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
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?