†[’Bootleg’ is defined here as a previously unreleased work, such as a concert or a collection of demo recordings. A ‘pirated’ recording is an illegal copy of a copyrighted work. In other words, 'bootleg' good, 'pirate' bad.]
“Taste cannot be controlled by law.” – Thomas Jefferson
The term ‘bootlegging’ orignally referred to moonshine whiskey that was made and sold during prohibition, but the act of copying the artistic works of others goes back to Shakespearean times. In fact, if it weren’t for actors smuggling scripts, and audience members transcribing lines (the renaissance equivalent of wearing a mic into a concert) many of Shakespeare’s plays wouldn’t have survived to modern times.
In 1966 some enterprising souls marketed a set of alternate recordings by Bob Dylan under the title Great White Wonder. These records marked the first rock bootlegs (live opera, classical, jazz and folk had been recorded for years) and started a sensation that persists to this day.
Clinton Heylin’s excellent book Bootleg: The Secret History Of The Other Recording Industry is a must read for anyone with even a shred of interest in the topic. Bootleg weaves a spellbinding narrative around the renegades, music-lovers and money-grubbers who have perpetuated this black market industry.
Heylin’s book was written in 1994, so it ends before the advent of affordable recordable CDs, Napster, mp3s, and RIAA lawsuits against downloaders of music. These developments have made bootlegs much more readily accessible to the lay listener. Indeed, many savvy musicians now set up websites that allow their fans to download shows and demos – often at a price.
While some in the music industry claim that bootleg recordings eat into artist profits, in almost every case someone downloading a show will spend – or has spent – money buying the studio albums of the artist in question. Indeed, as bootlegs have become more readily available, it’s easier than ever to see that only the die-hard fans are interested in most of the marginalia floating around.
But for those with an insatiable desire for music, these below the board recordings are something of a Rosetta stone, used to try to unlock the hidden secrets of their favorite bands. Live music being what it is, you never know when a magic moment might occur. Thankfully, there’s usually somebody in the audience hiding a mic, and capturing this fleeting magic for the rest of us.
Lou Reed * 12/26/72 Ultrasonic Studios, Hempstead NY
(aka American Poet or Despite All The Amputations or Streets Of Berlin)
This is the show that every Lou Reed fan would love to see. It’s got minimal attitude, lots of great songs (including a generous smattering of hits) and FM quality sound.
Also check out: 6/22/03 The Warfield, San Francisco CA
Neil Young * Chrome Dreams
This would-be 1976 release contains alternate takes of songs that would appear on American Stars and Bars, Comes A Time, Rust Never Sleeps, and Hawks & Doves.
Also check out: 5/16/74 Bottom Line, NYC & 11/15/76 Auditorium Theater, Chicago IL
The Rolling Stones * Live R Than You’ll Ever Be (11/9/69 Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, CA)
The first concert bootleg album – many still consider it to be the definitive live document of the Stones experience.
Also check out: The Alternate Exile On Main St. (aka Arcives Pathfinder) & The Trident Olympic Sessions, Volumes 1 & 2
Van Halen * Zero
The demos for Van Halen’s first album prove that the group was fully formed and ready to rip on their very moment of arrival. KISS’ Gene Simmons put the money up for these sessions, and he must have been very pleased with what he heard.
Also check out: 5/29/83 US Festival, Devore CA
Lynyrd Skynyrd * 11/4/75 Capitol Theater, Cardiff Wales (aka The Unreleased KBFH Show)
One of the best live groups of the 70’s swashbuckle their way through a great set. A ferociously focused band and sparkling sound quality make this the ultimate Skynyrd experience. Ronnie Van Zandt is pure badass, of course.
Also check out: 3/7/76 Winterland, San Francisco CA
Bob Dylan * Ten Of Swords (Box Set)
Beautifully packaged box set of rarities was issued a few months before Dylan’s own Biograph box; many critics felt this was the better release.
Also check out: The Genuine Basement Tapes
Traffic * 11/18/70 Fillmore East, NYC
Bill Graham intones, “In association with her majesty the queen, we bring you Traffic” someone titters, and you’re off. The sound just jumps out of the speakers, making this a perfect timepiece from the Fillmore East.
Also check out: 1/23/70 Anderson Theater, NYC (aka Woodwind)
Grateful Dead * 5/8/77 Barton Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca NY
The, er, users on Deadbase rate this the greatest Dead show of all-time, and they know of what they speak. Versions are in circulation with Donna Godchaux’ voice digitally removed, but with or without her, it’s a fantastic show.
Also check out: 9/15/78 Gizah Sound & Light Theater, Cairo Egypt & San Diego, CA 11/14/73
The Beatles * 5/68 George Harrison’s Home, Esher England (aka The White Album Demos)
Listen in as the Fab Four take a dry run through the songs that would comprise the White Album – plus a few that didn’t make the cut. Below average sound quality, but well worth the trouble.
Also check out: The Alternate Revolver & 8/29/66 Candlestick Park, San Francisco CA
Pink Floyd * Total Eclipse (Box Set)
A comprehensive collection of rarities from 1967 to 1990 spread over 4 discs and lovingly packaged like a real box set, complete with liner notes. The 8-Track version of ‘Pigs On The Wing’ should have been mastered from a better source, but otherwise, this deserves an A+ for breadth alone.
Also check out: Brain Damage & 9/30/71 Paris Cinema, London (aka Meddler)
Jimi Hendrix * 2/24/69 Royal Albert Hall, London
While most Hendrix boots are of questionable sound quality, this Royal Alert Hall show is crystal clear, and (of course) a virtuoso heavy guitar performance by the master himself.
