“Live” by Golden Earring (1977)

My friends and I used to exchange birthday gifts.

Here’s how it usually worked. One of us would buy an LP. We’d cut a slit in the shrink wrap, pull out the record, commit it to cassette tape, then return it to the jacket. Happy birthday, everyone!

The Harrisburg East Mall had a great record store called the Music Scene, and I get a bit weepy every time I think that not only is that store long gone, practically every store like that is history. But that’s a gripe for another day (like the time I wrote about it for my newspaper column).

During one of my marathon Music Scene perusal sessions, I came across a double live album by Golden Earring, a Dutch band that had its moment in the American sun with “Radar Love.” I noticed that song on the live collection, along with a cover version of one of my all-time favorites, the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High.”

My friend Terry’s birthday was coming right up, so I did the usual routine. Terry received a once-played two-record set as a gift from yours truly.

The Maxelle cassette version of Golden Earring “Live” became a favorite play of mine, and a favorite listen for practically everyone who heard it with me. The album, itself, failed to make much of an impact with the general public, but I enjoyed it until the tape finally went kaput several years later.

By that time, “Live” was out of print, and it didn’t resurface on CD for a couple of decades, even though Golden Earring made a brief ’80s comeback with “Twilight Zone.” Matter of fact, the band still is active today, more than half a century after teenagers George Kooymans and Rinus Gerritsen formed the Golden Earrings. Today’s version features those two plus singer Barry Hay, who came aboard later in the ’60s, and drummer Cesar Zuiderwijk, who joined in 1970.

That’s impressive.

On “Live,” that quartet was augmented by guitarist Eelco Gelling to produce a hard-rocking album that deviated somewhat from the band’s then-recent dabblings in progressive rock.

The power chords that open “Candy’s Going Bad” set the tone, and the energy never lets up, all the way through the set-closing paean to an early rocker, “Just Like Vince Taylor.”

Some listeners may take issue with the way the band stretches out some of the songs, but that’s certainly never been an issue with me!

The Earrings, in fact, take it a bit easy on “Eight Miles High.” The band originally made its American reputation in the late ’60s performing marathon versions of the song, and it took up an entire side of vinyl as the title track of a 1970 album.

“Eight Miles High” is one of a pair of songs on Side Two of the LP, followed by the album’s shining 12 minutes, “The Vanilla Queen.” The tale of a call girl (same subject matter as “Candy’s Going Bad”) rides a D-minor chord progression into a stunning, no-holds-barred outro that tops the studio version, which is augmented by a horn section.

The second half of the album can’t quite match that, although it’s a good listen all the way through. I remember listening to my cassette in the car, and when the “Radar Love” line “it’s half past four and I’m shifting gear” came roaring through the speakers, that’s what I’d do with the stick shift in my VW Rabbit.

I haven’t owned a manual-transmission vehicle for decades. And I haven’t recorded anyone’s birthday present before giving it to him in a long time, either.

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