Teeth

I’m a triplet. It’s an unusual fact about me that comes up once I’ve known someone a little while, be it a colleague, friend, or repeated acquaintance.

It’s the sort of fact you end up telling people a few times. They’ll swear blind you’ve never told them and be genuinely surprised. That’s okay. I can barely remember someone’s name on the first dozen meetings.

The other personal fact I end up repeating is that four of my front teeth are fake. A mix of metal and porcelain.

Teeth
Two of my front teeth

I usually jump over my sentences to complain that, hey, only two of them actually got punched out, and it’s a bit of a shame that they had to file down two perfectly good teeth to fit a bridge. I should have opted for the implants, but that would have meant general anaesthetic, more time, more money, and more hassle.

I usually skate over the words “punched out” at first. I never quite tell the story right. My sentences scramble over each other as I try to get out the stock lines along with my misremembered truth. I hear the words speed up and my voice go up in pitch a few notches, and I wonder why on earth I brought this up in the first place.

Despite everything, I still know that in a few ways it was my fault. Like treading in dog shit, you mentally go over the events again and again and again, knowing that one of a hundred tiny stupid things being different would have put you somewhere else at that time.

I was living in Manchester, and had been to the awful/brilliant 42nd Street with a couple of friends. They left before I did. I was off my face, and happy to stick around alone and dance a while longer.

At some point before closing time, the Red Hot Chili Peppers kick in. I can’t even remember which song, but I decide that surely this means it’s a night. Later, that will become one of my lines. “I blame the Red Hot Chili Peppers for my teeth getting punched out.” In some ways, I still actually believe that.

I walk straight out, sipping away on a plastic cup of water and feeling untouchable.

Outside the lights and sounds are disorientating, but I feel a lot better than most of the casualties I see draped all over the place. One girl is half-hugging the pavement. I stop, ask if she’s alright and offer her my water. She barely responds but I move on.

I get myself to the bus stop, on the bus, and tune out. Before I realise it, I’ve missed my stop. Just by one, and it’s barely far. In fact, I often ride that extra stop to pick up one of the ridiculously cheap, burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth pizzas you only get from those late-night kebab/burger/pizza shops.

Teeth cast
A cast of my remaining teeth, with the blue pair filed down for the bridge

It’s around 3am, and instead of heading to the shops I walk up Palatine Road back towards my house. I see two guys, big guys, walking towards me, but think little of it. As we pass I nod. Maybe I say, “Alright”.

From nowhere, one of the guys hits me, and he hits me hard. I’m on the floor, and I can taste hot gravel, blood, metal. Those playground fights. It doesn’t hurt, at least not that I can remember.

I can feel something in my mouth, and I realise it’s a tooth. I scramble on the floor and pick up what I realise is another. While this is happening the two men are grabbing at me, swinging. I have very little clue what the hell is going on.

Do they want to mug me? Why not just ask me before punching my teeth out? They’re doing this all wrong. I scramble to my feet, and run, while they swing and grab. I turn round, and they don’t seem to be following me. I keep running.

I eventually I slow down and stop. I spit out the tooth that’s loose in my mouth into my hand. My tongue touches the roof of my mouth. They’ve punched them right out.

I take out my phone, and dial 999. Police or ambulance, they want to know. Surely both, I think? They need an answer and I decide an ambulance is most important here. I don’t have any milk, but they can put teeth back in your jaw, can’t they? Do you even need the milk? They suggest I walk to the hospital or get a cab, but I say I’d rather wait for an ambulance.

Denture
My denture

After what seems like forever, the ambulance arrives. I tell the medics what happen, and they seem unflustered. Too unflustered. Worried about any reactions from any medication I might end up with I tell them more about my night, and they’re even less impressed. “Was it worth it then?” says one of the two. It’s obvious that he thinks that this is my fault.

They take one look at my teeth in my hand and tell me there’s no chance of those going back in my mouth. “They’re snapped off mate”. “Sure,” I think, but don’t say. “That’s why you’re driving an ambulance and not treating people in hospital.”

We get to the hospital, and there’s a wait for triage. The lights are bright and there are drunk people everywhere. I feel surprisingly calm. I get seen to by the triage nurse, and while I keep the finer details of the night to myself, I show her the filthy, bloodied teeth in my fist.

