Las Vegas: A recorded history
Glitz, glamour, razzle-dazzle and razzmatazz—all poured into your ears. For years. Even when you’re not seated in a showroom, plopped in a lounge or on your feet in an arena, the Vegas vibe has always been aurally ubiquitous via classic live albums captured on our stages, which have long been catnip for headlining recording artists (and a few rather unique performers). Determined to keep our toddlin’ town alive in your heart and auditory canals long after you’ve departed our neon nirvana, we’ve arranged a buffet of the most notable selections (with recording dates and hotels/venues, listed in chronological order). Gorge yourself—acoustically speaking.
Noel Coward at Las Vegas (1955, Desert Inn) Yup. Noel Coward—who proclaimed the gig “one of the most sensational successes of my career.” Consider this one a particularly curious curio. Includes Cole Porter classic “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love).” Sung as only Coward could. Whether that’s a plus? …
Johnnie Ray in Las Vegas (1957, Desert Inn) Ultra-emotional as ever, the “Cry” crooner (nicknamed—what else?—“The Cry Guy”), warbles not only “Cry” but “The Little White Cloud That Cried.” Enjoy a good weep—one that doesn’t involve blackjack.
Las Vegas Prima Style (Louis Prima, 1958, Sahara) Classic Vegas as Prima pairs with Keely Smith and Sam Butera and the Witnesses, plus Prima’s personable vamping. “Embraceable You” and “Too Marvelous for Words” are among the standards.
Jayne Mansfield Busts Up Las Vegas (1962, Dunes) “Busts”—get the gag? She had a major one. Musically? Way more minor. But it boasts major novelty appeal.
The Rat Pack Live at the Sands (1963) Obviously the time-capsule choice, chronicling the musical antics of Vegas’ signature merry mob as Frank, Dino, Sammy, Joey and Peter cavort and croon in a zinger-rich romp. As Dino declares, “If you wanna hear me sing serious, buy an album.” Therefore ...
Dean Martin: An Evening of Music, Laughter and Hard Liquor (1964, Sands) Dino at his easygoing zenith, on a 28-tune tear, including “That’s Amore,” “On an Evening in Roma” and the one everyone knows—or should: “Dance With a Dolly with a Hole in Her Stocking.”
Sammy Davis Jr./Buddy Rich: The Sounds of ’66 (1966, Sands Copa Room) Take an entertainment rocket like Sammy, inject the rocket fuel of Buddy on the skins, and it’s a musical moon shot. See if you can catch up to your breath after Buddy’s sizzling drum solo on “Come Back to Me.”
Sinatra at the Sands (with the Count Basie Orchestra, 1966) Behold The Chairman at his ring-a-ding-ding-best, abetted by the baddest big band in the land. Revel in peak-career takes on “Fly Me to the Moon” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” punctuated by wisecracks aimed at his fellow (absent) Rat Packers. Bonus: Get your decades-spanning Blue Eyes fix on the box set, Sinatra: Vegas, cherry-picking performances at the Sands and Caesars Palace from 1961, 1966, 1978, 1982, and 1987.
Redd Foxx Live Las Vegas (1967, Aladdin) One of the early purveyors of riotously racy humor, Foxx—TV’s most famous junkman, Fred Sanford—riffs on topics from unbuttoned maternity gowns to electric can openers to rectal thermometers. You get the colorful idea.
Don Rickles: Hello Dummy (1968, Sahara) Attention, all you hockey pucks: This is the one to get to absorb the full force of Mr. Warmth’s timeless withering wit and insult bon mots. Only dummies won’t dig it—everyone else will be laughing.
Tom Jones Live in Las Vegas at the Flamingo (1969) and Tom Jones Live at Caesars Palace (1971) Mr. Tighty-Pants, times two. You can literally hear the sweat pour off him as the Welsh wonder runs through the hits and flirts with the crowd. “Isn’t it hot in here?” he asks, the resulting yelps suggesting he then unbuttons a bit sartorially, and a lot, musically.
Elvis in Person at the International Hotel (1969) Behold The King in his comeback glory at his royal court as—after first flunking out as a Vegas headliner—Presley took the town, becoming one of its premier icons. The Wonder of E.
Jerry Lee Lewis Live at the International (1970) Paralleling Elvis, the rockabilly rouser staged his own commercial comeback, with this collection reflecting his honky-tonk/country balladeer side.
Farewell, The Supremes (1970, New Frontier) Just as advertised—Diana Ross dropped the curtain on her partnership with Cindy Birdsong and Mary Wilson at this engagement. At show’s end, new lead singer Jean Terrell was ushered onstage.
Sonny and Cher Live in Las Vegas (1973, Sahara) What you’d expect—“I Got You Babe,” “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” and the duo’s connubial clowning.
An Evening with Wally Londo, Featuring Bill Slaszo, by George Carlin (1975, UNLV) Off the Strip but on the comic mark, the comedy titan debuts his classic “Baseball/Football” routine. “In football, you receive a penalty. In baseball you make an error. Whoops!”
House of Yes: Live from House of Blues (1999) Progressive rockers Yes recorded this double CD (also put out on DVD) on Halloween night. Surprisingly, it failed to chart in the U.S.
Live at the House of Blues, by Jethro Tull (1999) Get the full Tull on this bootleg twin CD from separate labels, bulging with three discs and 43 tracks—plus older goodies recorded in L.A., the U.K and on Late Night with David Letterman.
Timeless: Live in Concert, by Barbra Streisand (12.31.1999/1.01.2000, millennium concert, MGM Grand) Babs brings the goods in this double CD welcoming the next 100 years and—with typical Streisand flair—structured like a two-act play peppered with scenes and skits, tracing her storied career. Given Babs’ status and the occasion (a monster success, even by Las Vegas standards), file this in the forever collection.
Rockin’ the Joint, by Aerosmith (2002, The Joint at the Hard Rock) On this effort not released until 2005, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry & Co. rock out to cuts including “Rattlesnake Shake,” “Same Old Song and Dance” and “Walk This Way.”
Under the Desert Sky, by Andrea Bocelli (2006, Lake Las Vegas) Classical tenor goes pop in this live album (also released as a DVD), recorded on a floating stage at Lake Las Vegas. You won’t require Dramamine to enjoy tunes including “Besame Mucho,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and the Neil Diamond evergreen “September Morn.”
Beyonce: I Am ... Yours: An Intimate Performance at Wynn Las Vegas (2009, Encore) Queen Bey buzzes the crowd with 30-plus tunes reflecting her Destiny’s Child and solo eras. What a nonsurprise: It ruled the Billboard charts.
KISS Rocks Vegas (2014, The Joint at the Hard Rock) Las Vegas is a city full of band residencies, but America’s face-painted princes recorded their Vegas residency for posterity in a performance that was also filmed for release in theaters and pay-per-view. Sixteen tracks include “Detroit Rock City,” “Creatures of the Night,” “Psycho Circus” and the anthemic “Rock and Roll All Nite.”
Noel Coward to KISS? Vegas has one long, mind-bending, genre-spanning aural fixation.