Warning: What follows is really over the top.
I have a friend who thinks Lynyrd Skynyrd’s One More from the Road is the best live album ever. Out of every live recording in the world that’s ever existed. Better than James Brown’s Live at the Apollo or the Who’s Live at Leeds. All of them. Maybe I’ll get him to explain why here soon, since I kind of want to know myself. If I had to guess, knowing him, I would say it’s probably related to the feeling of the whole thing. The emotional elements, the heart and soul, the Artimus Pyle of it all (the bands hairy drummer) as opposed to its tightness…which leads us here, to one of the greatest live performances ever to appear on an LP. As in, staggeringly incredible. As in, you guys go on ahead, I need to sit down for a minute.
Here’s the scene: Donny Hathaway, one of the finest singers earth has ever been blessed with, is playing at LA’s Troubadour in August of 1971. He hits the opening notes of his cover of Carole’s King’s “You’ve Got a Friend”, on the keyboard. It’s just been #1 in the charts, as sung by James Taylor, and of course features on Carole’s mega-selling, gigantic Tapestry LP, that every person alive that year owns a copy of, or at least their big sister does. It is beyond ubiquitous. The notes instantly trigger maniacal, unhinged, Beatle-esque screaming from the ladies in the audience. Donny starts singing with his usual soulful beauty, like always. When he gets to the line in the first verse, “close your eyes and think of me”, one of the intensely hyped up ladies answers back with, “I’m thinkin‘ !”. There is a burst of laughter. And then it’s time for the chorus. At this point, the whole audience takes the mike from Donny…and he graciously lets them. Beyond let’s them. They completely take over the song, while awestruck Donny guides, leads, embellishes, and backs them up for the rest of the way. I’m telling you, it’s just, damn….
One of the most mind-blowing things about this recording, is the closeness of all of it: it sounds like the crowd is onstage with him, all clapping, screaming, breathing, and chattering, while completely surrounding him at his keyboard (at least that’s the way I’ve always pictured the scene in my head). That moment, when the first verse transitions into the chorus, and everyone starts singing, gives me chills every single time I hear it: it is positively transcendent. You’ll actually feel your heart expand inside you.
At one point Donny says “Y’all sound awful good to me”, then,” this might be a record here”.
Yeah, thank God for that.