“Those aren’t going back in, I’m afraid,” she says gently. “They’re snapped off.”

“Sure,” I think, but don’t say. “That’s why you’re a triage nurse.” Somewhere deep down I know this is nonsense, but I can’t really bring myself to accept otherwise.

After a long while I see a doctor. He’s brusque. Very much in a hurry. “Oh, those can’t go back in, they’ve snapped off.” He scribbles out a prescription for antibiotics and sends me to the hospital pharmacy. Or he hands me the antibiotics in the room, I can’t quite remember now.

I do remember making an appointment for a dentist. Holding tight on to the white box of antibiotics, seeing a thumbprint in blood on it turn brown with what felt like indecent haste. Still in a daze, I walk out and walk to a bus stop, even though I know I’ll need at least two to get home, and there’ll be hardly any at this time.

It’s only then that I burst into tears.

I decide to walk home, sometimes stopping to sob. I’m already worrying about how I’ll explain this to my parents. I keep crying on and off for the next few days.

The next morning I tell one of my housemates what happened. He’s a taciturn but lovely guy from Droitwitch, who I fell out of touch with swiftly on leaving Manchester. I’m a mediocre friend and even worse housemate.

He gives me a hug. He is not a huggy kind of guy. I burst into tears once more. I put off calling my parents for at least a day. It takes two or three attempts before I can let the phone connect without crying. Eventually I do, but as soon as I start talking I cry so much they can barely make out what I’m saying.

I take a week off work. It’s unpaid, as technically the whole team is on a weekly rolling contract. I’ve been there 10 months. I manage to quit that job for a slightly less awful one very soon after.

Denture
My denture – from the other side

It takes some time to get back to normal.

I cancel my NHS dental appointment in Manchester. I get my face fixed by my childhood dentist, a man who also taught me my Bar Mitzvah sedra over a year of awkward lessons in the dining room of my parents’ home when I was 12.

First, they have to drill the remaining stumps of my teeth into bits and wrest them from my jaw with what are pretty much just a pair of pliers.

I become adept at talking with my mouth closed. I even get through a job interview like that, excusing the whistle when I talk by mumbling “my teeth got knocked out”.

Soon after, days or weeks, I don’t remember, I get a denture. I can’t get a bridge until my jaw and gums have healed and shrunk enough.

It’s a good gimmick. I can pop it out with my tongue and sometimes do to comic effect. I pop it into my own drink at house parties. No one finds this funny except me.

Denture paste is weird and chalky. Usually when I’m popping the thing out it’s because it always feels uncomfortable. I often feel the need to force it back to the roof my my mouth with my thumb.

On one occasion, I’m spotted doing this by a bunch of lads in a Deansgate hellhole of a pub. One sticks his thumb in his mouth. I’m reminded of the time when, as an overgrown thumbsucker, a stranger did the exact same thing through a bus window, shaming me in the back of my parents’ car.

I decide to take ownership of the situation and put my thumb back in my mouth, pop out my denture and wave it in the air. He looks shocked, before he and his friends start chanting, terrace style, “STERADENT / STERADENT / STERADENT”.

Cast with denture
A cast of my teeth with the denture slotted in place

Some months later I get my bridge fitted. I remember getting a colour match for the teeth earlier in the process and thinking, “Maybe they should give me a shade lighter – something to aim for with some better brushing in the future”.

I know I already mentioned this, but I still find it sad that they had to file down two undamaged teeth to fit the bridge on. That’s as many as I had punched out.

I’m told that a bridge can last 25 years, if you take care of it. No-one’s told me what happens after that. I’ve got less than 15 years left.

School

My school building was demolished just a few years after I left. The school moved ten miles out into the suburbs, and I pompously tell people that I pity the kids who are missing out on the life lessons you learn from the crush for the 29 bus and by dodging drug dealers and their hashskunkweed mantra.

I say that I pity them missing out on all those record shops, but they’ve nearly all closed down anyway. Tower, Virgin, Slow Motion, Shakedown, Rhythm, Hammerhead and, of course, Music & Video Exchange.

