Why Whitesnake’s First Live Album Showed Such Early Promise
Whitesnake capped a few years of frantic activity on Nov. 3, 1980 with their first official concert document. Live…In the Heart of the City captured the hard-working sextet in their natural element.
That there was even enough consumer demand for a double live opus, just two years beyond the band’s official formation, was a testament to how far David Coverdale’s post-Deep Purple enterprise had come in such a short time.
They originally morphed into a full-on band proposition from a name casually ascribed to Coverdale’s backing band over two rather poorly received solo LPs. Whitesnake made their blues-rock intentions clear on 1978’s Snakebite EP and Trouble LP, showed they meant business on the following year’s Lovehunter, and then doubled down again with 1980’s even more successful Ready an’ Willing album.
Singer and leader Coverdale, guitarists Micky Moody and Bernie Marsden, keyboardist Jon Lord, bassist Neil Murray and drummer Ian Paice were not even six months removed from that last studio LP’s release. Yet they were already presenting a burgeoning fan base with this four-sided live record consisting of two distinct sets, themselves separated by nearly two years.
The first dated from a Nov. 23, 1978 performance at London’s legendary Hammersmith Odeon, and had, in fact, already been released exclusively in Japan as Live at Hammersmith. The second, recorded over two nights in June 1980 at the very same Odeon, had never been heard before and comprised the first of Live…In the Heart of the City’s two vinyl platters.
Within its grooves, listeners heard energizing book-ends in “Come On” and “Take Me With You, as well as the comparatively restrained “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More”; some serious slide guitar heaven on “Sweet Talker” and an absolutely epic “Lovehunter”; plus protean hits like “Walking in the Shadow of the Blues,” the grinding “Ready an’ Willing,” and a refreshingly earnest “Fool for Your Loving.”
Album two, by comparison (a.k.a. the aforementioned Live at Hammersmith), was really more of a treat to diehard fans who’d been unable to afford the Japan-only release at import prices. Inside was another romp through “Come On,” alongside early favorites like the boogie-woogie “Lie Down,” soulful “Trouble,” and a sensual cover of Bobby Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City.”
That concert was also intriguing for revealing the as-yet-fledgling group’s initial reliance on Deep Purple material, namely Burn staples “Might Just Take Your Life” and the colossal “Mistreated” – the latter of which Coverdale would truly make his own with Whitesnake, arguably more so than with the band which had first plucked him out of obscurity.
Their march toward ever greater fame would continue apace as the '80s unfolded — though not always quickly enough for the increasingly ambitious Coverdale where America was concerned. The lack of success eventually prompted a complete overhaul of Whitesnake’s lineup by the time they made it big across the pond in 1987 as bombastic hair-metal merchants.
That far-distant future could not yet be glimpsed in 1980, but the discrepancy between the band's popularity in its native land and America at the time is evident in Live…In the Heart of the City’s chart performance. While it reached No. 5 in the U.K., the project barely dented the Billboard album chart, peaking at a lowly No. 146 in the U.S.