Gillis, pre-Night Ranger) also appear. (Bob Welch and Foreigner played the show, but didn’t make the record, as they were not signed to one of CBS’ labels.) But it’s the hard rockers who dominate the set, of course: Nugent gives us live versions of two songs that didn’t show on ‘Gonzo’, Aerosmith gift us with one that didn’t make ‘Bootleg’, and Marino wipes the floor with all the other guitar slingers on the bill. Worth hunting down on vinyl, as the album has never been released on CD.
As if TEN live albums in one calendar year wasn’t enough, the Gonzo just kept on comin’, a residual effect that would carry through much of ’79. First up: I caught Cheap trick at Boston’s Orpheum Theater in December ’78, and was blown away by opener UFO. A few weeks later, I took the bus (it was January; my bike wasn’t feasible) to the record store, headed for the end of the alphabet, and found the just-released ‘Strangers in the Night‘ double album. The lineup I saw featured Paul Chapman on guitar, but ‘SITN” captures Mad Michael Schenker’s final swing with the band. An instant classic, and possibly the finest album covered here. A shame that a re-arranged re-master is the only way to purchase this album today, as the original Chrysalis version is flawless.
Also in January of ’79, Scorpions finally release ‘Tokyo Tapes’ in the US. With both Uli Roth and Michael Schenker long gone before either ‘SITN’ or ‘TT’ are released, the Scorps/UFO live albums became indispensable documents of a bygone era. Then, in early February, the suits at CBS wise up and release Cheap Trick’s ‘Cheap Trick At Budokan’ domestically as well. The Japanese version had become the biggest-selling import album of 1978, so CT’s next studio record (‘Dream Police’) was shelved to allow for ‘Budokan’s release, and the rest is history. Oh, and in April, the Ramones released the double ‘It’s Alive‘ set… but not in The States, where it wouldn’t be released until 1995 on CD.
Queen’s ‘Live Killers‘ hit the bins in June. Here again, the now-15-year-old me was a little disappointed; Queen’s studio records were so elaborately constructed that to me it didn’t sound like Queen (ex: during ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, a tape of the operatic a capella section was played after the band hastily exited the stage, and that moment plays very awkwardly on a live album). But what I grew to understand is that it does sound like Queen, as this is exactly what the band really sounds like, and in this context, stripped of the indulgent studio magic that adorned their studio records, a great live band comprised of supremely talented performers is revealed.
The Pat Travers Band kicked our asses over the summer of 79 with their single-disc live set, ‘Go For What You Know‘, and their version of ‘Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)’ became a minor radio hit. A double-disc might have been much, but would have allowed for the inclusion of PTB’s roof-raising live version of ‘Statesboro Blues’, or a live ‘Life in London’. The syngery between guitarists Travers and Thrall is stunning, and the chops on display here are phenomenal. This young lad found the myriad tones and effects the two employed positively hypnotic. But it’s not just the guitars that impress here; some of the drumming on GFWYK has to be heard to be believed. Mars was no slouch on the bass either. Where’s the expanded remaster??
This unprecedented super-cluster of live releases comes to a close in September of 79, when The Beast that is Priest release ‘Unleashed in the East‘. Live? Studio? Overdubbed vocals? Again— WHO CARES. The record is simply awesome. At the time, this was the heaviest metal I had ever heard. This single-disc wonder should have been– and could have been –released as a double album, had all the bonus tracks and B-sides culled from the same shows been utilized. As-is, this record explodes with state-of the art, pure of heart, flag waving HEAVY METAL, released at a time when it was definitely not cool to be tagged as such.
WOW. Fifteen live albums from just about all of my favorite bands in a year and a half! You couldn’t leave your house without stepping on a live album. It was almost as if Heavy Metal’s underlying strategy was to ‘wait out’ Punk Rock; that the hard rockers of the era conspired together to take some time off and reassess. Whatever the reason, this deluge of live gonzo makes 1978 (and half of ’79) a standout year in 70s Metal, despite the fact that the rest of the music world was preoccupied with either Punk or Disco, and most critics and journos had decided that Metal was over… One month after the release of ‘Unleashed in the East’, the cover of the Oct ’79 issue of CREEM Magazine blared: “Is Heavy Metal Dead?” No, stupid, Heavy Metal is LIVE!

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Unbelievably Frustrating Object

!!Spoiler Warning!!

If you’re a fan of UFO’s classic live album ‘Strangers in the Night’, be aware: the following analysis contains information that could really harsh your buzz. Like, wicked bad.

If you’re not, what the hell is wrong with you??

Released in January of 1979, UFO’s bid for 70’s double-live gatefold gonzo, entitled ‘Strangers in the Night’, was a cut above most of the 2-record live sets released by their contemporaries in the 70’s. Several of their hard rocking brethren had opted to release singe-lp live albums the previous year; AC/DC, Cheap Trick and Blue Oyster Cult among them. But UFO went for broke, doubled down, and the gamble paid off. Shows recorded in the fall of 1978 in Chicago and Louisville were compiled into what is now regarded as one of the greatest live rock albums of all time.

