The charts used to be teeming with overindulgent solos, rushed tempos, brain-dead crowd-baiters like "Are you ready to rock?" and "Are you ready to roll?" and, yes, even out-of-tune singing. But hold your good riddance, chum! As Joni Mitchell sang on her requisite double live Miles of Aisles, "You don't know what you've got till it's gone." And if you check Billboard's Top 200 albums, you'll find a total of two or maybe three live records on the chart and all of those are the single-album variety.
Double lives used to be a novelty. The first one of the rock era was Harry Belafonte's 1959 offering Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, with Judy Garland and Tony Bennett's own Carnegie shows not far behind. Pop bands of the '50s and '60s didn't have more than twenty-minute sets as a rule. If a band was on a Dick Clark "Cavalcade of Stars" tour, there might have been enough time to play three songs and jump on the bus to the next city before the applause died down. Besides, what band would want to shoot its wad and record two albums' worth of material in concert?
The success of the multiple-record Woodstock set suddenly made the live album a viable format, especially since it allowed artists to stretch out a tune far beyond its studio incarnation. Soon after, double live albums became the norm for every band expected to put out a couple of records a year. Nowadays, artists get dropped before they're even called to meet their contractual obligations. Couple that with the diminishing number of groups who cut their teeth on the concert stage (anyone wanna buy a Crystal Method in Concert album?), and you can see why live albums have lost their place as musical time markers.
We've always had a love/hate relationship with live albums, usually the one record in a favorite artist's discography we beg off buying. As Neil Diamond himself wrote in the notes for Hot August Night, "The stage, she is the God-damnedest woman you ever saw." Listen to these double, triple, and quadruple live sets, and you'll wonder if that woman could've maybe gotten a restraining order from multiple offenders like ol' Neil and the Grateful Dead.
First Double Live Album With the Words "Live Album" in the Title:
Live Album (1970)
This would be the first of three double live records the Flint, Michigan natives would have in them. The connecting thread in all these live sets? None other than that mischievously misogynist anthem "T.N.U.C.," which had schoolboys reading Grand Funk album covers right to left with the same naughty dedication previously reserved for using hand mirrors to look up girls' dresses. "If you don't want to lay there, with your mouth shut tight/I'm gettin' myself together, yes I'm leavin' tonight," sings Mark Farner. That must've been the night Farner became a born-again Christian. Despite its sinful origins, "T.N.U.C." remains in the group's set, although trapsman Don Brewer no longer plays the drum solo with his massive Afro flopping about dangerously. One time Brewer actually gave himself a concussion and was knocked out for several minutes, bleeding profusely all over his kit. And how was your bad hair day?
First Four-Album Live Set:
Live at Carnegie Hall, Volumes 1, 2, 3 & 4 (1971)
Total playing time: 161:27!! That's a lot of Chicago bull. But any band that devotes an entire side to a song called "It Better End Soon" (in five separate movements) is already well-aware of its worst tendencies. But hell, they could have made this a forty-album set, if it would have meant stalling Peter Cetera's even more tedious solo career.
Most Double Live Albums Recorded at the Same Venue:
Hot August Night (1972)
Love at the Greek (1977)
Hot August Night II (1987)
Some things don't change. Neil Diamond always records live albums at Los Angeles's Greek Theater and poses for each cover as if he's determined to pass a cheese sandwich through his nose hairs. And on each progressive live version of "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show," a gravel-voiced Neil sounds more like a cross between Dana Carvey's "Grumpy Old Man" character and Linda Blair in The Exorcist, just after the pea soup started to flow.
Love at the Greek includes one of the strangest duets in history, with Neil warbling "Song Sung Blue" with none other than Henry "The Fonz" Winkler.
First One-Hit Wonder Double Live Album:
Bloodrock Live (1972)
Even the Iron Butterfly had enough decorum to relegate its one-hit set to a single slab of vinyl. Uni-song act Bloodrock spread its special brand of filler over four sides. But hey, that one singular sensation of a song is "D.O.A.," the slow and painful nine-minute epic about a body just oozing life. Yet our chatty plane-crash dummy is eloquently able to describe every fiber of clothing, every red and white blood cell grinding to a halt. "I try to move my arm but there's no feeling/And when I look I see there's nothing there," singer/drummer Jim Rutledge emotes. Unlike Def Leppard's Rick Allen, one-armed Jim decides right there and then "there's no hope for me." Guess the white sheet thrown over his face helped steer him toward reaper madness.
The best part about this album is hearing the rousing chorus ("I remember we were flying along and hit something in the air") followed by sirens that set off a Pavlovian chain of whistling and cheers. Unfortunately, Bloodrock lost its drawing power once people realized that the average air-show disaster could satisfy their bloodthirsty glee only with real fatalities!
Most Double Live Albums in the Shortest Span of Time:
Live/Dead (1969) and Europe '72 (1972)
Live/Dead was the first double live dip from a rock band, and the Dead seemed bent on exercising that seniority every which way. Between the aforementioned double and triple live sets, the Dead released ten more sides of live material in just three years, with nine more official double live albums to follow.
First Double Live Album Where No One Gets Laid After the Show:
Around the World #151; Live in Concert (1975)
Okay, so they were minors for the first one, but that didn't stop the Runaways. Even on their second live offering, when they come of age and throw Jimmy and Marie into the mix, no one's getting lucky! Quite a far cry from Kiss Alive!, that other big double live album from 1975! You betcha there was some fiery contention in Provo, Utah, as to who the real "HOTTEST BAND IN THE LAND" was, because it's hard to imagine Ace Frehley and his exploding guitar approaching the virtuosity of "Merrill's Banjo Medley." When the middle Osmond cranks out "If You Knew Suzie" and "Just One of These Songs," you can hear them little pubes in the audience ovulating Country Time Lemonade right there and then!
