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The Freedom of Music

January 25th, 2009

freedom-of-music-headerOne likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

A friend lent me the Stephen Davis Book on The Rolling Stones, Old Gods Almost Dead. For such a high profile writer, it was really a poorly written book. Led Zeppelin fans have long complained how bad his Zeppelin tome, sidebar-4Hammer of the Gods, was, how sloppy his research, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

I have an older brother who is a huge Stones fan. Saw them in Buffalo in ’79 & ’81, saw them in Oshawa when Keith was ordered to give a benefit concert for the CNIB in lieu of prison for a heroin bust. (Surprisingly, he chose to do the concert). In 1977 when they released the live album that included the El Mocambo recordings, Love You Live, I picked it up. I was fourteen, just getting seriously into music and decided it was time to give these Stones guys a try. It was an awful album, and I never fully got into the Stones thereafter.

That’s not to say that I don’t like them. I actually think their late 60’s and most of the 70’s work is brilliant. Gimme Shelter, Ain’t to Proud to Beg, It’s Only Rock and Roll, Beast of Burden, Angie &tc. There’s a huge catalogue of great material. I even saw them in 1991, and thoroughly enjoyed the show. But I never fully bought into the Rolling Stones myth of the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band and I suspect the reason for this is Love You Live.

First impressions count, we know that. They matter when you meet a possible future spouse, they matter at a job interview, they matter when you meet new people. And they matter for rock bands. Here’s a tip for any would be rock star: never let inferior product out the door, no matter how big you get. It may be your one bad album in ten, but for somebody, somewhere, it’s going to create a bad first impression.

So while nosing through a large part of the Stones catalogue while reading, I decided to re-familiarize myself with Love You Live. I haven’t listened to it in years and, in truth, probably didn’t listen to it twice even back then.

Second impression? I wasn’t fair the first time. This isn’t awful, neither is Jagger, whom I always remember singing terrible in this album. It’s not a work of genius, not a mind blowing live album, but it captures something.

During the recording of Love You Live in Paris, after two of three shows, Keith Richard’s eleven week old son suffocated in his crib at home in Switzerland. He continued on, and reports from the third Paris show were that Keith came to life on that third night. “Most of the tracks used on the concert album Love You Live were taken from this show,” according to Davis. He “played long and luscious blues guitar solos on Hot Stuff and a painful crying aria on You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

What I hear is a pretty sloppy band. Not a bad one as first impression dictated, but a sloppy one.  And that aria in You Can’t Always Get What You Want? I hear it, but would need to hear another night to compare how painful and crying it was. It’s no Since I’ve Been Loving You, but there’s something there.

Overall, a better album than I remember, a better live band than I remember, and a fine piece of history. But the World’s Greatest Rock and Band? Not a chance.

The Freedom of Music, This Week on my I-Pod

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