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‘SitN’ hit number 7 in the UK and number 42 in the US, a territory that the band had been working hard to break open since the top 40 stateside success of their 4th Schenker-Era studio album, ‘Lights Out’. The live album’s success shouldn’t have surprised anyone; ‘SitN’ displayed better chops than Kiss did on ‘Alive!’, was more consistent than Thin Lizzy’s patchwork ‘Live and Dangerous’, and more coherent than Aerosmith’s ‘Live! Bootleg’. Simply stated, it’s a masterpiece of live hard rock, delivered with powerhouse precision by a fiercely dynamic band on the brink of implosion (see Deep Purple’s ‘Made in Japan’). So then… Why has this classic record been so shamefully mishandled by the powers that be for the last  decade-and-a-half?

‘Strangers in the Night’ was first released on CD in 1987 on Chrysalis Records. It was a simple transposition of the original album from 2 vinyl records to 1 CD. Same songs, in the same order; at 69:13, no editing was needed to fit the entire double album set into the single-CD format. The CD sounded vastly superior to the vinyl version. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

I wish. In 1999, EMI released a remastered version of ‘Strangers in the Night’. Okay… remastered is good; the original CD had been mastered for vinyl, so this version would sound even better. EMI also added “2 Previously Unreleased Bonus Tracks”. Um, okay: this is where it gets weird.

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Adding ‘Bonus Tracks’ was and still is the standard tactic to persuade consumers who had purchased a previous version of an album to shell out and buy that same album again. In the case of ‘SitN’, EMI added live versions of ‘Hot n Ready’ and ‘Cherry’ to their remaster, in an alleged attempt to replicate the running order of UFO’s set during their 1978 tour. Since these two songs were the first 2 songs in their ’78 set, they were tacked on to the beginning of the CD, as opposed to the end, which is standard procedure for bonus track placement. Thus these 2 added tracks became the first 2 songs on the record. Makes sense, right? Sure. However, both tracks are markedly inferior to the material on the original album. ‘Hot’ was taken from a Youngstown, OH show on the same tour; vocalist Phil Mogg is pitchy/mostly flat throughout the song. A feedback-ridden version of ‘Cherry’, taken from a concert in Cleveland, just doesn’t cut it. Neither song reaches the level of performance or sound quality of the material on original album; neither song benefits from the extra crowd noise (from the Chicago show) added into to the original album to ‘juice up’ the record. At this point, after just the first 2 songs, this record is ruined.

But wait! There’s more!

The rest of the original album follows, but the songs’ running order is changed to further reflect UFO’s set from the 1978 US tour. As another added ‘bonus’, all of Mogg’s between-song stage banter is restored, which, at best, amounts to several wasted (and I do mean wasted) minutes of drunken, nonsensical rambling and unfunny in-jokes, and prevents this version of the album from gaining any forward momentum. It’s more than a little embarrassing. Who thought this was a good idea? If this junk is considered ‘bonus material’, I’ll pass, thanks. There’s a difference between being historically accurate and creating an exciting, entertaining rock album. And if restoring the flow of the original concerts is really the goal here, where’s ‘Pack It Up and Go’? Where’s ‘Ain’t No Baby’? And, he demanded in an increasingly hysterical tone, where is ‘On With the Action’??? “Pack’ was played at the Cleveland show, and ‘Baby’ was played on the Chicago date. But the omission of ‘On With the Action’ has to be the most egregious error committed here, as it was the B-side of the album’s single, ‘Doctor Doctor (Live)’. It has appeared on (a comp) CD before; why the HELL not include it here?

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Chrysalis re-released ‘SitN’ in 2008, in yet another remastered edition. Other than the pointless re-remastering, it’s the exact same version of the album released by EMI in 1999. Unless you count the following bombshell, hidden in the ‘extensive liner notes’, as ‘bonus material’…

!!Final Spoiler Warning!!

In the booklet included with the 2008 version, it is revealed that 2 songs from the original album, ‘Mother Mary’ and ‘This Kid’s’ were not performed on the 1978 tour, and the versions included on the original album (and all subsequent versions) were in fact live-in-the-studio recordings with crowd noise from Chicago added. Ouch. Dear Paul Elliot: I think I could have lived the rest of my life just fine without ever becoming aware of that particular piece of information, fuck you very much.

And if these 2 songs weren’t played on the ’78 tour, then why incl… oh fucking hell. I give up.

!!End of Spoiler!!

Most ridiculous of all is the fact the original version of the album has been unavailable (legally) since 1999. Anyone since then wanting to check out this legendary piece of heavy metal history has probably ended up with either of the 1999 or 2008 train-wreck versions, and was left wondering ‘Eh… what’s the big deal?’ That’s a crime. Capitol’s 1999 US reissue placed the bonus tracks at the tail end of the CD; this seems to me to be the best way to deal with them… This, then, would be the most desirable version of the album to hunt for on the aftermarket, as it’s remastered and sounds better than the Chrysalis original. Just quit listening after ‘Shoot Shoot’!

!!End of Rant!!

Whichever version you may have, take a second and check out Track 7, titled ‘Love to Love’. At exactly 1:00, you’ll hear one of my favorite recorded moments, on any album, ever. While the song kicks in just after its extended intro, one member of the band yells ‘Yaaaaaaaa!’ and another lets out a ‘Whoooo-hoooo!’ in response. This moment perfectly encapsulates the genius dichotomy of UFO and ‘SitN’; class, elegance and precision vs unbridled power and wild abandon. Ya gotta listen close but after you hear it once you’ll hear it every time thereafter.