Having to wait an entire minute for their idols to come onstage, the announcer (who sounds suspiciously like Joe Pesci) taunts the crowd and makes them count down from sixty ("Can you wait that long? Can you wait that long?"). What cruelty! Such child abuse! Mercifully, the Osmonds bum rush the show toot sweet to reclaim their glam-metal crown with "Crazy Horses," the song Joe Perry most assuredly ripped off for his equine-whinnying "Back in the Saddle" and which Poison duly ripped off for its "Back to the Rocking Horse."
But the honest Osmonds are quick to acknowledge their own debts to rock's screamworthy past. There's a "Donny & Marie Medley," filled with covers of pre-Beatle teen-idol pap; a "Jimmy Medley," where the littlest Osmond pays homage to Joe Cocker and the Jacksons; as well as a "'50s Medley," a "Stevie Wonder Medley" is there no music made by man or beast that these crafty Mormons cannot truncate into a four-minute medley? No sir, you gotta bellow aloud!
Guess whose sleeve credits read "Keyboards, Synthesizer, Hysteria and other electronic paraphernalia too numerous to mention"? None other than the resident Wizard of Osmond himself Donald. Proving why he was the heir o' parent to Pat Boone, Donny even finds the words in Loggins & Messina songs too offensive. "My mama don't dance and my daddy don't rock and roll," he croons, because it's not nice to disparage other people's parents. And, uh, yeah, no mention about "hoppin' into the back seat where you know it's nice and dark," either. Never has one rock group thought less about fornication! Never has one rock group's rider contained so many "thou shalt nots!"
The Longest Set Ever by an Opening Act:
You Get What You Play For (1977)
This record proves that even the most pedestrian double live album can distinguish itself. Today's music biz bean counters would be on REO's ass faster than stench on a shit factory, but these Midwestern clods were allowed to record seven studio albums without scoring a single Top 40 hit. After watching Peter Frampton (who released four hitless studio efforts of his own) strike gold with a double live album and also noticing how guitarist Gary Richrath would sometimes be mistaken for Frampton in airports, an REO Speedwagon double live set full of no hits was commissioned by Epic. There's not enough coke in the record industry to allow that to happen now.
Double Live Album With the Most Gripes:
Take No Prisoners (1979)
Lou Reed's got his beefs. On side one, he disses Barbra Streisand, short people, little people, people from Wyoming, Patti Smith, and Henny Youngman. "It's not that I don't wanna play your favorites," he says three minutes into a sixteen-minute version of "Walk on the Wild Side." After one chorus, he gangs up on music critics like The Village Voice's Robert Christgau, who he calls "an anal retentive toefucker."
After chorus two, he even starts ranking on his own song's characters like Candy ("She got leukemia from a silicone tit, and I'm supposed to feel sorry?"), little Joe ("He's the only guy who went to Italy to be a movie star and it's not happening"), and Sugar Plum Fairy ("She makes a living writing things for the Encyclopedia Brittanica, five cents a word"). Thanks to old filibuster Lou, the colored girls don't get to "dood doo doo doo doo doo do" more than once.
Most Mystifying Double Live Album:
Apparently when William Shatner covered "Mr. Tambourine Man," the transformed Zimmerman was taking notes. "If someone's gonna suck doing Dylan covers, it's gonna be me."
First Double Live Album to Use Tapes:
Live Killers (1979)
How's this for artistic integrity? The self-important liner notes tell us Queen is "fiercely opposed to playing with any kind of backing tapes." So when they get to the impossible-to-replicate operatic section of "Bohemian Rhapsody," they solve the problem in a "typically uncompromising Queen manner. They leave the stage and play the record." Oh, that's very different.
First Live Album to Denounce Satan:
Caught in the Act (1984)
"Can rock 'n' roll stay alive? CAUGHT IN THE ACT brings you closer to the answer than you've ever seen or heard before," the hype on the merchandising insert warns us. But what hope is there for rock when James Young chastises the California state legislature for saying records like Styx's "Snowblind" have "backward satanic messages" on them and the audience boos? No regato, Mr. Roboto!
First Three-Sided Double Live Album:
Big World (1986)
Joe Jackson proves he's the ultimate control freak by recording a live album as if it were a studio album and instructing the audience not to clap. And just so no one misses the point, side four is the sound of no hands clapping, just one long run-off groove.
First Live Album to Call Itself "Greatest Hits Live":
Greatest Hits Live (1998)
This set raises more questions than you'd think. Somewhere between a Greatest Hits album, a three-CD boxed set, and this Greatest Hits Live, Journey went from 77 "na-na's" at the end of the studio version of "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" (or 154 individual na's) to 66 "na-na's" on the live version, which is five minutes longer. Where are the eleven missing na-na's? If the hits on Greatest Hits Live aren't on the studio version, does it mean the studio versions suck and vice versa? If there's a hell, can we send Steve Perry there for his annoying pronunciation of "sit-ay" and his habit of injecting the "sit-ay" of "Houston" in as many of these mushy love songs as possible?
According to the liner notes, these old concert tapes "had to be baked in an oven to allow a one-time digital transfer." Couldn't they have just let these tracks bake a half-hour longer so they'd be well-done? Or better yet, burned to a crisp?