Music & Video Exchange
Music & Video Exchange (Yelp)

Being more honest, I don’t really care too much about the next generation of kids at what I refuse to think of as “my” school since it was transplanted across London. I just feel strangely sad knowing that I can never go back.

It’s not that I want to go back in time. Few things fill me with a fraction of the horror of the prospect of reliving my school days. We may complain that youth is wasted on the young, but a even a moment’s thought will recall the regular misery and constant swirling confusion of those years.

JFS School in Camden
The part-demolished school building (CC Property)

No, we don’t want to be young again. What we want is to live our lives over with enough knowledge of the future to avoid all those pratfalls and pitfalls we stumbled into first time around. Even if we could manage that, we’d surely make plenty of brand new mistakes and even more horrifying slips into social awkwardness.

With the demolition of that stale old building, what I really regret is the lost opportunity to experience that dizzying lurch in the pit of your stomach that a visit would bring. It’s more than nostalgia. Nostalgia is defined as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past”. I know from similar steps back in time that walking those halls would elicit something much more powerful, slightly sickening, violent even.

That can never happen now. Instead, there are the fevered, anxious dreams of being back there, which bubble up with surprising frequency.

Usually in those dreams I’m a student again, with exams coming up frighteningly soon. I’m looking for my classroom, having somehow neglected to go to any previous lessons for this subject for the last two years. If I can only make it to this lesson, everything will be okay, but I can never find the class. I look through my disintegrating schoolbag over and over but my tattered yellow homework diary, with its vital timetable at the back, is nowhere to be seen.

Lana Del Rey – ‘Love’, Lust for Life and Guilty Pleasures

It doesn’t matter if I’m not enough
For the future or the things to come

There are few more disingenuous or faintly pathetic pop concepts than the Guilty Pleasure.  Pop is all about pleasure, no guilt necessary. Love what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law of pop. Love is the law of pop, love under will.

A Guilty Pleasure used to mean “something I’m embarrassed about liking because people I disrespect – like teenagers or women – also like it”. Then it evolved to mean “something I pretend to be embarrassed about liking so you think I’m even cooler than the people who dislike this stuff because they think it’s uncool”. There is no place for the guilty pleasure in pop.

And yet.

Sometimes you can’t help but like something that runs straight against what you believe to be your better pop senses.

When Lana Del Rey slunk sultrily onto the scene back in 2011 with ‘Video Games’ it was oh so easy to fall in love. Washed out ’50s/’60s romanticism  with an oh-so modern twist. Yes, there was an element of pastiche and almost (self-)parody to the whole thing, but hey, it just worked.

Then came album Born To Die, and it was half mesmerising, half utterly laughable.

There were a batch of just brilliant songs sprinkled across the record, like  ‘National Anthem’,  ‘Off to the Races’ and title track ‘Born to Die’ . But all rubbed up against each other, track-after-track-after-track of that ’50s/’00s ingenue pining for “daddy” over and over and over again was exhausting. It went from a touch of pastiche to the full French and Saunders.

I mean, you can’t really argue with that, can you? Summertime. Sadness. Summertime Sadness.

I’m feelin’ electric tonight
Cruising down the coast goin’ ’bout 99

The deluxe cash-in “Paradise Edition” of the album just underlined the whole problem.  Some good new songs like ‘Ride’, a great one in ‘Cola’, but all that over-the-top sultriness just suffocated. The cover of ‘Blue Velvet’, did more than make the Lynchian vibe explicit, it made it laughable. Recorded for an H&M ad, listening to it made you feel like a schnook for ever enjoying a single note of what LDR has ever put on plastic.

So Lana Del Rey became a guilty pleasure (if not a Guilty Pleasure). I still get a kick from her songs – though follow-up albums Ultraviolence (2014) and Honeymoon (2015) came and went without too much of them even faintly sticking in the brain.

So to ‘Love’, the teaser from LDR’s fourth album (that “debut” recorded back in 2008 when she was Lizzy Grant doesn’t count). And… just when I thought I was out… she pulls me back in.

It’s far from her most catchy song. Nowhere near her best actually. But for perhaps the first time ever her music doesn’t seem so painfully, artlessly, affected.

