The best live albums

Live audience (de.clipdealer.com)

A live album is an album made by recording a performance before an audience.

© Merriam-Webster dictionary

Introduction

A live album is an album which is recorded during a concert, oftentimes in front of an audience. The audience can be limited to a few people in a (radio)studio. Sometimes a live album is comprised of a couple of recordings made at different dates and venues. Usually the recordings are tapped off the soundboard.

The answer to the question how live a live album really is, depends on the artist and the album. One of the best known and most successful live albums is Kiss Alive!. It is common knowledge that this album contains so many overdubs that the album could be called a studio album. But the basic tracks (the drums) and the audience sound are recorded at a live show.

The importance and quality of live albums differ greatly. In the 1970’s live albums were generally viewed as an easy way to make some money, because it often served as a Greatest Hits compilation. But more times than not, live albums are a welcome addition to the discography of an artist, because live performances add a certain kind of intimacy that is rarely matched and/or caught in a studio environment. Also, artists tend to play their songs in different versions. Be it in length alone (extra solo’s for instance), or in arrangement or the number of instruments. In the 1990’s the so-called Unplugged albums blossomed. Artists went back-to-basics and played their songs acoustically.

To fans live albums are indispensable. Fans pay good money for illegally obtained recordings of concerts of their favorite artists, which has resulted in a thriving bootleg industry. Oftentimes, the quality of the recordings were substandard, but some of them were so good that they were officially released (like the famous The Bootleg Series by Bob Dylan).

Anyway: this is the list of my 25 favorite live albums. And yes, a lot were discarded.

 

The Who - Live At Leeds (discogs.com)

The Who – Live At Leeds

1970

Highly exciting live album by The Who. My father owned this. It introduced me to the side of The Who that was different to Tommy, which was played to death in my childhood years.

 

Miles Davis - Live Evil (discogs.com)

Miles Davis – Live Evil

1971

Miles Davis’ live album recorded in a period leading up to the fantastic and misunderstood On The Corner.

 

Donny Hathaway - Live (lyrics.wikia.com)

Donny Hathaway – Live

1972

The best and best-known album by Donny Hathaway. See also Donny Hathaway – Live.

 

Neil Diamond - Hot August Night (discogs.com)

Neil Diamond – Hot August Night

1972

During the rides to the vacation locations the second part of the cassette of this album was played in the car. I know this front to back. Diamond at his best.

 

Kiss - Alive! (discogs.com)

Kiss – Alive!

1975

The first Kiss live album. Poverty, cheap food and bad sales: those were history in the blink of an eye. It was the first big success for Kiss.

 

Roxy Music - Viva! Roxy Music (discogs.com)

Roxy Music – Viva! Roxy Music

1976

The (first) Roxy Music live album. Great renditions of Pyjamarama and Chance Meeting. Highlights are Both Ends Burning and In Every Dream Home A Heartache.

 

Frank Zappa - Zappa In New York (allmusic.com)

Frank Zappa – In New York

1977 / 1978

Zappa’s best album? See also Zappa In New York.

 

Cheap Trick - At Budokan (apopshop.com)

Cheap Trick – At Budokan

1978

The breakthrough and only hit by Cheap Trick. See also Cheap Trick At Budokan: the complete concert.

 

David Bowie - Welcome To The Blackout (velvetmusic.nl)

David Bowie – Welcome To The Blackout (Live London ’78)

1978 / 2018

See David Bowie – Welcome To The Blackout (Live London ’78).

 

Bob Marley & The Wailers - Babylon By Bus (discogs.com)

Bob Marley & The Wailers – Babylon By Bus

1978

Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Live! is their best known, but this is their best live album.

 

Herman Brood & His Wild Romance - Cha Cha (discogs.com)

Herman Brood & His Wild Romance – Cha Cha

1978

Herman Brood & His Wild Romance, who, thanks to speed, race through their set at a remarkable high level. See also Herman Brood makes two great rock albums in 1 year!.

 

The Ramones - It's Alive (discogs.com)

The Ramones – It’s Alive

1979

1 2 3 4!

 

Motörhead - No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith (discogs.com)

Motörhead – No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith

1981

Loud and ruthless. Stunning live album by Lemmy and the two other core members.

 

Simon And Garfunkel - The Concert In Central Park (apple.com)

Simon And Garfunkel – The Concert In Central Park

1982

Their first concert since their disbanding. See also Simon And Garfunkel – The Concert In Central Park.

