Live at Last is the first live album by American singer Bette Midler, a two-disc set released in 1977, Midler’s fourth album release on the Atlantic Records label. The album spawned from her live, recorded performance, ‘The Depression Tour’ in Cleveland, entitled ‘The Bette Midler Show‘.
Live at Last documents a full-length live performance at the Cleveland Music Hall, Cleveland, Ohio on the 1976 Depression Tour, and sees Midler, her backing group The Staggering Harlettes and her band Betsy and the Blowboys covering material from her three first albums as well as The Supremes’ “Up The Ladder to the Roof”, Neil Young‘s “Birds”, Ringo Starr‘s “Oh My My”, the mock lounge act The Vicky Eydie Show doing a “global revue” and the song cycle The Story of Nanette. The album also captures Midler’s rapport with – or loving heckling of – the Cleveland audience, a monologue about fried eggs and a part that since has become a staple of her live performances: the raunchy Sophie Tucker jokes.
Live at Last features two new studio recordings. “You’re Moving Out Today“, co-written by Midler and Carole Bayer Sager and produced by Tom Dowd was the only single release from the album (#42 Billboard’s Single Chart, #11 Adult Contemporary). “Bang, You’re Dead”, which was also not performed during the Cleveland show, replaced “I Sold My Heart To The Junkman” on the album because writers Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson – who wrote the song for Bette – laid down an ultimatum that if she didn’t release the song on her next album they would give it to another singer. Therefore the song was recorded in a studio and squeezed onto the album.
Live at Last reached #49 on Billboard’s album chart in the autumn of 1977.
Backstage – 0:18
“Friends”/”Oh My My” (Mark Klingman, Buzzy Linheart)/(Richard Starkey, Vincent Poncia) – 2:28
“Bang You’re Dead” (Valerie Simpson, Nickolas Ashford) – 3:15
“Birds” (Neil Young) – 4:39
Comic Relief (monologue) – 2:38
“In the Mood” (Joe Garland, Andy Razaf) – 2:09
“Hurry On Down” (Nellie Lutcher) – 2:07
“Shiver Me Timbers” (Tom Waits) – 4:00
The Vicki Eydie Show:
“Around The World” (Victor Young, Harold Adamson) – 0:23
“Istanbul” (Jimmy Kennedy, Nat Simon) – 0:55
“Fiesta In Rio” (Bette Midler, Jerry Blatt) – 1:52
“South Seas Scene” / “Hawaiian War Chant” (Rik Carlok)/(Freed, Leleiohaku, Nobel) – 5:13
“Lullaby of Broadway” (Al Dubin, Harry Warren) – 2:00
“You’re Moving Out Today” (studio recording) (Bette Midler, Carole Bayer Sager, Bruce Roberts) – 2:56
“Delta Dawn” (Alex Harvey, Larry Collins) – 5:54
“Long John Blues” (Tommy George) – 2:36
Sophie Tucker Jokes (monologue) – 2:38
The Story of Nanette:
“Nanette” (Howard Dietz) – 0:54
“Alabama Song” (Bertholt Brecht, Kurt Weill) – 1:34
“Drinking Again” (Doris Tauber, Johnny Mercer) – 4:25
“Mr. Rockefeller” (Bette Midler, Jerry Blatt) – 4:00
The Story of Nanette (cont.):
“Ready To Begin Again”/”Do You Wanna Dance” (Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller)/(Bobby Freeman) – 3:23
Fried Eggs (monologue) – 2:37
“Hello In There” (John Prine) – 3:16
“Up the Ladder to the Roof” (Vincent DiMirco, Frank Wilson) – 2:45
“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (Don Raye, Hughie Prince) – 3:04
“Friends” (Mark Klingman, Buzzy Linhart) – 2:21
Bette Midler – The Divine Miss M.: lead vocals
The Staggering Harlettes: Sharon Redd, Ula Hedwig, Charlotte Crossley – backing vocals
The Orchestra: Betsy And The Blowboys
Don York – musical director, keyboards
Lou Volpe – guitar
Miles Krasner – trumpet
Richard Trifan – keyboards
Francisco Centeno – bass guitar
Ira “Buddy” Williams – drums
Joseph Mero – percussion, vibraphones
Jaroslav Jakubovic – reed instruments
Elizabeth Kane – harp
Lew Hahn – record producer
Recorded live at The Cleveland Music Hall, Cleveland, Ohio.
