Live at Leeds is the first live album by the English rock band The Who. It was recorded at the University Refectory, University of Leeds on 14 February 1970, and is the only live album that was released while the group were still actively recording and performing with their best known line-up of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon.
The Who were looking for a way to follow up their 1969 album Tommy, and had recorded several shows on tours supporting that album, but didn’t like the sound. Consequently, they booked the show at Leeds University, along with one at the University of Hull the following day, specifically to record a live album. Six songs were taken from the Leeds show, and the cover was pressed to look like a bootleg recording. The sound was significantly different from Tommy and featured hard rock arrangements that were typical of the band’s live shows.
The album was released in May 1970 by Decca and MCA in the United States by Track and Polydor in the United Kingdom. It has been reissued on several occasions and in several different formats. Since its release, Live at Leeds has been cited by several music critics as the best live rock recording of all time.
By the end of the 1960s, particularly after releasing Tommy in May 1969, The Who had become cited by many as one of the best live rock acts in the world. According to biographer Chris Charlesworth, “a sixth sense seemed to take over”, leading them to “a kind of rock nirvana that most bands can only dream about”. The band were rehearsing and touring regularly, and Townshend had settled on using the Gibson SG Special as his main touring instrument; it allowed him to play faster than did other guitars. He began using Hiwatt amplifiers that allowed him to get a variety of tones simply by adjusting the guitar’s volume level.
The group were concerned that Tommy had been promoted as “high art” by manager Kit Lambert and thought their stage show stood in equal importance to that album’s rock-opera format. The group returned to England at the end of 1969 with a desire to release a live album from concerts recorded earlier in the US. However, Townshend balked at the prospect of listening to all the accumulated recordings to decide which would make the best album, and, according to Charlesworth, instructed sound engineer Bob Pridden to burn the tapes.
Two shows were consequently scheduled, one at the University of Leeds and the other in Hull, for the express purpose of recording and releasing a live album. The Leeds concert was booked and arranged by Simon Brogan, who later became an assistant manager on tour with Jethro Tull. The shows were performed on 14 February 1970 at Leeds and on 15 February at Hull, but technical problems with the recordings from the Hull gig — the bass guitar had not been recorded on some of the songs — made it all the more necessary for the show from the 14th to be released as the album. Townshend subsequently mixed the live tapes, intending to release a double album, but ultimately chose to release just a single LP with six tracks. The full show opened with Entwistle’s “Heaven And Hell” and included most of Tommy, but these were left off the album in place of earlier hits and more obscure material.
The album opens with “Young Man Blues”, an R&B tune that was a standard part of the Who’s stage repertoire at the time. It was extended to include an instrumental jam with stop-start sections. “Substitute”, a 1966 single for the band, was played similarly to the studio version. “Summertime Blues” was rearranged to include power chords, a key change, and Entwistle singing the authority figure lines (e.g.: “Like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote”) in a deep-bass voice. “Shakin’ All Over” was arranged similar to the original, but the chorus line was slowed down for effect, and there was a jam session in the middle.
Side two began with a 15-minute rendition of “My Generation”, which was greatly extended to include a medley of other songs and various improvisations. These included a brief extract of “See Me, Feel Me” and the ending of “Sparks” from Tommy, and part of “Naked Eye” that was recorded for the follow-up album Lifehouse (that was ultimately abandoned in favour of Who’s Next). The album closed with “Magic Bus”, which included Daltrey playing harmonica and an extended ending to the song.
The cover was designed by Beadrall Sutcliffe and resembled that of a bootleg LP of the era, parodying the Rolling Stones’ Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be. It contains plain brown cardboard with “The Who Live At Leeds” printed on it in plain blue or red block letters as if stamped on with ink (on the original first English pressing of 300, this stamp is black). The original cover opened out, gatefold-style, and had a pocket on either side of the interior, with the record in a paper sleeve on one side and 12 facsimiles of various memorabilia on the other, including a photo of the band from the My Generation photoshoot in March 1965, handwritten lyrics to the “Listening to You” chorus from Tommy, the typewritten lyrics to “My Generation”, with hand written notes, a receipt for smoke bombs, a rejection letter from EMI, and the early black “Maximum R&B” poster showing Pete Townshend wind-milling his Rickenbacker. The first 500 copies included a copy of the contract for The Who to play at the Woodstock Festival.
click to enlarge
The label was handwritten and included instructions to the engineers not to attempt to remove any crackling noise. This is probably a reference to the clicking and popping on the pre-remastered version (such as in “Shakin’ All Over”) which was from Entwistle’s bass cable. Modern digital remastering techniques allowed this to be removed, and also allowed some of the worst-affected tracks from the gig to be used; on CD releases, the label reads, “Crackling noises have been corrected!”
