Feb 14, 1970: The Who Track ‘Live At Leeds’

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One of the finest and fiercest live albums ever made? Without a doubt. Live At Leeds… best live album ever? Hard to say no, depends on your tastes, but it’s a title that this monumental classic rock disc by The Who should at the very least share with other winning favorites.

The Who were at the peak of their powers after a triumphant U.S. tour that included their famed appearance at Woodstock. They’d recorded hundreds of hours of concerts for a live album. But the prospect of listening to and culling through them was simply too daunting to bear for Pete Townshend.

This teaser ad for the album appeared in the April 18, 1970 issue of Record World

So he burned all the tapes in his back garden (long a rumor). And then the band booked two small venue dates to record: February 14 at Leeds University and the next night at Hull City Hall.

The space the Who played at Leeds was a dining hall, its “refectory,” partially curtained off, packed with some 2,000 people. There’s a number of reasons why that night yielded such a masterful live recording. Ultimately, though, it all comes down to the performance.

[That March, instead of releasing another track from 1969’s hugely successful Tommy, the Who inexplicably released a non-album single, “The Seeker.” While it did modestly well, reaching #19 in the U.K. and #44 in the U.S., it’s purpose was essentially to bridge the gap before Live at Leeds arrived in stores.]

The band performed the recently released rock opera Tommy in its entirety. For many, though, it’s the group’s raw, explosive version of “Summertime Blues” that is the song most synonymous with Live At Leeds.

As England’s Guardian notes of the accounts of those who were there, “It might, they suggest, have been the greatest concert ever.”

“In terms of energy and excitement I think it could be,” says Simon Brogan, who booked the show. “It was one of those rare events where everything came together.”

This ad for the album ran in the May 30, 1970 issue of Record World

Audience member Paul Goulden says the show was “the greatest thing I have ever seen. It was just complete, visceral excitement. Townshend was whirling his arms around, but the stuff he was playing was astonishing.”

Longtime Who soundman Bob Pridden tells how the band felt “an explosion of relief” at being back on home ground and playing a venue in which “you could see the whites of their eyes.” Hence Leeds was “a really good one” that “captured the essence” of The Who, which had already “continually being voted the best live band around.”

[Even though The New York Times called it “the best live rock album ever made,” as of February 14, 2019, it was no longer available on CD in the U.S.]

Only six of the 34 songs the band played that night came out on the original Live At Leeds released three months later on May 16, 1970. (The LP was certified Gold by the RIAA on Aug. 6.) Later expanded editions feature 13 tracks (issued in 1995) and 33 songs (released in 2002, though no longer in print) – all essential listening for any classic rock buff. Then there’s 2010’s super deluxe edition on 4 CDs featuring the entirety of the show plus the previously unreleased live set recorded in Hull, and more.

Related: See where Live at Leeds ranks on our list of 10 seminal hard rock albums

In February 2020, the Who played a series of club dates to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their Leeds University performance.

When The Who tour, tickets are available at Ticketmaster and here. Their recordings are available in the U.S. here and in the U.K. here.

Best Classic Bands Staff

10 Comments so far

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  1. Randy
    #1 Randy 15 February, 2017, 10:00

    “Live at Leeds” is the greatest live album ever made. The Who’s musical performance is sheer power, a huge wall of sound that sounds gigantic leaping from the speakers to the listener. You can feel their intense physical energy just dripping from every note they play. James Brown “Live at the Apollo” comes a very close second to this and Jerry Lee Lewis “Live at the Star Club” right there with it. These great live albums all share a great musical performance by artists at the height of their musical abilities. They are giving an intense physical performances full of raw energy where you can literally feel the sweat dripping off of them and playing like their lives depend on their performance that night.

    Reply this comment
    • Jeff Tamarkin
      Jeff Tamarkin 15 February, 2017, 10:10

      Great call on that Jerry Lee album. It’s unbelievable! Same with the JB.

      Reply this comment
      • Randy
        Randy 15 February, 2017, 10:17

        I bought the Jerry Lee Lewis “Live at the Star Club” on record for three bucks. It is the greatest live performance by a single artist ever recorded. Jerry Lee was just insane crazy, possessed that night. The drummer must have needed oxygen after that show.

        Reply this comment
    • Lgbpop
      Lgbpop 23 February, 2024, 12:49

      I’d add “One for the Road” by the Kinks in 1980. That group was better live than from the studio. I’m on my seventh or eighth copy of the vinyl two-record album (the only way to listen to it) and always notice something new every time I play it ~

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  2. litsi
    #2 litsi 16 February, 2017, 23:18

    A desert isle disc… I could listen to this any time anywhere

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  3. Litsi
    #3 Litsi 15 February, 2020, 16:28

    Circling back to Live at Leeds – the original release is still fantastic… here are two others from around the same time period which are worth a listen: James Gang Live in Concert (recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1971), and Lou Reed Rock and Roll Animal from 1973.

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    • James
      James 15 February, 2023, 23:06

      Definitely rock ‘n’ roll animal is fantastic. I would also put little feats waiting for Columbus. Add Blue Öyster Cult on your feet or on your knees.

      Reply this comment
  4. The History Guy
    #4 The History Guy 31 May, 2022, 09:55

    I saw The Who in June 1970 at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia MD. They played all of Tommy. Still the best!

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  5. Mike
    #5 Mike 15 February, 2023, 20:13

    I was at that concert in Columbia, also. But in the summer of 1969, I saw Zeppelin open for the Who at the same venue! A spectacular show!

    Reply this comment
  6. Matt
    #6 Matt 15 February, 2024, 10:04

    Only thing better would be if they filmed it. Isle of Wight will have to do.

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