Listening Room columnist
Today, February 14, marks the 40th anniversary of the recording of LIVE AT LEEDS by The Who.
The album was released several months later and became a massive best seller, reaching # 4 on the Billboard Album Charts, where it remained for 44 weeks. On February 14, 1970, 2500 college students were in the presence of The Who ( Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle & Keith Moon) while this performance took place at Leeds University in England.
(Note- a second show was recorded on February 15 but these tapes were rejected by the band due to John Entwistle’s bass guitar not coming through on the recording).
The Who’s LIVE AT LEEDS may not be the best live album of all time, but it sure comes pretty damn close. It’s a blistering live performance, in which the band proves they can rock and play just as hard and heavy as their contemporaries ( Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Mountain).
Performing their rock opera Tommy as their main center piece, the Who began a successful six month world tour in June 1969,(including a performance at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969 and locally in White Plains at the Westchester County Center on October 3 1969).
By the time they performed at Leeds University in 1970, the Who were in their prime. The band never felt more comfortable at this point. LIVE AT LEEDS captures The Who at this pivotal moment in their history playing viciously and confidently.
Upon its release in 1970, the Vinyl LP was designed to resemble a bootleg – a plain brown paper cover stamped in capital letters: THE WHO LIVE AT LEEDS -( a nod to bootleggers resembling the packing of such early underground classic LPs as Bob Dylan’s Great White Wonder).
All original LP’s treated fans to a foldout sleeve containing a package of memorabilia associated with the band,- copies of early contracts(including their contract at Woodstock), photographs, a poster promoting early gigs, etc. The music consisted of six tracks; three covers – “Young Man Blues” , “Summertime Blues” ( released as a single becoming a top 40 hit in the USA) and “Shakin’ All Over” and three originals – “Substitute”, “My Generation” ( which included an extended jam ) and closing side two ” Magic Bus”. The music was pure distilled power.
In 1995 the LP was remastered for CD and included a slew of bonus tracks such as ” I Can’t Explain” and “Happy Jack” which were recorded on Feb. 14, 1970, but were left off the original LP due to limited space. A superb 14 track album, it’s a treat to hear more. In 2001, the complete performance of this concert was released as LIVE AT LEEDS : DELUXE EDITION, a double CD set with the first disc containing the non-Tommy part of the show and disc two containing the Tommy performance.
Whatever form of LIVE AT LEEDS you listen to, it is the nature of the performance that matters in the end.
And it’s truly one of the greatest testaments of a live Rock and Roll performance I have ever heard.