What is the best art rock live album ever released?
First I’d better define art rock.
What Is Art Rock?
Like progressive rock it grew out of psychedelia combining the influence of The Beatles around the time of Strawberry Fields Forever and the space rock of Pink Floyd and their first couple of albums.
In fact prog rock and art rock are considered to be the same by some. I don’t think they are.
Art rock is still influenced by classical and jazz music but it doesn’t go in for the long, extended instrumental noodling. It’s also influenced by music from around the world as for example both Peter Gabriel and Talking Heads used African rhythms. Solos are usually short and incisive to help set the mood for the songs.
There’s a cleverness to art rock that can be found in the complex song structures, the use of unusual instruments and in the lyrics which can be intentionally funny.
Early Genesis is prog but Peter Gabriel is an art rock artist.
Van Der Graaf Generator are prog but their singer’s solo work includes art rock.
Floyd”s Dark Side Of The Moon is art rock but Wish You Were Here has a much more progressive sound.
It’s these grey areas that you don’t appreciate until you try to put music in one category rather than another.
My Five Favourite Art Rock Live Albums
Further down the page, you can vote in the poll for your favourite art rock live recordings but to help inspire or perhaps to provoke you to disagree, I’ve started sharing my thoughts on the best albums in each category.
I have two simple rules:
- Desert island discs – these are chosen as if I could only have five live albums from each genre.
- Where albums cross genres, I have the freedom to select which genre I’m using for an album but I’m not going to pick an album twice.
First I’ll move consideration of Talking Heads to other categories, Punk & New Wave for The Name Of The Band Is Talking Heads and Funk for Stop Making Sense. I’ll think about Television in the new wave section too.
I’ll deal with a couple of easy choices first.
David Bowie changed musical form throughout the 1970s and whilst I’m not that keen on the Berlin trilogy of albums or Stage, I regard Nassau Coliseum 1976 as a move in that direction and think it’s a superb album, contrasting well with one of my choices from the classic rock genre, David Live.
I love the Supertramp of Crime of the Century and Crisis? What Crisis? and the original release of Paris is a fine album that has been extended with the missing tracks and a DVD in a release called Live In Paris ’79.
I’m tempted by albums from Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Be Bop Deluxe or Bill Nelson, Frank Zappa, 10cc, Procol Harum, ELO, Barclay James Harvest and the Moody Blues. I’d like to include City Boy in that list too but, apart from a few live tracks released as a bonus on their debut album, we don’t have a recording to consider.
I can’t overlook Roxy Music but they’ve made life difficult. Each year I hope for an extended version of Viva to be released with missing songs from the three concerts featured on the original album. Each year, so far, I’ve been left disappointed and nor has there been another album from the 1972 to 1976 first period. We’ve seen plenty from the Manifesto tour but we art rock fans know that’s not the real Roxy Music. The reunion album, Roxy Music Live has enough of the early songs and is well enough performed to win preference over the current release of Viva.
Frank Zappa is an artist I struggled with for not years but decades. Then, quite suddenly, I was drawn in and started buying his albums as if I had an addiction. In the wrong mood, I can’t stand them but, in the right mood, nothing else will do. I can’t risk sitting on my desert island with a Zappa itch and not having the soothing lotion. The first album I normally revert to is You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol 2, the Helsinki 1974 concert recording.
That leaves on album left and I’ve got to be ruthless. If I cheat and have “with an Orchestra” as a separate genre, it helps relieve some of the pressure from Procol Harum and The Moody Blues.
Back in the mid 1970s, Be Bop Deluxe were one of “my bands”, those I championed that were slightly outside the mainstream that was popular at school. Live! In The Air Age is excellent and I saw them on this Modern Music tour but it’s another on my list of albums that need to be extended from the current 53 minutes. For some strange reason, they thought it would be a good idea to cut out the songs from the Modern Music album.
There’s a BBC In Concert recording from 2nd October 1976 which makes an excellent complement to Live! In The Air Age as it adds Bring Back The Spark, Kiss Of Life, Twilight Capers and the Modern Music suite along with a version of Blazing Apostles. This shows the potential for an exceptional extended album and until that’s released, my final choice will be the much more recent Live At The Metropolis Studio which reprises some of the classic BBD songs along with a taster of Nelson’s later songs.
The Be Bop Deluxe At The BBC 1974-1978 release goes some way to curing the problem as it combines several in concert recordings and some live in the studio sessions. Unfortunately there are issues of playing the three CDs because of the repetition of songs like Maid In Heaven which appears 3 times in the first 15 tracks. I bought the digital download and rejigged it.
My five favourite art rock albums (until the record companies get their acts together) are:
- David Bowie Live Nassau Coliseum ’76
- Bill Nelson Live At The Metropolis Studio
- Roxy Music Live
- Supertramp Live In Paris ’79
- Frank Zappa You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol 2 (Helsinki)
It’s your turn so please vote in the poll and, if you feel like it, share your five favourites in the comments below, especially if I’ve missed a great art rock live album from the poll.
Please Vote In The Poll To Find Out The Best Art Rock Live Album
You can vote for up to five of your favourite art rock albums recorded live.
Some of these live albums have progressive rock leanings but I suspect that a true prog rock fan would detest the commercial sound of the songs.
I’m sure I’ve missed one of your favourite art rock live albums so please let me know by leaving a comment below.
My Thoughts On The Results So Far – October 2014
There has been a social media campaign by fans of the live album by Deaf School that has tilted the results.
The top 5 live art rock albums based on the votes are:
- Second Coming by Deaf School
- Stage by David Bowie
- Live Nassau Coliseum by David Bowie
- Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads
- Viva by Roxy Music
The Nassau concert is a bonus for the more expensive version of the StationToStation album.
Do You Agree With The Results So Far?
Let me know if you think my readers are getting it right. If not, why not?
Please Help Me Promote The Best Art Rock Live Album Poll
I appreciate any help promoting this art rock best album poll through social media including Twitter, Facebook, the bookmarking websites and Google +.
Thanks. It’s great to talk / discuss music and polls are usually controversial.
Please Take Part In My Other Best Live Albums Polls
You may want to vote or check out the results of these other best live album polls:
By music genre