Looking Back At 'David Live,' Bowie's First Concert Album

David Bowie in 1974
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Beth Gwinn/Redferns

In the summer of 1974, David Bowie performed the concerts which in short order would go on to make up the contents of his first live album, an LP which he cleverly titled David Live.

Hey, if nothing else, you can’t accuse the guy of false advertising!

Recorded at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania during Bowie’s string of shows from July 10-13, 1974 David Live is an artifact from his Diamond Dogs tour, which spanned three legs and ran from June 14 through Dec. 2 of that year. The Tower Theater shows were, as you might reasonably guess, from the first leg of the tour, during which Bowie had some pretty elaborate props and a similarly elaborate set, neither of which were exactly cheap.

They also had a history of breaking down and falling apart at inopportune times, which - even if Bowie did enjoy it, as he claimed over the years - may well have something to do with why they switched things up for the second leg, after Bowie entered the studio to record Young Americans. Those sets from the back half of the tour would reflect a new direction in his material, making David Live the best way to get a feel for Bowie’s live sets prior to that break.

READ MORE: Bowie's "Soul Tour": More to Explore in '74

Mind you, these Tower Theater shows proved to be somewhat controversial: per the fan site Bowie Golden Years, when Bowie’s band discovered that the shows were to be recorded and that they would only be paid the standard show fee, “[bassist] Herbie Flowers protested to Bowie and [Bowie’s manager Tony] Defries, saying they would not go on without an increased fee in line with the normal recording rates. On the basis of the likely sales of the album they calculated they were entitled to $50,000 ($5,000 each). Bowie relented, MainMan handed over the cheques (which some claim were never honoured) and the band went on and played the show.”

Released on Oct. 29, 1974, David Live was a tremendous hit for Bowie, hitting No. 2 in the U.K., No. 8 in the U.S., and spawned a U.K. Top 10 hit with his cover of the soul favorite “Knock on Wood.” Bowie himself, however, later claimed that he’d never actually listened to it, though he did describe it as “the final death of Ziggy [Stardust],” and giddily chastised the cover photo, saying, “My God, it looks like I’ve just stepped out of the grave. That’s actually how I felt. That record should’ve been called David Bowie is Alive and Well and Living Only in Theory.”

Alas, it isn’t. It’s still just called David Live. But so it goes.

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