Our Greatest Albums Of The 70s, numbers 4 to 2.
4) LED ZEPPELIN LIVE ON BLUEBERRY HILL – Led Zeppelin (Trade Mark Of Quality, 1970)
Sure, Led Zeppelin IV and Physical Grafitti are generally accepted as Zeppelin’s twin peaks, though you could find someone to make a case for each of their albums (even In Through The Out Door). But if you want a true connoisseur’s choice, then this hugely influential live bootleg is the one. Bootlegs and Zeppelin have been synonymous for over four decades. Despite manager Peter Grant’s heavy-handedness when dealing with anyone he caught taping their shows, Zep became the most bootlegged act of all time.
Zep’s impact on their initial American tours made them a prime target for the then emerging bootleg recording business. From their inception, it was more than evident that Zep’s studio output was just the starting point. On stage was where the real action occurred, as they constantly improvised and expanded their material. Peter Grant summed it up when he stated: “Led Zeppelin was primarily an in-person band… that’s what it was really about.”
On the night of September 4, 1970, during their sixth American tour, two separate teams of fans were intent on taping the Zeppelin gig at the Inglewood Forum in Los Angeles. Both parties came away with lengthy representations of the band’s then current state of play, recorded on reel-to-reel machines close to the stage.
The recording that would become known as the album Led Zeppelin Live On Blueberry Hill was captured by a pair of West Coast bootleggers whose previous credits included Dylan’s Great White Wonder set and the Stones’ Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be. Another bootlegger known as Rubber Dubber also recorded the show and quickly issued it as a double album stamped Led Zeppelin Live Los Angeles Forum 9-4-70. The more common Live On Blueberry Hill Blimp label version with a distinctive surreal cover insert, also came out within weeks of the show. Regardless of which version you hear, the sheer authenticity of the performance shines through. The dynamic thrust of Bonham’s drums, the sinewy grind of Page’s guitar, Jonesy’s resonant bass lines and melodic keyboards, plus the outstanding clarity of Plant’s vocal shrieks (enhanced by the echo unit used at the time), all merge into a ferocious mix that magically recreates the electricity of the occasion.
Moments to relish include the unpredictable Communication Breakdown medley that included Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth and The Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There, plus the Zep I opener Good Times Bad Times. Not forgetting freshly minted nuggets from the soon to be released Zep III album such as Since I’ve Been Loving You and the rarely played live Out On The Tiles. A lengthy Whole Lotta Love turned into a rock’n’roll juke box as they randomly threw in covers of Buddy Holly’s Think It Over and Leiber, Stoller & Barrett’s Some Other Guy – a formula they repeated with a breathless encore rendition of Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill.
Back in their heyday, bootleg recordings of Led Zeppelin offered a whole new perspective on the band. This remains as essential a part of their discography as any of their official albums. To paraphrase the great Fats himself, Led Zeppelin Live On Blueberry Hill is still an absolute thrill.
What they said at the time: “106 minutes and 53 seconds of pure and alive rock.” Uncredited blurb on the sleeve insert
3) QUADROPHENIA – The Who (Track, 1973)
The Who finally seemed to be sitting pretty by the early 70s. The global success of Tommy, both as an album and stage show, had made the band solvent for the first time in their career. And even Pete Townshend’s doomed Lifehouse project had been partly salvaged for Who’s Next, another platinum-seller. But Townshend was still restless. Concerned that their newfound status may have robbed The Who of their drive, in 1972 he began work on an ambitious double album, provisionally titled Rock Is Dead – Long Live Rock. The idea didn’t quite pan out as intended, though he rescued Is It In My Head? and Love Reign O’er Me for a fresh concept that looked to the band’s Mod origins through four pairs of eyes.
Quadrophenia, likened by Townshend at the time to “a sort of musical Clockwork Orange”, told the troubled tale of Jimmy, an adolescent Mod growing up in working-class Britain during the 60s. Dead-end jobs, beachfront barneys, drugs and unrequited love formed the backdrop to his spiritual malaise. Townshend’s epiphanic narrative, in which the sea is used as both a destructive and cleansing metaphor, was brilliantly fleshed out by the band across four sides of vinyl. John Entwistle’s skilful horn arrangements came to the fore on the title track and the pumping salvos of 5:15. Drummer Keith Moon was a powerhouse throughout, as was Roger Daltrey, who delivered some of his most memorable vocals on the likes of Drowned, Doctor Jimmy and the jaw-dropping Love Reign O’er Me. And, aside from his guitar mastery, Townshend’s songwriting was sharper and more persuasive than on Tommy, making Quadrophenia a far more cohesive statement.
