Live recordings have been a part of the music industry since day one of the crude technology of the earliest devices. In fact, since there were really no studios available for recording purposes, all of those early “records” were “live recordings” in the strictest sense. However, the live album, as we now know it, is a completely different animal. That animal came into its own in the rock era and exploded with the release of ALIVE, a 1975 album by KISS, (a career making release with an overabundance of what has come to be known as “studio sweetening”), and FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE in 1976 (also hurtling “the face” and former Humble Pie guitarist to superstardom). With the unprecedented success of Peter Frampton’s fifth solo release, everybody and their brothers were releasing these documents of their latest tours (sometimes used as stop gaps between studio albums; sometimes used as a means to gain an artist’s release from a record label contract, commonly referred to as the “contractual obligation” record).
A lot of people don’t like live albums. I’m not one of those. Some of my favorite records were recorded on the road. Here’s a list of 20 live albums that I think are the best. These records are all official releases, not bootlegs… that’s a whole other list (and one you may see somewhere down the line, as well). I had a hard time keeping this list to 20 (it started out as a “Top10”) and, I’m sure that your list would look very different from this one. But, that’s what makes these things so much fun, right? So, here’s number 18, the next in a series of reviews presenting 20 live albums that you should check out:
(18) STATUS QUO: LIVE
(CAPITOL RECORDS/EMI RECORDS; 1977)
So, this was a hard one. Among all of the live albums that I love and listen to the most, this spot came down between three great records: LIVE BULLET from Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Rory Gallagher’s STAGE STRUCK and this one, my first extended listen to (The) Status Quo (aside from the 1968 psychedelic masterpiece, “Pictures of Matchstick Men”). With PHOTO-FINISH and TOP PRIORITY, the single record STAGE STRUCK album from 1980 comes from my favorite period of Rory Gallagher’s career and, with killer songs like “Shin Kicker,” “Wayward Child” and “Brute Force and Ignorance,” it’s hard to overlook on this list. As far as LIVE BULLET goes, this is truly the one that put Bob Seger over the top nationally and side three of the 1976 double album (“Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” “Heavy Music” and “Katmandu”) may just be the single most perfect live side ever released. But, then, why LIVE, a little heard release from a little heard (take it easy, Europe… I know that these guys are huge there… in America, not so much) boogie band from the UK? Well… it’s a really good, rockin’ set and… this is my list! You don’t agree, make your own list. Besides, where do I draw the line? I mean, what about other great live albums that didn’t make my list? What about UNLEASHED IN THE EAST, IF YOU WANT BLOOD… YOU’VE GOT IT, ROXY AND ELSEWHERE, LIVE RUST or WAITING FOR COLUMBUS? It’s definitely a tough call on my part but, don’t just pass this one over; give it a listen… you just may find yourself as big a fan as I am.
The Status Quo began their career as a psychedelic pop group, garnering a top 10 hit in the UK and a top 20 hit in the States with their first single, “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” Even though they experienced moderate success in England and Europe, by their third album (1970’s MA KELLY’S GREASY SPOON), they had dropped the Paisley sounds (they’d already become merely Status Quo the previous year, dropping “The” from their name), going for a rougher boogie sound; even then, it wasn’t until 1972 and album number five, PILEDRIVER, that they really started to roll, hitting number five on the UK charts. By the time LIVE was recorded, in October 1976 at Glasgow’s Apollo Theatre, the boys had a number two album and three number one’s. LIVE is Status Quo at the top of their game and on fire, ripping off blistering song after blistering song.
The Quo kick off the set with “Junior’s Wailing,” an old Steamhammer tune from 1969 that the boys covered on MA KELLY’S… . It’s a straight on, chuggin’ boogie stroll and a mission statement, declaring to all that this band means business. A coupling of the first two tracks from1974’s QUO album follows, with John Coghlan’s pounding backbeat taking no prisoners, even offering up a cowbell heavy mini-solo coming out of “Backwater” and leading into “Just Take Me.” The guitars (provided by the powerhouse duo of Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi) get a bit funky on “Just Take Me,” particularly the solo. “Is There a Better Way,” the lead track from the then seven month old BLUE FOR YOU album, is probably the best known Status Quo tune here in the US (outside of “Pictures of Matchstick Men”) and it’s as heavy as anything by that other group of boogie merchants, AC/DC… in fact, it could be the best AC/DC song that Bon and the boys never recorded. It’s highlighted by a booming bass from Alan Lancaster and a swirling organ from the newly-minted fifth member of the band, Andy Bown. It is, to these ears, boogie perfection. Side one closes out with a 1970 English single (which was added to a completely deconstructed and rebuilt American version of MA KELLY’S GREASY SPOON), “In My Chair.” It’s another strident stroll, with a cool Link Wray guitar figure and solo. Upon its release as a single in ’70, it just missed the top 20 on the English charts, a rather surprising thing considering that the previous single, “Down the Dustpipe,” reached number 12. Or, maybe not so surprising, as the British record buying public seem to be far more fickle than here in the States but, they like what they like.
