Happy 47th Birthday to one of the greatest Rock & Roll records ever, “The Who Live At Leeds“!!! It was 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. It was released in the US on May 16, 1970 and in the UK on May 23, 1970.
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 as his main touring instrument, that allowed him to play faster than other guitars. He began using Hiwatt amplifiers that allowed him to get a variety of tones simply by adjusting the guitar’s volume level. Realising that their live show stood in equal importance to the rock-opera format of Tommy, 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. Townshend later confirmed the tapes were indeed burnt in his back garden.
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 1970 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.
There are many that say that it was the best live rock recording of all time. In a contemporary review for The New York Times, music critic Nik Cohn praised Live at Leeds as “the definitive hard-rock holocaust” and “the best live rock album ever made” Jonathan Eisen of Circus magazine felt that it flows better than Tommy and that not since that album has there been one “quite so incredibly heavy, so inspired with the kind of kinetic energy that the Who have managed to harness” here. Greil Marcus, writing in Rolling Stone, was less enthusiastic and said that, while Townshend’s packaging for the album is “a tour-de-force of the rock and roll imagination”, the music is dated and uneventful. He felt that Live at Leeds functions simply as a document of “the formal commercial end of the first great stage of [the Who’s] great career.”
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 and a copy of the contract for the Who to play at the Woodstock Festival. How many of you have the original LP with all the items still inside it?