I’d always hesitate to use the word “real”, because there’s no more vacuous, contradictory concept in pop. Hell, it’s even worse than “Guilty Pleasure”. It’s more that despite all the welcome fluff and dazzle, ‘Love’ actually manages to connect on an emotional level.

The only song of hers that previously managed that was maybe her very best – ‘Young and Beautiful’ – her bit for the 2013 soundtrack of The Great Gatsby.

Since I started writing this, Lana announced the name of her next record, the second-hand Lust For Life, with a typically over-the-top black-and-white and-splashes-of-colour video about being “an artist” trying to “create something”. Eurgh.

The awful spectre of Lady Gaga’s self-conscious “I am an artiste” shtick looms awfully large. It’s absurd, ridiculous, clichéd and downright embarrassing. She lives in the H of the Hollywood sign for god’s sake.

And yet.

The thing is, LDR wears this mashup of The Twilight Zone and Bewitched a hell of a lot better than the crumpled Blue Velvet, which has long since faded to tedious, dull grey.

In actually embracing and outing the full-on artifice and fiction of the whole Lana Del Rey character, maybe she’s finally found a way to make it fun once again. Here’s hoping.

Pride, Intersectionality and Unity

“What’s the point of supporting gay rights but nobody else’s rights. You know? Or – workers’ rights but not women’s rights – it’s – I don’t know – illogical.”

Previously an academic term, intersectionality has become almost a buzzword in the last decade. Rather than a sole or overriding social identity (gay, black, cis, trans, Jewish, working class, etc. etc. ), our identities intersect and interact – and so do systems of societal discrimination and oppression.

That our identities are intersectional is not a prescriptive idea, but a descriptive one. Necessarily and rightly, much of the focus on intersectionality is on systems of oppression and their effects, and the insufficiency of campaigning, protests and rights movements that wilfully sacrifice any focus on discrimination as to not harm a supposedly overriding cause.

Pride 2014 marching

Often when the fact of intersectionality is raised, it is as a description of division or even a cause of it. And it’s not an argument limited to intra-left squabbles. A willingness to sideline others and fling them under the bus is dressed up by liberal columnists as an attack on so-called “identity politics”. Brexit? Trump? Time and again it’s argued that any focus on discrimination has pushed working class people into the arms of an increasingly-far right.

Screenwriter Stephen Beresford’s modern British classic Pride highlights the flipside – intersectionality as unity, and that unity as strength. It tells the (mainly) true story of a group London-based activists led by Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson who formed the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) group to raise money to help striking miners in the Dulais Valley in Wales.

“Listen, we raised this money because we want to help you. That’s it. And we’ll keep on trying to help you for as long as you want us to. Because we’ve been through some of the same things you’ve been through, and – Listen – if one in five people is gay, then one in five miners must be too, right? So that’s at least a fifth of you who’s pleased to see us?”

At a panel discussion following a screening of Pride at the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room this week, LGSM’s Mike Jackson dismissed the suggestion that “identity politics” undermines solidarity in the pursuit of justice.

“I look back to what we did and that cancels that argument – it blows it out the water,” he said. “35 years ago homosexuals were seen as bourgeois deviants and gay men were seen as the products of a middle class environment. People said it was ‘a white man’s disease’. Every aspect of homophobia, blind ignorance and hatred that people have thrown at us, they were all built on sand.”

In Pride, gay activists took it upon themselves to support another oppressed community, out of solidarity. And so many historical successes in overcoming oppression and hate are founded on that type of unity.

“There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand
There is power in a union”

“As a young gay man, I’d only just come out in 1973 and the very first demo I ever went on was a pro-abortion demo,” Mike said. “I was encouraged by two feminist friends of mind and it was a really fast learning curve.

“The genesis of my politics around my sexuality was borne from the women’s movement and the women that we knew and in practice, in reality, that was always the case. Wherever there were gay men striking out for equality in the ’70s and ’80s, generally they were supported by women – either overtly politically or just in self-awareness.

“In terms of unity and solidarity, that’s what we should be looking at. Saying this isn’t just about gay politics, this is about women’s equality and everyone’s equality.”

He added: “Your generation has taught me so much. The group is called Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. We had a nod towards bisexuality, but trans people just weren’t on the horizon. What’s happened in the last 30 odd years has  just been amazing – the progress that we’ve made.

