A trawl through the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time reveals something interesting. Only 12 of the albums featured are live albums. Now, the fact that the list, like all such lists, is a bit rubbish, and that those 12 live albums do not include amongst their number Thin Lizzy or The Ramones, renders all discussion of it slightly redundant. But it is still worth noting what those 12 albums are. Why? Because it is choc-full of R&B, going some way to proving Thee Faction’s long held position that R&B in general, and Socialist R&B in particular, is best experienced live.
Here are the 12:
This is textbook R&B. One of the finest R&B albums of all time. Do we need to say any more? It also used to be really cheap. In our day it was one of Our Price’s £3.99 records. And it would have been cheap at five times the price. Don’t be put off by that most bourgeois of comedians Michael Macintyre stealing the title for his tawdry TV show. This is the real thing.
#49 Allman Brothers – At Fillmore East
There’s always been a strong R&B element in Southern Rock. And a strong Southern Rock element in Socialist R&B. Thee Faction’s ‘Union Man/Proletarian Man’ has, on occasion, been wrongly classified as Southern Rock rather than Socialist R&B.
Tremendous purveyor of R&B. One of the originals, and, perhaps most importantly, a man spawned from the original home of Socialist R&B: Sun Studios. There are those who will tell you that his last records – the ones with Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails covers on – were his best. They weren’t. This was his best. Raw, live R&B. In a prison. Tense stuff, comrades.
#141 BB King – Live at The Regal
Now, much of BB King’s work was blues, rather than R&B. But this is a classic. And what’s the last track in this excellent 1964 set? That’s right, comrades. It’s ‘Help the Poor’. Socialist R&B, brothers and sisters.
#158 Kiss – Alive!
Grab five minutes with Nylons and grill him on why Kiss count as R&B. He will explain, and you will be convinced. Disappointing quantities of overdubs on this one, we think, but it’s still worth its place.
Now, Comrade James Sherry will tell you that Live in Hull (recently cobbled together by splicing Entwhistle’s Leeds bass into the rest of the band’s Hull performance, from the same 1969 tour) is a better record. But this is the one we grew up with, and is British R&B at its best. English Jake of the NZRCP swears by this stuff. He’s right to. Live at Leeds is top class R&B. And Summertime Blues, that 50s American two-fingers-to-The-Man classic, is Socialist R&B if ever we’ve heard it.
#241 Grateful Dead – Live/Dead
Yeah, OK, there’s elements of stuff we like in the Grateful Dead, and underlying it all is some nicely executed R&B. But they’re hippies. And we won’t stand for that. All that individualist political philosophy, covered up by a veneer of liberal communitarianism, isn’t Thee Faction’s cup of political tea. Nor is decadence, nor work-shyness. We say ‘no’ to hippies.
We say ‘yes’, however, to the MC5. Of course we do. Without the MC5, Karl Marx and Dr Feelgood, there’d be no Thee Faction. That this is at #290 is a travesty, indicative of the bourgeois nature of such lists in general, and Rolling Stone’s list in particular. “And right now… right now… right now it’s time to… KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKERS!” A mighty start to a mighty album. And these Maoist, White Panther activists were genuine Socialist R&B. Perhaps, before Thee Faction, the only other example of a consistently Socialist R&B outfit. ‘Brothers and Sisters: I wanna see a sea of hands out there. Let me see a sea of hands. I want everybody to kick up some noise. I wanna hear some revolution out there, brothers. I wanna hear a little revolution. Brothers and sisters, the time has come for each and every one of you to decide whether you are gonna be the problem, or whether you are gonna be the solution. You must choose, brothers, you must choose. It takes 5 seconds, 5 seconds of decision. Five seconds to realize that it’s time to move. It’s time to get down with it. Brothers, it’s time to testify and I want to know. Are you ready to testify? Are you ready? I give you a testimonial: The MC5.’ A stone cold classic, comrades.
#311 Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York
Where do we start? Not Socialist R&B, nor any other R&B. Recorded in conjunction with MTV! The list of crimes against the culture we stand for goes on and on. Of course, as is well known, Cobain sought Thee Faction’s help with a few things, and Nylons had to put up with him sleeping on his sofa for a bit. But that doesn’t mean that we have to approve of an MTV-sponsored-acoustic-album.
#435 Sam Cooke – Live at The Harlem Square Club 1963
Now we’re back on track, comrades. Some mighty fine R&B on here. Including, of course, Chain Gang. Which moves this record from being simply R&B to being Socialist R&B. Comrade Cooke is at his absolute peak here. If you don’t own this, you need to.
Crikey! Thee Faction literally cannot imagine how the clowns at Rolling Stone managed to find 465 records better than this one. We struggle to think of a dozen records better than this one. The last album Otis released before he died, this is an absolute R&B monument. And Satisfaction, with its one-fingered salute to The Man, the advertising industry and the capitalist world in general edges this record towards the hallowed ground of Socialist R&B.
#499 BB King – Live in Cook County Jail
Tremendous R&B from BB King, recorded in a Chicago prison. Unlike some other BB King recordings, this is not just Blues. This is R&B, with some epic horns in there, and bag fulls of energy. A fine record.
Starting to see why this was worth blogging, comrades? Twelve live albums, and all bar Nirvana and the Grateful Dead are rammed-full of R&B. And, to be fair, we have to acknowledge that Nirvana’s version of Leadbelly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night? is a solid attempt at doing something good, and we’ve already acknowledged that it’s our hippy-blindspot that stops us seeing the good stuff in the Grateful Dead.
The conclusion: R&B is best witnessed live. And if you can’t get to the gig, you need to buy a live recording of it. Preferably with no overdubs and all the energy and mistakes of the show itself.
The next time they publish one of these lists there’ll be an extra live R&B album on it. A Socialist R&B album. Thee Faction: At Ebbw Vale. It ranks up there with Kick Out The Jams, At the Apollo and At Folsom Prison. And it is going to be available very very soon. Watch this space.
Meanwhile, remember you can listen to a preview of five of the tracks, and an interview with Baby Face, over at Nostalgia of the Future. But you won’t have to wait long before your vinyl copy (with free CD) of At Ebbw Vale is nestling in your proletarian embrace.