On side two, we’re introduced to 1975’s ON THE LEVEL via “Little Lady” with its Chuck Berry stomp and “Most of the Time,” which starts off with a country boogie sing-along before the band kicks in. There’s another great guitar solo (there always is, isn’t there?) as the bottom end is awash in a sea of Coghlan drum rolls. “Most of the Time” may be as close as the bulldozing Quo came to producing a ballad during this, their boogie heyday. “Forty-Five Hundred Times” comes from the group’s widely overlooked (though chart-topping) 1973 offering, HELLO; I’m not really sure if the intro’s a joke or not, but they say that “here’s something… one of those albums that we get really tired of… ” before heading into a massive (nearly 17 minutes) roiling, solo-filled rendition. The song and the lads seem to pick up steam at about the seven-and-a-half minute mark, leading into an epic guitar duel between Rossi and Parfitt, with a lot of interesting interaction going on underneath from Lancaster and Coghlan. With the several time changes, and as I’m not familiar with HELLO, other than this and the other two tracks from it played here, this could be the band’s way of giving the fans a little bit of every song on the album.
“Roll Over Lay Down” is the first of those other two HELLO numbers. It opens side three and features a kind of undulating, rolling vocal style (I know that description makes it all as clear as mud but, once you hear it, you’ll understand what I’m talking about). The boys take a fairly standard blues riff and ratchet up the power-chording to great effect. As the song’s feedback ending crashes into the heavier “Big Fat Mama,” the vocals sound like a beautiful meshing of the Tygers of Pan Tang’s Jess Cox and little Johnny Osbourne of Sabbath fame. The charging tempo and hot-rod fueled bass could very easily be a prototype for the forthcoming New Wave of British Metal. It’s a fun song from the PILEDRIVER record and a definite highlight in a live setting. Barely affording the crowd a chance to catch their breath, the band rips into the final HELLO tune, “Caroline,” which is highlighted by great work from the rhythm section – including Parfitt’s rhythm guitar – and one of the strangest drum solos I’ve ever heard before jumping into Quo’s homage-paying tribute to Chuck Berry, via Berry’s own “Bye Bye Johnny,” the album closer from ON THE LEVEL. The track turns into an audience participation affair, as they’re led through the chorus of, “Bye, bye/Bye, bye/Bye, bye, Johnny B Goode.” The only disappointing thing about the tune (and, indeed, most of LIVE) is that you just know that Andy Bown is in there somewhere, adding that Johnnie Johnson boogie-woogie piano to the mix; either he’s simply overpowered by the guitars or he’s been buried in the mix for some insidious reason.
“Rain,” only the second song from the new BLUE FOR YOU album, opens side four. This might be my favorite Quo song of all time, featuring one of their best riffs and great sing-along lyrics. A couple of tracks from PILEDRIVER, the first and last songs on the record, brings the final side of LIVE to a rousing close. Fan (and band) favorite “Don’t Waste My Time” chugs along, eventually crashing into a killer 14 minute take of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.” The percolating groove is punctuated by powerful performances by Coghlan and Lancaster, as well as tour manager Bob Young, joining in on harmonica. The chugging middle section is given over to the animated crowd , a traditional Irish jig (I think it’s called “Paddy O’Brien’s.” You know… it’s that leprechaun thing) and a snippet of the Johnny Kidd and the Pirates chestnut, “Shakin’ All Over,” before returning to the Doors tune to finish off the set. If you aren’t familiar with Status Quo or want to relive those glory years of the band, LIVE is the perfect place to start.
The original American release of LIVE also featured the group’s then-current single, “Wild Side of Life” backed with “All Through the Night,” as a free insert. The latest version of LIVE that I’ve been able to confirm is from 2005. It features a slightly different running order, keeping it in line with the actual set lists from those three nights in October 1976.