Also check out: Acoustic Jams
Ramones * On The Road To Ruin
The hardest working band in punk was fairly new to the road when these nuggets were plucked from the soundboard. Take a band that gave their all every night, factor in youthful energy, and then take the best of the best of that, and you’ve got this stone classic.
Also check out: X * 7/23/82 Clutch Cargo, Detroit MI
Hank Williams * 1949 Grand Old Opry, Nashville TN
The best sound recordings have the power to literally whisk you back in time. This is one of my personal favorite episodes of this phenomenon. Pull up your 200lb radio and listen to Hank Sr. crank up the hits and change the face of modern music.
Also check out: Johnny Cash * Unreleased Acoustic Demos
Led Zeppelin * 2/12/75 Madison Square Garden, NYC (aka Flying Circus)
Even better than the 1972 shows that made up How The West Was Won, 2/12/75 features Robert Plant in a great mood (and voice), the usual bevy of hot licks, and crystal clear sound quality.
Also check out: The Alternate Physical Graffiti (aka Brutal Artistry)
Sex Pistols * Never Mind The Filthy Lucre… Here’s The Sex Pistols
Filthy Lucre… interweaves songs from the Pistols’ last show ever (from Winterland) with hilarious snippets of a SF radio call in show featuring the band fielding calls from haters, groupies, loonies, and one guy who simply asks “What makes you guys so great?” Essential listening for any fan of punk.
Also check out: The Clash * I Fought The Law (aka 1/3/79 London Lyceum)
My Morning Jacket * 5/28/04 Opera House, Toronto ONT
Of the nearly 100 MMJ shows available on Archive.org (if you love live music and don’t know about this site, do yourself a favor…) this takes the cake. A greatest hits-like set list, and above average sound do justice to a sizzling live band.
Also check out: Allman Brothers * 8/26/71 WPLJ-FM NYC
The Kleptones * A Night At The Hip-Hopera
This quantum level mash-up features hip hop’s best of backed by tasty power riffs courtesy of Queen. Spoken word segments from sources as far out as Dan Rather and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off add to the sense of joy ride.
Also check out: 24 Hours
KZEW (Dallas, TX) Concert Promos * 1974-1979
A collection of 70’s concert promotion ads for Dallas/Ft. Worth radio station KZEW, these hilarious time capsules of rock hype are ready-made comic relief for your iPod or CD changer. The Alan Parsons Project and Aerosmith spots are particularly side splitting.
Also check out: There’s nothing quite like this one…
Calexico * 4/25/03 China Theater, Stockholm
Another steller outing from the Southwest’s finest. Calexico burn through a greatest hits-like set on a tape that is soundboard quality. This show also features a wide spectrum of guests and instrumentation to match the group’s cinematic vision.
Also check out: Michelle Shocked * 8/31/02 Strawberry Music Festival, Yosemite CA
White Stripes * 3/1/01 Silver Lake, CA
There are plenty of really great Stripes shows out there, but this blistering set from 2001 gets the nod on set list alone. From ‘Dead Leaves & The Dirty Ground’ to ‘Jolene’, this is a fine representation of one the best live bands around.
Also check out: “Mississippi” John Hurt * 1955 Youngstown, OH
20 more on the RIAA’s hit list…
Jeff Tweedy * 10/21/99 Chicago, IL
Bob Marley * 12/79 Santa Cruz, CA
AC/DC * 11/2/79 Hammersmith Odeon, London
Stevie Wonder * 7/4/73 Brighton, UK
Miles Davis * 11/6/67 Salle Pleyal, Paris
Beastie Boys * 5/22/92 Seabright, NJ
Radio Birdman * 11/30/77 Geelong, AU
Van Morrison * The Inner Mystic
Kings Of Convenience * 10/16/04
Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash * CBS Sessions – Nashville
Nirvana * 3/87 Raymond, WA
Eric Clapton * 6/6/04 Dallas, TX
The Yardbirds * More Golden Eggs
Iggy Pop * 8/20/88 The Ritz, NYC
Flying Burrito Brothers * 3/3/69 Avalon Ballroom SF
Elvis Presley * Elvis’ Greatest Shit
Steve Earle * 3/30/02 Byron Bay, AU
M. Ward * 9/22/06 Denton, TX
David Bowie * 10/20/72 Santa Monica, CA
Ween * 8/18/00 Bizarre Festival
General releases packaged to look like bootlegs…
The Who * Live At Leeds
The Beatles * White Album
Aerosmith * Live Bootleg
Joy Division * Still
Pearl Jam * Live Releases (’00 series)
Sublime * Acoustic: Bradley Nowell & Friends
Led Zeppelin * In Through The Out Door
Pink Floyd * Wish You Were Here
Neil Young * Living With War
Bootlegs that became legit releases…
Bob Dylan & The Band * The Basement Tapes
The Beatles * Live At The Hollywood Bowl
Sex Pistols * No Future
New York Dolls * Seven Day Weekend
Frank Zappa * Beat The Boots Series
Elvis Presley * The Sun Sessions
Iggy & The Stooges * Metallic KO
Bob Marley & The Wailers * At The Roxy
The last disc of every box set in existence
Inspired by boots…
Beatles * Anthology I, II, & III
King Biscuit Flower Hour
Bob Dylan * Bootleg Series
Grateful Dead * Dick’s Picks Series
The last disc of every box set in existence