The live album seems antiquated these days. Back in the 70s, artists like Kiss, Cheap Trick and Peter Frampton found their greatest success with live albums, enjoying multi-platinum sales and even spinning off radio hits.
There’s several things that constitute a great live album: setlist, sound quality, on-stage banter, crowd reaction, and a palpable sense of time and place.
The best live albums comprise most or all of these, and transport you directly to the front of the crowd by the opening few moments. They give you a real sense of being there. They’re moments in time, frozen for ever, enjoyed by a lucky few live but appreciated by millions ever after. When they work best, they make you desperately wish you could time travel and relive every moment.
Granted, many of these albums are NOT completely live. (Kiss and Frampton being two very good examples) There was a lot of “studio sweetening” that went on to make the performances listenable. But we are not going to bicker about that here.
Here are some of the best:
-Kiss: Alive! (1975)
Recorded mostly in Detroit, this double-disc set solidified Kiss’s reputation as one of rock’s most exciting live acts. The rocking “Strutter” and the party anthem “Rock and Roll All Nite” highlight a fever-pitch ambiance that prevails throughout. Not surprisingly, attendance at Kiss shows soared in the weeks immediately following the album’s release.
-Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive (1976)
Quite possibly the most well known live album of all time. Frampton practically invented the term “Arena Rock” when the album came out, perhaps the best reviewed release of his entire career. Anchored by the hit “Show Me The Way,” when it was first released it became the biggest-selling live album of all time
-Rolling Stones: Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out (1969)
Small wonder that when the Stones assembled their Hot Rocks collection in 1971, they spurned the studio recording of “Midnight Rambler” in favor of the more exciting version on this live effort. Released in the midst of a spectacular run that included Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed, and Sticky Fingers, Ya Ya’s captured the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band when they really might have been.
-The Who: Live at Leeds (1970)
How do you follow up a meticulously crafted masterpiece like Tommy? If you’re the Who, you crank the amps to 11 and bash out a live set that forgoes finesse in favor of full-throttle rock. The original material smokes, but as showcased on their scorching version of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” the original Who could be a fantastic cover band as well.
-The Band – The Last Waltz (1978)
This is one of those albums that has achieved legendary cult status of mythic proportions. Most of the acclaim given this concert recording comes courtesy of the film for which it is the soundtrack. As directed by Martin Scorsese, it is still considered one of the greatest concert films of all time. And while some may claim that it’s better to watch the film than listen to the soundtrack, it’s still a pretty amazing example of the band’s honest live chemistry
-The Beatles: At the Hollywood Bowl (1977)
Culled from the 1964 and 65 Hollywood Bowl performances, this live set (which wasn’t released until 1977) captured the Fab Four at the height of Beatlemania. With 17,000 screaming fans approximating the roar of a tornado, the Beatles cut through the noise and delivered scorching, amped-up versions of their early radio-pop gems.
-Led Zeppelin: How the West Was Won (2003)
Recorded from two shows staged in California in the summer of 1972, this triple-album set captured Led Zeppelin at the height of its powers. An epic version of “Dazed and Confused” and a 23-minute covers medley (bracketed by “Whole Lotta Love”) showcase the group’s improvisational skills. The band’s chemistry was never more in evidence
-Allman Brothers: At Fillmore East (1971)
Blues, rock, and jazz were never fused more effectively than on this two-album set. Breaking out their best improvisational skills, guitarists Duane Allman and Dickey Betts weave and spark like never before or after. Small wonder that Southern rock exploded in the aftermath of this seminal recording
-Johnny Cash: At Folsom Prison (1968)
Due to the British rock invasion, Johnny Cash’s career had been in the doldrums for years before he released the country milestone in 1968. Backed by a sensational touring band that included Carl Perkins, Cash rips his way through such fitting songs as “25 Minutes to Go,” “I Got Stripes,” and “Busted.” Flanked by 2000 riveted inmates, Cash established an empathy between performer and audience that’s never been matched
-Cheap Trick: At Budokan (1978)
Japanese schoolgirls screamed their hearts out the whole time during this breakthrough album by America’s most under-appreciated power pop band. Guitarist, Rick Nielson provides the fuel for charismatic frontman Robin Zander’s unbelievable vocals. Here lie the definitive versions of “Surrender” and “I Want You to Want Me,” alongside an kicking version of “Ain’t That a Shame.
Thoughts? Have any favorites?