“I get a young, gay man coming up to me and saying, ‘Mike, just to keep you safe, you don’t say ‘tranny’ any more, you say trans’. And I genuinely appreciated that. This stuff has been going and I’ve been getting older and older, and the world’s changing. I am absolutely loving the younger generation’s dialogue and how they’re teaching me in so many different ways.”

But with our complex identities and intersecting causes, it’s impossible to ignore the risk of separatism, discord and divisiveness. In Pride, that’s addressed in part by the splintering off of women’s-only protest group Lesbians Against Pit Closures. Again though, both Pride and the real-life events the film depicts show that this inevitable fracturing need not come at the expense of an overall unity.

“I’m sorry, but when are you going to address my question about a Women’s group?”

“What do you need a Women’s group for anyway?”

“To address the women’s issues. Singly. And in a safe environment.”

“A group of women who would regularly come to LGSM meetings wanted to separate off and have women’s only meetings,” Mike said.

“There was discussion about that. There were a small number of people who dissented – both male and female – but off they went and they formed that group. They then wrote LGSM a formal letter offering their solidarity and support to us and vice-versa. LGSM helped organise at least one of the Lesbians Against Pit Closures events.

“I didn’t have a problem with women wanting to go off and autonomously do their own thing. On one level LGSM was us autonomously going off and doing our own thing to support the miners. There were other people who saw it as being a form of separatism and therefore not about solidarity and shared support. I understood that but people have got different views on it.”

Stephen added: “I deal with Lesbians Against Pit Closures quite harshly in the film, certainly on reflection when I look back on it. Though something about the politics of the 1980s troubled me – the slightly-humourless separatism.

“The question about whether identity politics can become self-indulgent and whether it can be dangerous is a very popular trope for columnists. In the end I don’t really think that, and I agree with Mike.

“Though if the central question is, ‘How can we stand together?’, then perhaps I don’t feel that answered the question adequately. It was a very complex relationship, but in the end, with a couple of years’ distance from the film, the way that I give them a bashing is perhaps a little unsophisticated.”

“There’s a lodge banner down in the welfare. We bring it out for special occasions. It’s a hundred years old. I’ll show it to you one day. It’s a symbol like this – Two hands. That’s what the labour movement means. Should mean. You support me and I support you. Whoever you are. Wherever you come from. Shoulder to shoulder. Hand to hand.”

The miners’ strike ended on March 3, 1985. Three months later, miners led the Pride march in London. In October 1985, the Composite 26 resolution committing the Labour Party to LGBT rights finally passed, in part due to a block vote in support from the NUM. Miners also played a key part in the battle against the horrific Section 28 – the 1998 Local Government Act that ruled local councils should not “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” in schools.

Against the might of the government and establishment, the unlikely alliance of gay rights activists and miners was unable to stave off the pit closures and ultimately the death of Britain’s mining industry and communities. But through unity across intersections, over division, LGSM helped give those communities hope. It helped give them pride.

Pride screened at the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room on Monday, February 6, followed by a panel discussion with scriptwriter Stephen Beresford and LGSM founding members Reggie Blennerhassett and Mike Jackson as a celebration of LGBT History Month 2017

Todd Haynes’ Carol will be screened at the same venue on February 28 followed by a panel discussion led by producer Mia Bays.

Quotes from the Pride shooting script and Billy Bragg’s ‘There Is Power In A Union’, taken from the film’s soundtrack.

Ryan Adams – ‘To Be Without You’

“Nothing really matters anymore.”

Released on December 23, 2016,  ‘To Be Without You’ is the second single from the upcoming 16th (SIXTEENTH!) solo Ryan Adams album Prisoner, due out on February 17.

It follows the much thrashier, heavier, ‘Do You Still Love Me?’ and is back to that country, twangy, almost ‘Sweet Home Alabama’-y country Heartbreaker vibe.

Last year, on maybe the best song of the best album of the year – ‘I Need You’ from Skeleton Tree, Nick Cave kept singing “Nothing really matters /nothing really matters when the one you love is gone”.

Despite covering pretty much the same ground, isn’t nearly as bleak. How could it be? How could anything be? More tugging at your heartstrings than dragging you into the most despairing dark pit of gloom.

