Pop: Got live - but do you want it?

`Concert' albums might come on like creative masterpieces. But really they've always been cheap marketing tools.

I do not have a clue as to why Frampton Comes Alive! was so big," claims Peter Frampton, the butt of a thousand Wayne's World and Simpsons jokes. Twenty two years on, 10 million people own the biggest-selling live album of all time but Frampton is caught in a Groundhog Day predicament. He's even released Alive 2 yet he can't overcome the curse of the concert recording. He's not the only one.

Live albums are a secret vice. You buy them in much the same way that you grab a T-shirt after a gig; after only a couple of airings, they're sitting on a shelf taking up valuable space. Just this week, 10 more landed on my desk, either as a finished product or in promo form. Does anyone really need Aerosmith's Little South Of Sanity, Black Sabbath's Reunion Live, Garth Brooks' Double Live, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones' Live From The Middle East, Portishead's PNYC, The Rolling Stones' No Security, Rush's Different Stages (a - gasp - triple!), Spiritualized Live At The Royal Albert Hall or a bonus concert CD as an incentive to buy Culture Club's Greatest Moments or Dire Straits' Sultans Of Swing collections?

Before the late Sixties (save for the faked enthusiasm of The Kinks Live At Kelvin Hall or The Rolling Stones' Got Live If You Want It), live albums didn't figure in an act's career. Unless you were James Brown, who had enough nous to finance the recording of his dynamic stage show for the 1963 million-seller, Live At The Apollo.

But in 1969, two major events happened. Detroit's MC5 lit a long, slow fuse with the inflammatory Kick Out The Jams while Jagger and co discovered the profits to be made from playing huge venues such as Madison Square Garden with a proper public address system. The band also left Decca to set up Rolling Stones Records. Owing their former label one more album, they settled up with Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!, an overview of their triumphant US tour. But then bootleggers beat them to the punch and shifted 100,000 copies of Liver Than You'll Ever Be. Mick and Keith would never again miss an opportunity to generate further income from concerts. No Security, featuring guests such as Dave Matthews and Taj Mahal, and released this Monday, is the Stones' seventh live album, confirming the link between art and commerce and giving the boys in the band another chance to write off tour expenses and fulfil contractual obligations.

It wasn't always this way. Looking like a bootleg in a beige "card" packaging, The Who's majestic Live At Leeds arrived in 1970 and gave rise to a decade of excellent live albums, concluding with the heady pop of 1979's Cheap Trick At Budokan. According to The Who singer, Roger Daltrey, Live At Leeds is: "the ultimate heavy metal album. Totally live, we didn't dub anything on it. Do you think I would have sung like that in a studio?" Pete Townshend begs to differ. "There's a long guitar solo at the end of `Young Man Blues' where it sounds like I'm playing the most beautiful, lyrical stuff. I simply edited out all my bum notes. You feel: God, this guy never makes a slip!"

Arguments rage about how live, live recordings are. Editing is fine, but what other kind of fixing goes on? Black Sabbath guitarist, Tony Iommi, is adamant that his group "didn't make any changes to Reunion Live. It's not a doctored-in-the-studio live album. When we heard the Birmingham tapes, we noticed a few little flukes, tuning problems and so on. But we decided to leave them in. Once you start fixing, there is no end." However, Thin Lizzy guitarist, Scott Gorham, breaks ranks. "Yes, we did cheat on Live And Dangerous, mainly on background vocals. On stage, you concentrate on being entertaining and playing your instrument and behind Phil Lynott, we always sounded like chickens getting their heads chopped off. The crowd noise felt distant so Tony Visconti ran applause from a Bowie concert through the mixing desk. If you pay attention, you can hear someone shout `David!'."

In the mid-Seventies, concert recordings provided a compelling career resume, an alternative to a greatest hits set, and propelled artists on to the next level of popularity. The J Geils Band's Fullhouse, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band Live and Bob Marley and The Wailers Live! lived up to memories of the concerts and worked for spotty teenagers miming in front of the mirror, while Iggy Pop's semi-legal Metallic KO became the stuff of legend. Then in 1976, Dr Feelgood's Stupidity topped the British album charts, marking the apotheosis of the live album as showcase and critically acceptable product.

Ed Stasium, the American producer who has worked with Mick Jagger, Living Colour and Motorhead, mixed The Ramones' It's Alive, recorded on New Year's Eve at London's Rainbow Theatre in 1977. "That was a great show," he says. "But we added songs from Stoke on Trent, Aylesbury and Birmingham. We did some minimal fixing for Johnny and Dee Dee on guitar and bass, but we left the drums intact. The other live stuff I've done is mostly radio and TV broadcasts. The early Talking Heads tapes from Boston ended up on the album, The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads.

Indeed, the trend for releasing archive tapes of classic concerts from the past, inaugurated by the Beatles execrably shrill At The Hollywood Bowl (a number one album in 1977) has become the most interesting development in the live album industry. Sam Cooke's Live At The Harlem Square Club 1963, released 21 years after the soul singer was shot dead, is a must. As is Bob Dylan's historical Live 1966, finally issued in legal form last week.

The Eighties saw the pop promo replace the live recording as a commercial calling card, while videos from concerts and TV specials are now part of the Nineties marketing strategy (see Divas Live with Celine Dion). In 1983, U2's mini-album, Under A Blood Red Sky, signalled the band's ascent to the major league but, as Bono admits, "it only worked if you saw the Red Rocks visuals. When the energy of the crowd is so brutal, the spirit of the music flees and all you're left with is crashing drums and clanging guitars". Still, the quartet couldn't resist going back to the outtakes for the bonus tracks on their current CD single, "The Sweetest Thing". Bono may see it as following in the vibrant tradition of such splendid live EPs as Eddie And The Hot Rods At The Marquee or Something Else by The Move, but we know better. U2 have got a Best Of... to flog.

This is what has become of the once mighty, all-conquering live album. It's a marketing tool to excite anoraks, completists or lapsed buyers who may be tempted to fork out for Eric Clapton's Crossroads 2 or Bruce Springsteen's Live 1975-1985. Historical recordings, and the odd MTV Unplugged aside, the live album is well and truly dead.

Ten Great

Live Albums

n James Brown Live At The Apollo

n Dr. Feelgood: Stupidity

n Bob Marley & The Wailers Live!

n MC5: Kick Out The Jams!

n Van Morrison: It's Too Late To Stop Now

n The Ramones: It's Alive

n The Rolling Stones: Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!

n Sam Cooke Live At The Harlem Square Club 1963

n Thin Lizzy: Live And Dangerous

n The Who: Live At Leeds

...and five real turkeys

n The Beatles: At The Hollywood Bowl.

n David Bowie: David Live

n Depeche Mode: Electric 101

n The Orb: Live '93

n Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers: Pack Up The Plantation

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific