SWEET EXCESS:10 CLASSIC TRIPLE ALBUMS
In the late 60’s, two-record sets became the rage among rock’s elite. Bob Dylan stretched out on 1966’s BLONDE ON BLONDE, Cream unleashed WHEELS OF FIRE two years later, and the Who needed four sides of vinyl to tell the tale of TOMMY. By 1970 the next threshold of record packaging was reached by adding another panel to the sleeve and inserting yet another disc to create the (insert fanfare here) TRIPLE ALBUM. Aside from compilations like Neil Young’s DECADE, ARCHIVES from Rush, or Kiss THE ORIGINALS, there are only a select few examples of this Jurassic phenomenon which had fans digging deeper into their pockets for their heroes. Here’s a humble list of the ten best.
#10 LOTUS - SANTANA 1974This triple-record album set new standards for packaging. If you put LOTUS on the floor and opened it up, you could see 12 multi-colored panels with photos and artwork that must have cost a fortune for Columbia Records in Japan to produce. Chronicling a 1973 concert in Osaka, the music detailed Santana’s leap into jazz and soul, a move the band’s American label was not so thrilled with. As a result, the far-tamer MOONFLOWER double live & studio album substituted for LOTUS in the U.S. a couple years later.
#9 THE CONCERT FOR BANGLA-DESH - GEORGE HARRISON AND FRIENDS The former Beatle followed a triple album studio set (ALL THINGS MUST PASS) with this chronicle of the two fund-raising concerts at Madison Square Garden in 1971 that he spearheaded. The intent was honorable even if the musical results were mixed. Thrown together in record speed, the program featured a brilliant appearance from the reclusive Bob Dylan, who hadn’t really been seen publicly in five years. Even so, it wasn’t definite that Dylan was even going to show until virtually the last minute, resulting in no small amount of stress backstage. Eric Clapton was in his high-as-a-kite stage and Harrison nervous as hell, but Leon Russell just killed it in his spotlight and Ringo made everyone smile. Plenty of good karma to go around!
#8 WELCOME BACK MY FRIENDS TO THE SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS - EMERSON, LAKE, AND PALMER Let it be said that E.L.P never did anything small. Their stage sets were enormous, their songs stretched across album sides, and they nearly went broke hauling an orchestra around on tour. So, if they were going to put out a live album, why go for anything less than a triple? Sure, they’d put out the live PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION three years earlier as a single record, but that was all new material to their repertoire, whereas this monster compiled the best of the hits onstage in Anaheim on the band’s most recent tour of 1973-74. Six sides were absolutely essential to fit it all in.
#7 THE LAST WALTZ - THE BAND The timeless movie by Martin Scorsese of one of America’s great musical units in their swansong performance is required viewing. Recorded at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving 1976, this was the end of the road for Robbie Robertson and the rest of the group; the other members would reform in subsequent years. The concert was marked by several iconic guest appearances, from Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell to Muddy Waters, Dr. John, and Neil Diamond. Truly one of rock’s greatest nights.
#6 EUROPE ’72 - GRATEFUL DEAD The Grateful Dead, like any band, has had its ups and downs – but this was one of the best periods for the legendary group. PigPen, the blues-loving, Southern Comfort-swigging keyboardist was well along on his way off to the happy hunting ground so Keith Godchaux came in to fill things out on piano and his wife Donna came along to sing. The medley of “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider” is transcendental, maaaaan.
#5 YESSONGS - YES For a band that put out its three landmark and best-selling releases - THE YES ALBUM, FRAGILE, and CLOSE TO THE EDGE in just 19 months, this triple live set gave the members of the world’s preeminent progressive rock band a chance to catch their breath. Recorded in a time of transition for Yes, replacing drummer Bill Brufiod with Alan White in the middle of the stream, all the big hits are here plus some solo Rick Wakeman too.
#4 SANDINISTA - THE CLASH In the year following the breakthrough double album of 1979, LONDON CALLING, the Clash were awash with great songwriting ideas and a rush of youthful exuberant energy. So many sessions produced so many great songs that the band chose to put everything out. Of course, the record label screamed and bitched, but it was the Clash – “the only band that mattered.” And besides, what CBS Records exec wanted Joe Strummer to key their BMW? So they signed off and this triple appeared in December 1980.To keep costs down, it all went in one sleeve and the band had to give up some of their artist royalties. Now, that’s putting your money where your mouth is!
#3 WINGS OVER AMERICA - PAUL MCCARTNEY AND WINGS To chronicle Paul’s return to America in 1976, ten years after he exited the country with the Beatles, and also to counter bootleggers, Paul McCartney put out this massive set later that year. It cost more, but nobody cared – it had new versions of five Beatles songs on it!
#2 WOODSTOCK - VARIOUS ARTISTS This triple compiled performances from the iconic Mudfest in Bethel, New York in August 1969. As a major cultural event amongst America’s youth, a film and this album of the event took the Hippies mainstream. Jimi Hendrix, the Who, and Jefferson Airplane added more substance to their already-legendary careers, while newcomers like Santana and Joe Cocker broke it wide open. It’s a Whitman’s Sampler of the 60’s counter-culture, at least the rock and roll part of it.
#1 ALL THINGS MUST PASS - GEORGE HARRISON George Harrison’s third solo album was also his first released after the Beatles break up, and it was really the first showcase for his songwriting as the first two albums were instrumental and experimental. George had this backlog of material he’d not been able to push past the Lennon-McCartney songwriting juggernaut, so he set to work on those tracks on his own with a stellar cloud of musicians behind him. But when you think of it, what musician at the time would have refused an invitation from Beatle George Harrison? But, beyond the presence of legends like Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr, it’s the songs that make this an incredible album. “My Sweet Lord” was the first #1 from a solo Beatle, “Apple Scruffs” recalled the disastrous Beatles days at Apple, “ and “Isn’t it a Pity” (both versions) delivered beautiful and sprawling soundscapes. Two albums of these superb classics breeze by to be enjoyed time and time again. The collection of jams from the sessions, entitled “Apple Jam,” makes up the third record, an album you probably listened to once or twice, if that, before returning to the 4 sides of some of the finest music ever committed to vinyl. Happy birthday, George!