What Christopher Biggins’s “Nazi joke” to Katie Waissel really means and why it matters

Christopher Biggins on Celebrity Big Brother
Channel 5

Christopher Biggins was thrown out of the Celebrity Big Brother house on Friday. Channel 5 explained that the actor “had made a number of comments capable of causing great offence to housemates and the viewing public”.

Having previously made the same wrongheaded argument back in The Big Issue in 2014, Biggins repeated his erasure of bisexuality, and expanded on it with his nonsense claim that HIV/AIDS is “a bisexual disease”.

And after being told that fellow housemate and former X Factor character Katie Waissel is Jewish, Biggins said: “You better be careful or they’ll be putting you in a shower and taking you to a room.”

The decision to remove Biggins from the house has inevitably led to a chorus of the usual suspects arguing that he had been punished for exercising his freedom of speech. The repeated mantra of Ricky Gervais disciples that “offence is taken, not given”.

Even Channel 5’s statement made reference to the “great offence” potentially caused by Biggins’s comments. The suggestion is that bisexuals, Jews and everyone else is being protected from “offensive” comments by Biggins’s eviction.

That’s not really the issue.

Are Jews “offended” by Holocaust jokes? Maybe. But by the time you reach your 30s you’ve heard so many that it’s pretty unlikely. Can Holocaust jokes be funny? Appropriate even? Of course. Forget timing – context is actually the key to comedy.

Biggins’s gag wasn’t about comedy. It wasn’t even really a joke. It was a casual reference thrown at a Jewish person that was loaded with threat. Was Biggins personally threatening Waissel? Of course not. But the meaning behind the one-liner is everything.

You are different. You are Jewish. You are a only a couple of generations away from being gassed to death and burned to ashes just because you are Jewish. You are alive in Europe by dumb luck and historical accident. You are alive in Europe because we have chosen not to kill you. We will never let you forget that.

Katie Waissel was born 41 years to the day of the liberation of Auschwitz. You can see that as ancient history. You can see that as a blink of an eye.

“You better be careful or they’ll be putting you in a shower and taking you to a room.”

Like every Jew living in Europe, Katie Waissel will never escape the shadow of the Holocaust. She will never be allowed to.

One of the most pervasive modern antisemitic themes is to define Jewishness by persecution in general and the Holocaust in particular.

Biggins’s comment is part of that everyday drip-drip-drip reminder that Jews must regard themselves as victims.

All peoples have their rebels and warrior heroes and Jews are no different. From the Israelite conquest of Canaan to the Haganah. The Maccabees to the Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa and Żydowski Związek Wojskowy who fought in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Jews have frequently defined themselves by their strength, not their weakness and victimhood.

Europe will not allow it.

“I think that tree roots cannot grow in ash,” Robert Fisk slyly quotes Auschwitz concentration camp guide Stetkiewicz Wojciech as saying in his 1990 book Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War.

The dotted line between the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel is filled in. It is made bold. The scores of other dotted lines into May 14, 1948 are erased to fit this narrative.

There is a hunger on this continent to define Israel – and Jews – as trees in ash. Borne of dust that was recently blood. Fragile. Weak. Precarious. Sure to fail. Sure to fall.

All nations have their founding heroic myths and, lurking in the shadows, their founding horrors. Force and its immediate cousin violence are inseparable from the very notion of the State.

In Politics as a Vocation, Max Weber defined the State as “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”.

Historically, the establishment of that community has been inescapably bound up in theft, murder and tragedy – for both those included and excluded from the State.

The equation of Israel and Jews as trees rooted in ash is not about these horrors. It is about defining Jews as victims. Victims in a past that is still recent.

It is a reminder that Jews are outnumbered in Europe and as such are reliant on the grace of their hosts for their very existence.

In 2010, there were an estimated 1.4 million Jews in a Europe with a population of around 735 million people.

0.19%.

Almost certainly without that intent, Christopher Biggins’s comment is part of a continuing European discourse that seeks to instruct every Jew that they must think of themselves as victims past and – should Europe decide – victims-to-be.

We reject this.

We are not victims.

We refuse to be identified as victims.

