I was listening to Classic Vinyl on SiriusXM radio in the car the other day when they played the original studio version of Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band’s Turn the Page, and it didn’t seem right. It sounded different in my ear, as I was used to the live version of the song. That got me thinking about live versions of rock songs that are much better than the original studio version. Songs that if the radio DJ was going to play that one specific song, he or she would grab the live version over the studio version every time.
Not sure what propelled the popularity of live albums during the 1970’s. You don’t see them being as popular in later decades. Live music and concerts were growing to huge proportions in the 70’s. It may have been a money grab from the record label, but I’m just guessing.
So here are a few of the songs I could easily think of that the live version outshone the studio version, maybe not on the charts, but definitely were played more on the radio.
BOB SEGER & THE SILVER BULLET BAND – Turn The Page: Live Bullet (1976) – I’ll start with this song as it was what made me ponder this in the first place. Apparently the song was never released as a single, but it got lots of airplay on FM radio in the 1970’s. The original song was recorded in 1972. Not only did Turn The Page live fare better than the studio version, the songs Travelin’ Man/Beautiful Loser, and Katmandu also are songs that you only heard the live versions on the radio, not the studio versions.
KISS – Rock and Roll All Nite: Alive! (1975) – Originally appeared in studio form on 1975’s Dressed to Kill album, but the KISS ALIVE! album version is what was played on the radio. Gene Simmons sang the song, but I think it’s Paul Stanley shouting “I CAN’T HEAR YOU,” “C’MON” and “WHAT?!” which are classic and intergral parts of the song. 12 year old me wore this album out. The live version made it to #12 on the Billboard charts in 1976.
Paul McCartney & Wings – Maybe I’m Amazed: Wings Over America (1976) – Paul McCartney wrote this song in 1970 and dedicated it to his wife Linda, in an effort to heal after the Beatles break up. After forming the band Wings, they released a triple live album, and it reached number 10 on the singles charts. The drumming on this live version really stands out. Can you ever recall hearing the studio version?
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Free Bird: One More From The Road (1976) – Another live album from 1976, and this won’t be the last on this list. This one is a little bit of a cheat, as the original studio version did just fine on it’s own. Matter of fact, the studio version hit number 19 on the charts in 1974, with the live version making it to number 38. But in all actuality, “What song is it you wanna hear?” The live version answers that question. “FREE BIRD!!!”
Jackson Browne – Running On Empty: Running On Empty (1978) – I had this album on cassette and it popped into my mind for this post, but I was very surprised to learn that it was never released as a studio version. They recorded this one live and released it as a single, which reached #11 on the charts. The Load Out was also was released as a single and hit #20. But radio generally plays the two songs The Load Out/Stay together. So I guess the live version can easily be better than the studio version if the studio version never existed. Honorable mention to this one.
Cheap Trick – I Want You to Want Me: Cheap Trick at Budokon (1978) – Two songs stand out on this album, I Want You to Want Me, and Surrender. I Want You to Want Me was originally released in 1977, it didn’t even chart. Was Cheap Trick even known until at Budokon came out? I certainly had never heard of them. The song went to #1 in Japan, no surprise there. But it also hit #7 in the USA. Surrender did well on it’s own, as the studio version hit #62, and was not released as a live single from what I can tell. The studio version of Surrender stands on it’s own and didn’t need the live version to bolster it. What is interesting about I Want You to Want Me is how Robin Zander introduces it, in a very clear spoken English so that the Japanese audience could understand. I crack up every time I hear it.
Peter Frampton – Show Me The Way: Frampton Comes Alive! (1976) – Easily the greatest live album ever released. It was the best selling album of 1976. And it held the top spot on the album charts for 10 weeks. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit, I never owned this album. But you couldn’t escape it anyway. The song was one of three singles released from the live album, joining Baby, I Love Your Way, and Do You Feel Like We Do. Show Me The Way hit #6 on the charts, and did slightly better than the other two. I’ve seen Peter two times now, both in good old New Lenox, Illinois, where I grew up. Incredible guitarist. I don’t believe I have ever heard the studio version of any of Frampton’s songs.
REO Speedwagon – Ridin’ The Storm Out: You Get What You Play For (1977) – Ridin’ The Storm Out hit #94 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The original version appears on their third album, also called Ridin’ The Storm Out, but here’s the odd part – Kevin Cronin doesn’t sing the original version, a guy named Mike Murphy does. Cronin left the band due to “creative differences.” But he does in fact rejoin the band to lead them to greatness, and still is leading them today. Kevin introduces the song by yelling “LAST SONG PEOPLE!” And on that note, I will make this the last song on this list.