The concerts and tours that made the final list weren’t just great shows, they deepened the power of rock & roll itself, from Neil Young launching into long 20-minute jams with the Crazy Horses to B.B King transforming the glow of a prison in a channel of personal expression with his guitar. Keep going below for the 5 Biggest Rock n’ Roll Concerts that happened in 1970:
Black Sabbath – American Tour (1970)
When Black Sabbath landed at JFK Airport for its first show in America, Ozzy Osbourne scribbled “Satanist” as his religion on the immigration form. Many who had seen his recitals – opening acts for the Faces, Alice Cooper and James Gang – didn’t know what to make of these shaggy Britons. The turning point was at the Fillmore East in New York. “I took out a tom and threw it into the crowd,” says drummer Bill Ward. “I was like, ‘Shit, move on! Do something!’. Before long they were all shaking their heads.” Incessant touring in Europe had transformed Sabbath into a brutal assault force. “It was primal,” Ward says of the tour. “There was a lower force going on stage, and it was dynamite.”
The Who – University of Leeds (February 14, 1970)
After the 1969 rock opera Tommy, The Who wanted to go back to their raw roots with a live record. Pete Townshend hated the recordings they made of their American tour so much that he threw them on a stove. But all settled back in England, in front of 2,000 starving fans at the University of Leeds, where the group attacked with 38 songs, including a 15-minute version of “My Generation.” Townshend later said it was “the best crowd we’ve ever played for.”
Neil Young and Crazy Horse – American Tour (1970)
By the early 1970s, Neil Young had finally become a star thanks to the great success of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. During a brief hiatus for that group, and the recording of his third solo album, After the Gold Rush, Young decided to introduce his new fans to his other group, Crazy Horse – whose garage rock sound was the opposite of CSNY’s. in several clubs, theaters, and the occasional high school auditorium. “When Neil plays with Crazy Horse, he goes to another part of him, and plays from deep within,” says drummer Ralph Molina. “He becomes Neil Young, the real Neil Young.” It was a sound that no one had heard before. While other groups of the time like the Allman Brothers played with virtuous professionalism, the Crazy Horse produced chaos. Each night began with a short acoustic set before the Crazy Horses came out. Songs like “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” sometimes spanned 20 minutes, with Young trading solos with guitarist Danny Whitten. “Danny had a strong musical presence, probably as strong as Neil’s,” says bassist Billy Talbot. “We started doing longer songs, which Neil hadn’t done before.”
Elton John – The Troubadour (August 25-30, 1970)
When Elton John took the stage at the Los Angeles Troubadour for the first night of his six-date residency, he was an unknown 23-year-old pop singer, wearing thick-rimmed glasses and recently changed gelled hair. Reginald Kenneth Dwight’s name. But, when the show ended, Elton was already a sensation. There were too many things at stake: his debut album, which had come out that spring, was not selling. After what he called “a crisis meeting” with his label, he was sent to the United States. The label made sure the 300-person club was named like David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Mike Love from the Beach Boys. “The second night, Leon Russell was in the front row, but I didn’t see him until the last song,” Elton recalled. “Thank goodness, because at that time it was all I was listening to.” Neil Diamond introduced Elton. “I am like the rest of you,” he said. “I’m here because I listened to the Elton John record.” But those who had heard the record had no idea what they would find: a poetic singer-songwriter with the bombast of a rock star. Tracks like “Take Me to the Pilot” and “Sixty Years On” he played with almost punk energy, Elton on his knees like Jerry Lee Lewis, flipping the piano bench.
B.B. KING – Cook County Jail (September 10, 1970)
B.B. King was playing regularly at a club on Chicago’s Rush Street in the late 1960s when he was invited to do a show at the local Cook County jail. “I knew the inmates would enjoy it,” Guard Clarence English said. “And that was going to compromise them with us … If you give them extra ice cream or let them stay late at night, then they don’t fight or destroy each other.” King’s new manager, Sid Seidenberg – who was helping the guitarist revive his career by getting him gigs at venues like the Fillmore West – saw an opportunity before his eyes. He told King to accept the show and invited the press and a recording engineer for a future live record – Johnny Cash had released the hit At Folsom Prison two years earlier.