Happy 50th birthday, Live at Leeds!

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On Valentine’s Day 1970, The Who played one of the greatest live shows of rock history at the University of Leeds Refectory, a venue which seats 2,100. On 23 May 1970, six tracks were released with an album cover intending to give the feel of a bootleg.

In February 1995, the album was remastered and released with fourteen tracks. This is the version I bought myself as a 21st birthday present in December 2000, from Amherst’s B-Side Records. Sadly, that store appears to no longer be in business. Since they mostly sold CDs, and had somewhat higher prices than Mystery Train Records and Newbury Comics, I didn’t go there too often.

In September 2001, almost the entire show was finally released on two discs. Fans call this version LAL+T, Live at Leeds plus Tommy, since they performed Tommy live (with a few songs left off). There have since been a 40th anniversary edition and a 2014 deluxe edition (neither of which I have).

As you can see from the above, the complete version (which finally includes “Spoonful”) arranges the tracks in performance order. Even LAL+T didn’t do this. They put the Tommy material on Disc Two, though the band played that in between their other songs.

I got LAL+T as a present from my surviving uncle in December 2001, a bit over a year after I bought the ’95 remaster. Leading up to this, I’d heard a lot of complaints about the sound quality from audiophiles on the Odds and Sods mailing list (which I later unsubscribed from due to its infamously out of control nastiness). Some of them were even quoted in music magazines like Ice.

Guess what, I found not a thing wrong with the sound quality! No tinny, muted sounds or any other problems whatsoever. And the only reason the sound is somewhat softer on the Tommy section is because they turned their instruments down! After that was over, they turned them back up.

After that fiasco, I never trusted a single word out of their obsessed mouths ever again. I was so embarrassed I believed them. These people aren’t audiophiles, they’re audiomaniacs. Who the bloody hell has the time, money, and interest to buy dozens of different versions of the same albums, invest in expensive stereos, and notice tiny differences in audio quality?

You’re not focused on the right thing about music if you seriously declare, “The blue vinyl from China on XYZ Label from 1985 sounds so much better than the picture disc from Brazil on ABC Label from 1970.” No one normal cares or thinks about that!

The leader of these audiomaniacs also has quite the nasty reputation, both on that mailing list and in real life. He’s stalked people, and sent nasty messages to Pete about how he chose to release his own musical catalogue. Amazingly, he asked for five million dollars when he sold his giant music collection.

LAL was my sixth Who album, and I instantly loved it. When I got LAL+T, I loved it even more. It’s right up there with Who’s Next as a quintessential must-have album for newbies, one of their undisputed all-time greats. If you’ve got the money, you should get the complete version.

Of the non-Tommy tracks, my faves are “Tattoo,” “A Quick One” (which Pete gives a wonderfully hilarious, detailed intro to!), “Heaven and Hell” (sung by John), and “Fortune Teller.”