 

Bauhaus - Press The Eject And Give Me The Tape (discogs.com)

Bauhaus – Press The Eject And Give Me The Tape

1982

Bauhaus proves they were a tight and phenomenal live band. Top album. See also Bela Lugosi’s Dead.

 

Japan - Oil On Canvas (discogs.com)

Japan – Oil On Canvas

1983

The swan song of the band with David Sylvian, Mick Karn, Steven Jansen and Richard Barbieri. See also Japan – Oil On Canvas.

 

Peter Gabriel - Plays Live (discogs.com)

Peter Gabriel – Plays Live

1983

Peter Gabriel’s live double album. One of the first albums I owned before my father did (). The renditions of Family Snapshot and Biko are truly moving.

 

Siouxsie And The Banshees - Nocturne (post-punk.com)

Siouxsie & The Banshees – Nocturne

1983

Goth live album at an incredible level. See also The live album by Siouxsie And The Banshees: Nocturne.

 

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band - Live/1975-85 (brucespringsteen.net)

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Live 1975/85

1986

The main introduction to Bruce Springsteen, this live box with 40 songs. A cross-section of his career up to then. Highly recommended!

 

The Waterboys - The Live Adventures Of The Waterboys (discogs.com)

The Waterboys – The Live Adventures Of The Waterboys

1986 / 1998

Report of The Waterboys tour that took place in 1986. The band was at a crossroads in their career. See also The Waterboys say farewell to ‘the big music’: Fisherman’s Blues!.

 

Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers - Live '87 (music-on-click.com)

Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers – Live ’87

1987

Go-go at its most addictive. See also Chuck Brown & the history of go-go.

 

Neil Young - Unplugged (discogs.com)

Neil Young – Unplugged

1993

Neil Young performs an Unplugged set for MTV. Beautiful renditions of, at times, more obscure songs.

 

Nirvana - Unplugged In New York (discogs.com)

Nirvana – Unplugged In New York

1994

The Nirvana live album, which was released after Kurt Cobain’s death. Contains the heartbreaking version of Leadbelly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night.

 

Underworld - Everything, Everything (discogs.com)

Underworld – Everything, Everything

2000

Dance and live performances go very well together. Thrilling recordings of a band in rare form!

 

Nick Cave - Live At Hammersmith Apollo (discogs.com)

Nick Cave – Live At Hammersmith Apollo

2015

Nick Cave during his solo tour of 2015. At the time, this album was temporarily available in 2015. Beautiful, intimate and moving.

 

In closing

What do you consider to be the best live album? Isn’t it part of this list and you think it should? Let me know! If you respond using the comment form below, I will add your choice to this article.

 

Additions by readers

Simple Minds – Live In The City Of Light / Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Weld

1987 / 1991

By Edgar (see comment in the Dutch version of this article)

Simple Minds - Live - In The City Of Light (discogs.com)

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Weld (discosg.com)

 

Grand Funk Railroad – Live Album / Lou Reed – Rock N Roll Animal / Led Zeppelin – Celebration Day

1970 / 1974 / 2012

By Herman (see comment in the Dutch version of this article)

Grand Funk Railroad - Live Album (discogs.com)

Lou Reed - Rock N Roll Animal (discogs.com)

Led Zeppelin - Celebration Day (discogs.com)

 

Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive

1976

By Jeffy (see below)

Peter Frampton - Frampton Comes Alive (discogs.com)

 

AC/DC – If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) / UFO – Strangers In The Night

1978 / 1979

By Bart (see comment in the Dutch version of this article)

AC/DC - If You Want Blood (You've Got It) (discogs.com)

UFO - Strangers In The Night (discogs.com)

 

Aretha Franklin – Amazing Grace / Earth, Wind & Fire – Gratitude

1972 / 1975

By Ronald (see comment in the Dutch version of this article)

Aretha Franklin - Amazing Grace (discogs.com)

Earth, Wind & Fire - Gratitude (discogs.com)

 

Roger Waters – The Wall Live In Berlin

1990

By Menzo (see comment in the Dutch version of this article)

Roger Waters - The Wall Live In Berlin (discogs.com)

 

The Concert For Bangladesh

1971

By Menzo (see second comment in the Dutch version of this article)

The Concert For Bangladesh (discogs.com)

 

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: The best live albums. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

2 comments

    • Jeffy Jay on 03/09/2019 at 6:45 PM

    “Frampton Comes Alive” from 1976

    1. Added to this article. Thanks for your reply!

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