Live at Leeds is the first live album by English rock band the Who. 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. Initially released in the United States on 16 May 1970, by Decca and MCA and the United Kingdom on 23 May 1970, by Track and Polydor, the album has been reissued on several occasions and in several different formats. Since its initial reception, Live at Leeds has been cited by several music critics as the best live rock recording of all time.
By the end of the 1960s, particularly after releasing Tommy in May 1969, the Who had become 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".:5
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.:5. Roger Daltrey cast doubt on this rumour in a 2006 BBC interview, but it was supported by Townshend during an interview (broadcast by the radio station Planet Rock on 11 February 2010) celebrating the 40th anniversary of the original recording. Townshend further supported this claim in his book Who I Am.
Two shows were consequently scheduled, one at the University of Leeds and the other in Hull, for the expressed 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 and 15 February 1970 at Leeds and Hull, respectively, 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.:5
The plain album cover looks like the cover of a bootlegLP of the era and was modelled after the Rolling Stones' Live'r Than You'll Ever Be: it is of 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, 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. The first 500 copies included a copy of the contract for the Who to play at the Woodstock Festival.
The label was handwritten (apparently in Townshend's hand), and included instructions to the engineers not to attempt to remove any crackling noise. This is probably a reference to the clicking and popping on the pre-remastered version (notably in "Shakin All Over") which was from John Entwistle's bass cable. Modern digital remastering techniques allowed this to be removed, and also allowed some of the worst-affected tracks from the gig to be used.
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."
In a 1981 review, Robert Christgau felt that, although side one is valuable for the live covers and "Substitute", the "uncool-at-any-length" "Magic Bus" and "My Generation" are not an improvement over their "raw" album versions. In a retrospective review for Allmusic, Bruce Eder felt that the album was seen as a model of excellence for live rock and roll during the 1970s; that it was the Who's best up to that point, and that there was "certainly no better record of how this band was a volcano of violence on-stage, teetering on the edge of chaos but never blowing apart." In a review of its 1995 CD reissue, Tom Sinclair of Entertainment Weekly asserted that it shows why the Who were important: "Few bands ever moved a mountain of sound around with this much dexterity and power."Mojo magazine wrote that "the future for rock as it became, in all its pomp and circumstance, began right here."Steven Hyden, writing for PopMatters, said that it is "not only the best live rock ‘n’ roll album ever, but the best rock album period." Roy Carr of Classic Rock, reviewing the 2010 Super Deluxe Edition of the album, remarked how the new Live at Hull section "is noticeably more tight, more focused and even more aggressive" than the original recording, concluding that "we now have the two greatest live rock albums...ever."
The original LP was released on 16 May 1970 in stereophonic format. The album was reissued on Compact Disc in 1985 by MCA in the US, and in 1987 by Polydor in Germany.
In 1995, the album was reissued as a remixed CD including more songs than the original vinyl edition, as well as song introductions and other banter that had been edited out of the original release. For the remix, new vocal overdubs from Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle were recorded to address occasional flaws in the original tapes or performances.
"Fortune Teller" and "Young Man Blues" are R&B tunes that were a standard part of the Who's stage repertoire at the time. "Shakin' All Over" is a cover of a hit by pioneering early 1960s British rocker Johnny Kidd and "Summertime Blues" is a cover of an Eddie Cochran song.
"My Generation" is drawn out into an almost sixteen minute medley including "See Me, Feel Me" / "Listening To You", "Underture", the instrumental riff from the end of "Naked Eye", "The Seeker," and a number of other mostly unfamiliar themes. "Magic Bus" is drawn out to seven and a half minutes (9:42 on the un-edited recording). On the originally released version, there is an 8 second segment near the beginning of "Magic Bus" (leading into the lyric I don't care how much I pay) where the music is played backwards. The 1995 and 2001 CD mixes edit this section differently and do not have the backward portion. The backwards portion was retained on "Greatest Hits Live".
In 2001, the album was released again as a part of the Universal Deluxe Edition series. The Deluxe Edition includes more chat between the songs, and the entirety of the band's Tommy set as performed at Leeds. Again, new overdubs from the vocalists were employed at select points.
During the concert, "Summertime Blues", "Shakin' All Over", "My Generation", and "Magic Bus" were played after the Tommy set, but for easier listening the Deluxe Edition devoted the entire second disc to the Tommy set, and moved "My Generation" and "Magic Bus" out of order to the end of the first disc. During 1970, the regular Who concert set was set up this way, but an album with a 1970 concert in true order wasn't available until 1996 when the official Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 album was released.
In October 2010, Universal Music announced the impending release of a 40th Anniversary edition of the album which would not only contain the full Leeds show from 14 February 1970 but also the band's complete performance from Hull which was recorded the following evening as well as a heavyweight vinyl reproduction of the original six-track album, memorabilia and a replica 7 Inch Single of 'Summertime Blues/ Heaven & Hell'. This performance had previously been unavailable because of a problem with the recording of John Entwistle's bass guitar on the first six songs. To fix this problem his performance at the Leeds show was overdubbed over these tracks of the Hull performance using digital technology.
1.^ Moon normally sang a few backing vocals during this period of the Who's career, particularly on "I Can't Explain", though sound engineer Bob Pridden frequently muted his vocal microphone.:7 This appears to have been done for the Leeds show, with Townshend making light of it before announcing "A Quick One, While He's Away", stating "We do feature normally Keith Moon singing, but today we'll just have to feature him."