ALEX JOHNSON writes ...
One of my strongest connections with any band ever involved falling for Talking Heads in 1985, via Stop Making Sense, an album we now know to have been quite heavily touched up after the fact—although the 1999 re-released version removed a lot of those touches.
I remember noticing that Bernie Worrell’s keyboard solos on the original album were more polished than they are in the film, or in the re-release. But when I first heard it, I hadn’t seen the film (which I also love), so I didn’t realise it had been overdubbed as much as it had.
I think that this one of those things about a live album where, if you think about it too much, you get yourself into a perplexing state of mind:
—But shouldn’t it have sounded like the original performance?
—But it still sounds great!
—Yeah, but it’s not true!
In the case of an album like Live & Dangerous, it’s probably the best album Thin Lizzy ever did, certainly the one I put on most often.
So should it really matter that they polished it so much in the studio?
On thinking about it, I’ve decided that if part of the virtue of the album is precisely that it was recorded live, if the fact that it’s a document of legendary performances is an essential and integral part of its value—which is the case with many live jazz albums, for example—then I would think less of the album if I were to learn that they’d overdubbed it in the studio.
For example, John Coltrane’s Live at the Village Vanguard or Kenny Dorham’s ‘Round About Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia are loved precisely because they’re records of their respective musicians on a really good night. Jazz is a music that thrives on live performance.
But with rock and pop musicians, I don’t think it’s quite as important, unless it truly is a legendary performance, involving a lot of great improvisation, or whatever. I’d probably think less of a Phish or Grateful Dead live album if it turned out that they’d tweaked it in the studio. Especially because, with those bands, I only like their live albums, precisely because of their atmosphere of unpredictable creativity.
But with Talking Heads and Thin Lizzy, I just want the album to sound kick-ass. I’m less pestered by questions of historical truth. I don’t even know where or exactly when most of Live & Dangerous was recorded.
So, in the end, it depends on the musicians making the album, as far as I’m concerned.