Mobile facilities provided by Fedco Audio Labs
Jack Malken – recording engineer
Remote recording produced by Arif Mardin
Lew Hahn – re-mixing
Tom Dowd – producer “You’re Moving Out Today”
Charlie Calello – arranger “You’re Moving Out Today”
Jimmy Douglass – engineer “You’re Moving Out Today”
Kenn Duncan – cover photograph
Steinbicker / Houghton – performance photography
Bob Defrin / Abie Sussman – art direction
Jerry Blatt – special material
Bruce Vilanch – special material
Bette Midler – special material
Produced for the stage by Aaron Russo
Publication Unknown, Mitch Cohen (1977)
“There is danger now for any woman musical comedy star that she will begin ‘to give her screaming fans what they want, not realizing that much malice and how much bad taste are mixed with their worship.”
Pauline Kael wrote that about Barbra Streisand but it is a warning with particular relevance to Bette Midler. The promise was a woma n with humor, intensity, and the widest possible pop music range, and you can still hear that woman on “Live At Last; She’s hip enough to include both Tom Waits and Bertold Brecht in her repertoire and to resurrect frivolous Hit Parade antiques with vivacity and affection. Her ideas about the unity of pop experience are good, and her oddball medleys well executed. She’s also one-of- the-guys bawdy-funny, “and this is the first album to capture that. But she settles for too little, pandering to the easily won-over audience, camping it up, playing a 1970’s floozie-bitch for easy laughs. The possibility is-and at least she seems aware of it: a section of her act is devoted to a fantasy of becoming a “Vicki Eydie” lounge singer doing a “global revue” – that image and schmaltz will overtake her, and make her no more than a joke.
“Live At Last” is a very accurate document; this is what Midler is: alternately flippant and histrionic, a crowd-pleaser, Miss Personality with a bleat of a voice that, depending on material and mood, can be effective or irritating. She’s often breathlessly busy on the fast numbers, and mannered on the slow ones, but there is a middle ground-on “Shiver Me Timbers” and parts of The Story Of Nanette song cycle-and it’s there that Midler does her best serious work. The four sides, recorded at. a Cleveland engagement (there’s one studio track with a bad case of cutes, give her room to show off the range of her merchandise. Her taste runs to the sentimental, the dramatic, and the quaint, and her song choices vary widely. Brecht & Weill, Leiber & Stoller and Dietz & Schwartz, all brilliant composing teams, have to share time with Klingman & Linhart, perpetrators of the wretched “Friends,” Midler’s theme song and albatross.
Except on novelty numbers, Midler is a barely adequate singer, but she barrells through dirty blues, cabaret, rock, ballads and big band songs – we’re spared her desecration of Dylan and girl groups – on pure energy. Even with the visual element missing you can hear how hard she works. Energy, along with hoked-up emotion, however, added to an already exaggerated show-biz style, could push her irrevocably into the wrong direction; the one suggested by the resemblance of the LP’s cover picture to the Jayne Mansfield shot on “Hollywood Babylon:a sexual caricature, amusing to gays who like cartoon women with their nerve ends exposed. Was it only a few years ago that some of our saner critics were comparing her to the Beatles? Will she now be satisfied to be a Jewish Liza Minnelli with funnier lines, better song selection and bigger tits?
Consumer Guide, Robert Christgau
Her fans may find some of the material on this live double-LP repetitious–I could do without five minutes of “Delta Dawn” myself–and her overripe singing will offend those she offends anyway. But she’s never recorded fifteen of these twenty-five songs, a few repeats are enhanced by the particulars of this performance, and others gather meaning in theatrical context. A typical stroke: prefacing the glorious tearjerker “Hello in There” with campy, occasionally unkind patter about ladies with fried eggs on their heads, so that the song’s romanticized heroine and the weird and depressing fried egg ladies both seem to have something in common with Bette, and therefore with each other. A-
Valerie Potter, Q Magazine
Bette Midler correctly informs the Live At Last audience that she has been “blessed with brains, talent and gorgeous tits”. She omits to mention her beautifully expressive voice, equally at ease belting out In The Mood or breathing Tom Waits’s ethereal Shiver Me Timbers, and this 1977 release showcases her aptitude for mixing straightforward songs, comic skits and vulgar jokes with dizzying speed and effortless timing.