Got LIVE If You Want It! The 13 greatest live albums of all time

Some of the best artists (The Beatles, Madonna) never managed to release a truly great live album. Some of the finest live acts in history (Public Enemy, Manic Street Preachers) have got close but never quite pulled it off either.

Live albums are often little more than curios for completists or mementos for gig-goers. But when everything falls into place, a live album can be every bit as good, or even better, than what the band do in the studio.

Here are 13 of the best, along with some more-than honourable mentions.

13. Marilyn Manson – The Last Tour on Earth (1999)

Recorded between the release of Mechanical Animals and Holy Wood, a MM live album was never going to capture the raw insanity of the in-the-flesh Manson experience, or the clever-clever industrial-edged studio sound.

So what are you left with? Well, only one of the most unlikely crossover moments of the 1990s. A clutch of glampop classics played by a disgustingly hot live band, lapping up the adoration and egging it on with gloriously cheap pops (“Drugs, they say, are made right here in Cleveland”).

Like this? Try: David Bowie – Santa Monica ’72 (1994), Iggy And The Stooges – Metallic KO (1976, 1988, 1998)

12. Suicide – 23 Minutes in Brussels (1978)

Not all gigs go to plan. Originally released as a double-set with the less-messy 21½ Minutes in Berlin, this Brussels gig is an absolute shambles. Supporting Elvis Costello, abrasive synthpunk duo Suicide were not what the Belgians wanted on their stage, and boy did they let them know it.

Constant booing, chanting for the headline act, complete contempt in both directions. It all ends with Alan Vega’s mic being pinched, his nose being broken, and what sounds like a full scale riot.

Like this? Try: Bob Dylan – Live 1966, The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert (1998) , Atari Teenage Riot – Live at Brixton Academy (1999)

11. Kylie Minogue – Live in New York (2009)

Sex Kylie, Cute Kylie, Indie Kylie, Dance Kylie. She’s been through so many incarnations – but few gained much traction in the US. (Only ‘The Loco-Motion’ and ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ troubled the Billboard Top 10).

But it was in NYC on her first American tour where she has her crowning glory. A stunning 2+ hour set of perfect pop songs performed to perfection. Hit after hit after hit, lushly arranged and bursting with energy – all topped off with a sprinkling of sassy chat.

Like this? Try: Girls Aloud – Live from the O2(2009), Leonard Cohen – Live in London (2009)

10. Underworld – Everything, Everything (2000)

On its release Everything, Everything seemed to get as much attention for its groundbreaking Tomato-FXd DVD as it did the music, but the recordings have endured.

Underworld have always been as hot on the road as they are in the studio and this set perfectly captures the way they ramp up that tension and give you those bursts of euphoric relief. Play its eight tracks at maximum volume and you feel like you’re there in the arena/dance tent with them.

Like this? Try: Daft Punk – Alive 1997 (1998) , Kraftwerk – Minimum-Maximum (2005)

9. The Rolling Stones – Got Live If You Want It! (1966)

Everyone agrees that 1970’s Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! – the first live album to top the UK charts – is the essential Stones live document. It’s not. This is.

It’s got fake credits, fake crowd noise, overdubs galore and even a couple of studio tracks snuck into the middle. It was only released as a contractual obligation. None of that matters.

It’s a snapshot of that moment when they straddled that rough R&B and brutal 200mph rock ‘n’ roll, before all the Midnight Rambling slowed them down and strung them out. Got Live If You Want It! is the Rolling Stones at their speedy best.

Like this? Try: Try: The Beatles – Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1977) and The Kinks – Live at Kelvin Hall (1967)

8. Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison (1968)

The success of Cash’s 1955 single ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ got him invited to play at prisons all over the US, and in 1968 finally played at Folsom itself. A career-revitalizing release, Cash is backed by not only The Tennessee Three, but also his soon-to-be-wife June Carter and Carl ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ Perkins.

It’s a rollocking performance loaded with tales of crime and punishment. And it just about gets away with indulging some men who no doubt have done some bad, bad things.

