David Bowie’s 1974 live double album is one of my all-time favorites, to the point that it is somewhat difficult to write about because I’m too consumed by it. It is my perfect morning record, forever synonymous with coffee and no particular agenda. Does that mean the songs themselves are quiet and calm? Certainly not. It is an album that commands your attention; it refuses to be background music.
In high school, I bought Live at Rudy’s II in Missoula, Montana for $9.99, even though I didn’t yet have a record player. I had to use my dad’s, which was in the room we called the “den,” but buying the double album on CD then cost $25. The price difference was enough to overlook the inconvenience of not being able to listen in my bedroom. Still, like a lot of records I purchased for the same monetary reasons, I didn’t listen to it much until I had my own turntable. (Besides, with these old albums, isn’t it better to listen to them on vinyl? Isn’t that how they were meant to be heard? Or are we overly nostalgic?)
What really cemented my love for Live was listening to it in our first house. My husband would be making sausage and eggs for his and the kids’ breakfast, and I’d have my usual toast and coffee. The songs were bright, dying for a sing-along, and were infinitely better than another morning with Nick Jr. My daughter went through a stage where she loved “Suffragette City,” and it was always entertaining to watch her dance to it.
Filled with barroom-style plunky piano, brass instruments, and that familiar glam-rock guitar, it’s hard to pick a favorite side of the two records:
“All The Young Dudes”
“When You Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me”
“Watch That Man”
“Knock on Wood”
“Width of a Circle”
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”
The individual records are pressed in “automatic sequence,” meaning that Side A is backed with Side D, with Side B and Side C paired on the other. For this reason, Sides B-C are the ones I play most often, since they contain most of my favorites from the album. Live was my first introduction to “When You Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me,” from the album Diamond Dogs (which I have yet to own. I know, I know). Bowie trying on soul is magnificent, and this version differs quite a bit from the original album. Both are big and heartfelt, and one can hear how Bowie is beginning to transition away from glam. He is, after all, forever ahead of the curve.
When you rock ‘n’ roll with me / no one else I’d rather be / nobody down here can do it for me / I’m in tears again / when you rock ‘n’ roll with me…
Because each song differs enough from its original form, know that Live is not just another repackage of the same known songs. Each is wonderfully representative of mid-’70s Bowie while also looking ahead to his future. The cocaine rasp in his voice hints at the problems to come, but the music knows that he will rise again, that we await every new beginning with tenderness.