The LP did brisk business at both ends of the Atlantic, going platinum within two days in the States. But The Who’s subsequent UK tour was severely hobbled by problems with backing tapes and a quadrophonic sound system, which meant that the album’s impact was somewhat blunted. In his memoir, Who I Am, Townshend calls those gigs “some of the most shameful performances of our career on stage.” Quadrophenia thus took longer to fully embrace, not least by its creator.
What they said at the time: “Quadrophenia is The Who at their most symmetrical, their most cinematic… They have put together a beautifully performed and magnificently recorded essay of a British youth mentality in which they played no little part.” Rolling Stone
What was the impetus for Quadrophenia?
Pete Townshend: I was worried about the band at the time. We were all bored with playing Tommy and I wanted a replacement for our stage act.
Did the rest of the band struggle to understand Quadrophenia at first?
It’s understandable that the band may not have understood Quadrophenia to begin with, because it didn’t really land completely, as a collection of songs, until about three weeks prior to starting to record. At one point in our first recording sessions I was still hoping that Jimmy would have a childhood, a girlfriend and some chats with his mum and dad. [But] I realised quickly that stuff like this would get in the way. I wanted Jimmy to be a turnkey; we could each get inside him quickly and easily and then travel with him, looking at The Who askance, even though we would be doing so while listening to their music.
What about the album sessions?
Running through one of the first songs we recorded for Quadrophenia, I remember thinking that we’d never sounded better, or played with such conviction on unproved material. This was especially true of Roger. He sang like a raging bear – more tunefully of course. His Love Reign O’er Me will never be surpassed.
How has your relationship to Quadrophenia changed over the years?
I’ve always been proud of it, but it failed to provide The Who with an alternative rock-opera stage act to replace Tommy. I only started working on it in order to achieve that, so for a long time I was unwilling to talk about it much. It was there as an album if anyone wanted to hear it, but the big picture had never happened. In 1996 and 1997 I finally got it up in concert the way I had thought it would work in 1973. Since then, nothing can dampen my enthusiasm for it, or my gratitude that we at least got a great album made.
2) SABOTAGE – Black Sabbath (Vertigo, 1975)
Sabotage was an album born out of what bassist Geezer Butler called “total chaos”, recorded by a band that was burnt out with fatigue, screwed up on booze and drugs, and in litigation with their former manager Patrick Meehan. And yet, what Sabbath created amid this chaos was music of extraordinary power and depth.
It was with good reason, and typically black humour, that they named the album Sabotage. During the recording, at Morgan Studios in London, Meehan’s lawyers arrived to serve writs to the band. A siege mentality developed. “It was us against them,” singer Ozzy Osbourne said. And this fed into the music on a visceral level. The scene was set in the opening track Hole In The Sky, with a bludgeoning riff and apocalyptic imagery of impending ecological disaster and the decline of Western civilisation in the face of rising Asian superpowers and conflict in the Middle East: “The most prophetic lyrics I have ever written,” Butler later said.
Even heavier, in sound and in words, was Symptom Of The Universe. Guitarist Tony Iommi’s staccato riff would echo down the years in the music of bands such as Metallica, Slayer and Sepultura, the latter covering the song in 1994. And the lyrics – written, as standard, under the influence of marijuana – were a meditation on life, death and what lay beyond.
Sabotage also included the weirdest and darkest song Sabbath ever recorded: Supertzar, a “demonic chant”, as drummer Bill Ward called it, featuring the English Chamber Choir. To Ozzy, it sounded like “God conducting the soundtrack to the end of the world”. And to finish, there was a bitter riposte to Sabbath’s nemesis Patrick Meehan. It was named The Writ.
What Sabotage represented, at the time, was a triumph over adversity. Even now, the power in the darkness resonates.
What they said at the time: “Sabotage is not only Black Sabbath’s best record since Paranoid, it might be their best ever.” Rolling Stone