Like this? Try: BB King – Live in Cook County Jail (1970), Elvis – Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite (1973/1998)

7. Lauryn Hill – MTV Unplugged No 2.0 (2002)

Or, The Disintegration of Lauryn Hill. If a live album at its heart is about capturing something real and raw, there is no better example. In 1996 The Fugees conquered the world with The Score. Two years later Hill achieved more critical acclaim with her solo debut The Miseducation of…. She’s still not released a studio follow-up.

Instead, there’s this. No beats, no frills, no sweeteners. Lauryn and an acoustic guitar. Plaintive, heartwrenching new songs, and rambling self-help monologues. Many dismissed it as career suicide, but it’s actually a statement of beauty and rare honesty.

Like this? Try: Joni Mitchell – Miles of Aisles (1974), Jay Z – Unplugged (2001)

6. Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense (1984/1999)

Jonathan Demme’s 1984 movie is one of the few actually watchable concert films in existence. An actual movie, rather than a failed BBC-at-Glastonbury style attempt at documentary. It works almost as well without the visuals, and you should skip the 1984 “album” and go straight to the 1999 “soundtrack” version for the whole show.

The running order reads like a best-of and the arrangements are gorgeous, from the acoustic guitar and tape of ‘Psycho Killer’ to the aural overload of ‘Girlfriend Is Better’.

Like this? Try: Gary Numan – Living Ornaments ’79/’80 (1981), Radiohead – I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings (2001),

5. Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York (1994)

A band heavier than heaven unplug (sort of) and tear you apart you with the lightest of touches. They don’t play The Hits, but instead cover The Vaselines, a (then) little-played Bowie album track and Lead Belly-arranged oldie. Most remarkably, there’s a trio of Meat Puppet songs featuring the Kirkwood brothers as special guests.

Most great live albums dutifully capture a band at a moment in time. Unplugged in New York is a wilfully revisionist take, undertaken by the group themselves while they’re still a going concern.

Like this? Try: Neil Young – Live Rust (1979), Simon & Garfunkel – The Concert in Central Park (1982).

4. James Brown – Live at the Apollo (1963)

Funded by the man himself, Live at the Apollo captures lightning in a bottle. A shade over half an hour of the the tightest, hottest R&B ever stuck on plastic – in a studio or on stage or anywhere.

James Brown (& The Famous Flames) inspire squeals of delight from the Apollo crowd and you feel almost compelled to join in yourself. An intoxifying mix of bump and grind. When it hits ‘Please Please Please’ you drop to your knees like the man himself, begging for more.

Like this? Try:Aretha Franklin – Live at Fillmore West (1971/2005), Curtis Mayfield – Curtis/Live! (1971)

3. The Velvet Underground – Live at Max’s Kansas City (1972/2004)

Most will opt for the more polished 1969: The Velvet Underground Live double album, but it’s the rickety …Max’s Kansas City that gets the nod. A contractual obligation recorded on Brigid Polk’s tape recorder.

Nico and John Cale were long gone. Mo Tucker was on maternity leave. Jim Carroll is audible throughout slurring about a double bloody Pernod. And yet.. It’s just utterly righteous. Take away every bell and whistle and you’ve still got the greatest songs in rock ‘n’ roll history, played in their spiritual home.

Like this? Try: Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Brian Eno and Nico – June 1, 1974 (1974), Jerry Lee Lewis – Live at the Star Club, Hamburg (1964)

2. Ramones – It’s Alive (1979)

ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR! Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and – for the last album on drums – Tommy. Recorded live at the Rainbow on New Year’s Eve in 1977, it’s the timing that makes It’s Alive the perfect live album.

The Ramones had released three of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll albums in history in the past 20 months. They were over in England where they were treated as the heroes they were. 28 songs in 54 minutes – it’s the ultimate Ramones statement.

Like this? Try:MC5 – Kick out the Jams (1969), The Who – Live at Leeds (1970/1995/2001)

1. Sam Cooke – Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 (1985)

Sam Cooke’s first live album Sam Cooke at the Copa released shortly before his death was a great collection of songs, but its understated vibe didn’t do justice to raw power and sheer soul of the man or his politically and emotionally-charged performances.

Just over 20 years later came this masterpiece to put the record straight. Godly soul music that packs a punch and has the audience feeling every single rasped note.

Like this? Try: Donny Hathaway – Live (1971), The Clash – From Here to Eternity (1999)