Live at Leeds has been cited as the best live rock recording of all time by The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, the BBC, Q magazine, and Rolling Stone. In 2003, it was ranked number 170 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. A commemorative blue plaque has been placed at the campus venue at which it was recorded, the University Refectory. On 17 June 2006, over 36 years after the original concert, The Who returned to perform at the Refectory, at a gig organised by Andy Kershaw. Kershaw stated the gig was “among the most magnificent I have ever seen”. A Rolling Stone readers’ poll in 2012 ranked it the best live album of all time. (by wikipedia)
Rushed out in 1970 as a way to bide time as the Who toiled away on their follow-up to Tommy, Live at Leeds wasn’t intended to be the definitive Who live album, and many collectors maintain that the band had better shows available on bootlegs. But those shows weren’t easily available whereas Live at Leeds was, and even if this show may not have been the absolute best, it’s so damn close to it that it would be impossible for anybody but aficionados to argue. Here, the Who sound vicious — as heavy as Led Zeppelin but twice as volatile — as they careen through early classics with the confidence of a band that had finally achieved acclaim but had yet to become preoccupied with making art. In that regard, this recording — in its many different forms — may have been perfectly timed in terms of capturing the band at a pivotal moment in its history.
There is certainly no better record of how this band was a volcano of violence on-stage, teetering on the edge of chaos but never blowing apart. This was most true on the original LP, which was a trim six tracks, three of them covers (“Young Man Blues,” “Summertime Blues,” “Shakin’ All Over”) and three originals from the mid-’60s, two of those (“Substitute,” “My Generation”) vintage parts of their repertory and only “Magic Bus” representing anything resembling a recent original, with none bearing a trace of their mod roots. This was pure, distilled power, all the better for its brevity; throughout the ’70s the album was seen as one of the gold standards in live rock & roll, and certainly it had a fury that no proper Who studio album achieved. It was also notable as one of the earliest legitimate albums to implicitly acknowledge — and go head to head with — the existence of bootleg LPs. Indeed, its very existence owed something to the efforts of Pete Townshend and company to stymie the bootleggers.
The Who had made extensive recordings of performances along their 1969 tour, with the intention of preparing a live album from that material, but they recognized when it was over that none of them had the time or patience to go through the many dozens of hours of live performances in order to sort out what to use for the proposed album. According to one account, the band destroyed those tapes in a massive bonfire, so that none of the material would ever surface without permission. They then decided to go to the other extreme in preparing a live album, scheduling this concert at Leeds University and arranging the taping, determined to do enough that was worthwhile at the one show. As it turned out, even here they generated an embarrassment of riches — the band did all of Tommy, as audiences of the time would have expected (and, indeed, demanded), but as the opera was already starting to feel like an albatross hanging around the collective neck of the band (and especially Townshend), they opted to leave out any part of their most famous work apart from a few instrumental strains in one of the jams. Instead, the original LP was limited to the six tracks named, and that was more than fine as far as anyone cared.
And fans who bought the LP got a package of extra treats for their money. The album’s plain brown sleeve was, itself, a nod and nudge to the bootleggers, resembling the packaging of such early underground LP classics as the Bob Dylan Great White Wonder set and the Rolling Stones concert bootleg Liver Than You’ll Ever Be, from the latter group’s 1969 tour — and it was a sign of just how far the Who had come in just two years that they could possibly (and correctly) equate interest in their work as being on a par with Dylan and the Stones. But Live at Leeds’ jacket was a fold-out sleeve with a pocket that contained a package of memorabilia associated with the band, including a really cool poster, copies of early contracts, etc. It was, along with Tommy, the first truly good job of packaging for this band ever to come from Decca Records; the label even chose to forgo the presence of its rainbow logo, carrying the bootleg pose to the plain label and handwritten song titles, and the note about not correcting the clicks and pops. At the time, you just bought this as a fan, but looking back 30 or 40 years on, those now seem to be quietly heady days for the band (and for fans who had supported them for years), finally seeing the music world and millions of listeners catch up. (by Bruce Eder)
In other words: a hell of a record, a monster … one of the finest live albums in the history of Rock !!! And I include all these crazy memorabilias.
And songs like “I Can’t Explain” were made to be played loud !!!
Roger Daltrey (vocals, harmonica)
John Entwistle (bass, vocals)
Keith Moon (drums, background vocals)
Pete Townshend (guitar, vocals)
Tracklist (CD reissue, 1995):
01. Heaven And Hell (Entwistle) 4.50
02. I Can’t Explain (Townshend) 2.59
03. Fortune Teller (Neville) 2.35
04. Tattoo (Townshend) 3:42
05. Young Man Blues (Allison) 5.52
06. Substitute (Townshend) 2.07
07. Happy Jack (Townshend) 2.13
08. I’m A Boy (Townshend) 4.42
09. A Quick One, While He’s Away (Townshend) 8.41
10. Amazing Journey/Sparks (Townshend) 7.55
11. Summertime Blues (Cochran/Capehart) 3.22
12. Shakin’ All Over (Kidd) 4.34
13. My Generation (incl. parts of Tommy) (Townshend) 15.46
14. Magic Bus (Townshend) 7.46
Blue plaque at the University of Leeds commemorating the album