Friday, July 15, 2016

Music Friday: Whither the live album?

I'm not 100% sure, but I believe the first long playing record album I bought with my own money was "Wings Over America" by, you guessed it, Wings.

[Brief explanatory note: Wings was a band fronted by kindly grandfather Paul McCartney, who you may know as Stella McCartney's dad.  He was also in a band before Wings called "The Beatles."]

This was before the Vinyl Renaissance, when it was just vinyl and that was the only way you could buy music.  WOA was an impressively heavy gatefold TRIPLE album with, IIRC, a poster and some stickers inside, along with the record.  It's actually a really good album!

Back then - and by "then" I mean the late 70's, early 80's, live albums were really A Thing.  I think everyone I knew had a copy of either "Alive" or "Alive II" by Kiss.  Neil Young's "Live Rust" isn't just a great live album, it's a great album album.  "Cheap Trick at Budokan" was playing all the time everywhere.  James Brown's "Live at the Apollo" is a legend.  It's a Pitchfork 10! And of course, every kid's older sister had Frampton Comes Alive, or at least the poster.

And today?  Crickets.  You just don't see live albums that much any more!  There was a spate of MTV Unplugged discs that were pretty good (Jay-Z's "Unplugged") to certifiably classic (Nirvana's), but the era of the live album is essentially over.  Once in a while something big drops - like maybe LCD Soundsystem's "The Long Goodbye," in 2014 - but they're no longer the ubiquitous cultural omnithings they used to be.

I found this List of Live Albums Recorded in the 2010s.  Make my Metamucil a double, bartender, the dance floor at the assisted care isn't going to pack itself! A sample:

HOLY SHIT REO SPEEDWAGON STILL FUCKING EXISTS.  They were Classic Rock when I was mowing lawns for snack bar money.  Slash pressed "record" at two different gigs and I guess enough people bought the first one to inspire a second.  Status Quo, who I thought broke up in 1975, is apparerently still giving the fans what they want and what they want is MORE LIVE ALBUMS.

Bruce Springsteen I understand.  Why the world needed a The Prodigy live album I don't.

So what happened?  Part of it, I'm sure, is that music is so fractured now that no single album is big enough to be a Huge Thing like Frampton Comes Alive anymore (with certain exceptions like Tay and Adele).  I read somewhere once that in today's market, you only have to sell like 4,000 records in a week to crack the Billboard Top 100.  (Incidentally, the biggest selling and therefore best album of the 2000s is The Marshall Mathers LP. Oh well.)

Also, when you can go on the YouTube and essentially watch a Video Live Album for free anytime, why bother just listening?  Visuals, that's what we want.  So live albums, dead.

DID I GET TICKETS TO FYF FEST YET: No, but they fell from $200 on StubHub to $180, so the dream is not yet dead.


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