Another day of hard-rocking power chords, we revisit the live album for one of the most celebrated live albums in rock music history. Fresh off their success with the rock opera “Tommy”, The Who set out to record a live album to reinforce their ability to be relevant and vital as a live act, not just as recording artists. The resulting “Live at Leeds”, recorded at Leeds University in the UK, was a powerhouse demonstration of this capability, and is rated as #327 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The original album release was only six tracks, including extended versions of “My Generation” and “Magic Bus”. Side one features two of the most famous and well-performed rock covers, “Summertime Blues”, the 1950s hit by Eddie Cochran, and “Young Man Blues”, by Mose Allison. What you see on all of these tracks, is the fierce intensity and musical excellence of The Who at their very best. Much more than their studio recordings to date, you get the full experience of Keith Moon’s frenetic drumming, John Entwistle’s insane bass lines, and the jolting power-rhythm guitar of Pete Townshend, blended in as needed with a well-paired backing harmony of Pete & John’s vocals set behind showman Roger Daltrey. Just as we saw the beginnings of heavy metal yesterday with Black Sabbath, today’s performance from The Who not only is extremely well done, it contains a lot of the raw energy we see emerge later in the decade as punk rock took hold in the UK.
In subsequent re-releases of the album, they have added more content, as during the show, they actually performed, from beginning to end, the rock opera “Tommy”. As much as I enjoyed the original studio album, this performance is much more intense, with a harder edge that separates The Who as one of the best bands of the rock era. Again, so much of this is fueled by the explosive three-part rhythm section that is Moon, Entwistle, and Townshend, fully unleashed on stage. Even their most pop-sounding early singles like “I Can’t Explain”, “Substitute”, “Happy Jack”, and “I’m a Boy” completely transform live, completely validating the assertion of the greatness of their live act and of this album, specifically.
Like most “live” albums, this performance has been “repaired” with certain re-recorded and overdubbed elements, which can be said of almost every live album ever released. That said, the always comical banter between the band and the interaction with the crowd, along with the raw sound makes this album perhaps the best single representation of the greatness of The Who. If you have never listened to “Live at Leeds”, I highly recommend it, and you might as well go for the full extended version so you can hear the entire performance of “Tommy” when the band was at their peak.