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
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

Arts and Entertainment

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
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.

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue