The 25 Greatest Live Albums Of All-Time

by

“A concert is not a live rendition of our album. It’s a theatrical event.” ~ Freddie Mercury

*****

Punch your ticket to 25 of the best live albums of all-time…


25] Yardbirds | Five Live Yardbirds – A young Eric Clapton flashes the skills that would earn him all kinds of silly nicknames, and influence half a generation of guitarists…

Listen: Smokestack Lightning


24] Black Lips | Los Valientes Del Mundo Nuevo – “This is gonna be the greatest live album ever,” yells one of the Lips during this set recorded in Tijuana, Mexico. It’s somewhere closer to the best live album of the ’00s…

Listen: M.I.A.


23] Grateful Dead | Reckoning – Freed from psychedelic pyrotechnics, the Dead shine on this stripped down, pre-Unplugged set…

Listen: Deep Elem Blues


22] Thin Lizzy | Live And Dangerous – Thin Lizzy capped a glorious run of mid-70s albums with this double-live epic…

Listen: Jailbreak


21] Various Artists | Woodstock – A bit of the good, bad and ugly, but Richie Havens, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Country Joe, Canned Heat and Alvin Lee save the day(s)…

Listen: Soul Sacrifice [Santana]


20] Bob Dylan | Live 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert – Dylan’s willful clashes with his audiences in ’66 would be echoed by Johnny Rotten in ’77 and Axl Rose in ’88, but the original punk is still the snarlin’est of them all…

Listen: I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)


19] Eric Clapton | Unplugged – Clapton rejuvenated his career – and gave his fans a new way to hear his songs – with this groundbreaking MTV Unplugged show…

Listen: Layla


18] Talking Heads | The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads – What do you know, they actually were punks! The first album comes from the years 1977-79, while the second covers 1980-81. Both trump Stop Making Sense

Listen: New Feeling


17] Otis Redding | Live In Europe – Recorded in March 1967, during the Stax/Volt ensemble tour of Europe, this album overflows with the enthusiasm of the audience, and foreshadows Redding’s knockout performance at the Monterey Pop Festival just a few months later…

Listen: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction


16] Muddy Waters | Live At Newport 1960 – At the 1960 Newport Folk Festival, Muddy Waters wasn’t yet a Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame inductee or Chicago Blues titan – he was simply a man with a band trying to impress a whole bunch of white people. This soulful yet blistering set did the trick, and sent him on his way to all those accolades…

Listen: I’ve Got My Mojo Working


15] The Rolling Stones | LiveR Than You’ll Ever Be – The original concert bootleg was recorded in Oakland, CA on November 9th, 1969. Highlights include a ferocious version of ‘Midnight Rambler’ that lays bare the psychotic violence at the heart of the song, and a tough-as-nails take on Robert Johnson’s ‘Love In Vain’. This is one of the best documents of the self-proclaimed ‘World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band’…

Listen: Midnight Rambler


14] Led Zeppelin | How The West Was Won – Taken from a pair of Southern California shows in June of 1972, this is the live showcase that Led Zeppelin always deserved. Jimmy Page considers the group to have been at its artistic peak during this period, and How The West Was Won bears out such an opinion…

Listen: What Is And What Should Never Be


13] Neil Young | Live Rust – Recorded at the Cow Palace on October 22nd, 1978, this double LP is the audio twin to Young’s concert film Rust Never Sleeps. The CD version omits ‘Cortez The Killer’, so stick to LP…

Listen: Sugar Mountain


12] AC/DC | Live From The Atlantic Studios – Originally released as a promo for radio stations, this show was captured on December 7th, 1977 at the Atlantic Recording Studios in New York City. AC/DC was a purring beast by this point, and the sublime aggression of songs like ‘Live Wire’ and ‘High Voltage’ come through loud and clear…

Listen: Live Wire


11] Dzihan & Kamien | Live In Vienna – Aided by a grant from the Austrian government, Vlado dZihan and Mario Kamien threw a very special release party for their 2003 album Gran Riserva. Featuring three percussionists, a horn section, five violins, a viola, a cello, a DJ, bass, guitars, a sampler and keyboards, and a host of exotic middle eastern and african instrumentation, the dZihan & Kamien Orchestra created live electronica like you’ve never heard it before, and likely never will again…

Listen: After


10] Little Feat | Waiting For Columbus – The best concerts are parties, and no band this side of the Dead threw a better party than Little Feat. Filled with pure boogie and swinging grooves, Waiting For Columbus includes definitive versions of ‘Fat Man In The Bathtub’ and ‘Spanish Moon’. Recorded in August of 1977, less than two years before group mastermind Lowell George suffered a fatal heart attack, this album remains a fan favorite…

Listen: Spanish Moon


9] Lynyrd Skynyrd | One More From The Road – The plane crash that killed most of Lynyrd Skynyrd remains the largest scale tragedy in the history of rock, and not just because of the body count. When that plane went down on October 20th, 1977 it took one of the best live acts of the ’70s. Ronnie Van Zandt was a good old-fashioned ass-kicking frontman, and his moxy is on full display throughout One More From The Road. Recorded July 7th-9th, 1976, this one’s a keepsake…

Listen: Call Me the Breeze


8] Ramones | It’s Alive – The Ramones were straight ahead, no bullshit rawk-an-rowl. No “We love you Cleveland!” or “There’s a story behind this next number…“, they just blasted away. Recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London on New Year’s Eve 1977/78, It’s Alive features 28 songs in 54 minutes – you do the math. Better yet, just sit back and get blasted…

Listen: Blitzkrieg Bop


7] Nirvana | MTV Unplugged In New York – Recorded just months before Kurt Cobain’s death, this album functions as a roadmap of Nirvana’s influences. The covers included here shed light on several of the band’s musical relatives; from Leadbelly to David Bowie to Meat Puppets to the Vaselines, one can connect the dots among a number of influences that might not otherwise have been readily apparent. By all reports, Cobain was seriously addicted to heroin and in poor health during the weeks leading up the Unplugged date in November of 1993, and alienated his bandmates to the point that Dave Grohl offered to quit the group during rehearsals. [read full review]

Listen: Where Did You Sleep Last Night


6] The Band | The Last Waltz – Scorsese. The Band. Guest stars aplenty – Dylan, Neil, Van, Muddy, Joni, etc. Critics have quibbled over some of the performances captured here, but The Last Waltz is still the classiest goodbye from any band of the rock era. Rather than ending in death, insanity, internal strife or commercial failure, The Band threw a party. And you’re invited…

Listen: It Makes No Difference


5] Jimi Hendrix | Live At Winterland – Hendrix may have lit his guitar on fire at Monterey, but he burns down Winterland on the shows captured here. ‘Killing Floor’, ‘Fire’ and ‘Crosstown Traffic’ find their ultimate expression in these live versions, and the album is topped off with an epic, note-perfect reading of ‘Red House’. Live At Winterland is not only a fine place to wade into the guitar legend of Jimi Hendrix, but ultimate proof that he was a man apart on his instrument…

Listen: Red House


4] Jerry Lee Lewis | Live At The Star Club, Hamburg – The Star Club in Hamburg, Germany is the cabaret where The Beatles perfected their live act before conquering America and the world. It’s hard to say whether that connection played into the fire that Jerry Lee Lewis played with on this particular evening, but from the word go he assaults his piano with a beautiful fury that is breathtaking to behold. His backing band, The Nashville Teens, were clearly in over their heads, and spend the entirety of this show holding on for dear life and trying to keep up with The Killer (“Play that thing right boy!” Jerry Lee yells at one Teen during a cover of Ray Charles’ ‘What’d I Say’). From the first notes of ‘Mean Woman Blues’, this is a nasty, snarling, unhinged performance that presages the nihilism of punk rock. “Jerry, Jerry…” he chants along with the crowd at one point, before cutting them off with an acidic “Alright already!”. Johnny Rotten, your grandpa is on line one… [read full review]

Listen: Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On


3] James Brown | Live At The Apollo – Recorded on October 24th, 1962, Live At The Apollo was more than just a financial gamble. Live albums were unusual at that time, and this particular album was recorded before The Apollo Theatre’s famously fickle and unruly Amateur Night crowd. The audience was well-mic’d, and their squeals, screams, and gasps of delight are no small part of what makes this such an amazing document. JB’s sizzle comes blasting through the stylus, and at times he toys with the crowd, cajoling them to give it up before unleashing his own orgasmic yelps of joy. Regarding his stage presence, Brown explained that “Sometimes I feel like I’m a preacher as well [as a singer], ’cause I can really get into an audience.” [read full review]

Listen: Lost Someone


2] The Allman Brothers Band | At Fillmore East – This LP finds Duane Allman at a short-lived peak – he would die in a motorcycle accident in Macon, GA just a few months after the release of At Fillmore East, and a few weeks shy of his 25th birthday. His epic soloing on ‘Whipping Post’ and ‘In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed’ reflects Coltrane’s ‘sheets of sound’ approach to playing, and stands as some of the most outstanding guitar work of the rock era. ‘Whipping Post’ goes for 22:40 and sees Duane build up an amazing piece of musical architecture, before tearing it down piece by piece. It ends the album with a few bars of the intro to ‘Mountain Jam’ – which itself would occupy two entire sides of the double album Eat A Peach. Even if he’d lived to be a hundred, it’s hard to see how Duane Allman could have topped his work here. [read full review]

Listen: In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed


1] Johnny Cash | At Folsom Prison – Johnny Cash was one of the most charismatic performers to ever set foot on stage – put him in front of a delirious and potentially dangerous audience on one of his best days, and you’ve got a recording for the ages. If you want to hear how thrilling live music can be, and find out what happens when a legendary performer is driven ever higher, until he reaches something close to the zeitgeist, pick up a copy of At Folsom Prison. [read full review]

Listen: Folsom Prison Blues

*****

25 More That Are Worth A Spin…

Curtis Mayfield | Curtis/Live!
Tom Waits | Nighthawks At The Diner
Van Morrison | It’s Too Late To Stop Now
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers | Live Anthology
Various Artists | Wattstax
The Clash | From Here To Eternity
MC5 | Thunder Express
Jay-Z | Unplugged
Duke Ellington | Ellington At Newport
The Kinks | BBC Sessions 1964-1977
Bob Marley & The Wailers | Live
J. Geils Band | Full House
Charles Mingus | Mingus At Antibes
Fred Neil | The Sky Is Falling
KISS | Kiss Alive II
The Byrds | Live At Royal Albert Hall 1971
The Stooges | Live In L.A. ’73
Elvis Presley | ’68 Comeback Special
Jeff Buckley | Live @ Sine-E
Ozzy Osbourne | Tribute
Velvet Underground | The Quine Tapes
The Jam | At The BBC
Miles Davis | Live Evil
Stevie Ray Vaughan | Blues At Sunrise
The Steve Miller Band | King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents…

*****

And 6 More That Should Come With Earplugs

Elvis Presley | Having Fun On Stage With Elvis
Bob Dylan | Live At Budokan
Led Zeppelin | The Song Remains The Same
The Beatles | Live At The Hollywood Bowl
Jimi Hendrix | Isle Of Wight
The Doors | Absolutely Live

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16 Responses to “The 25 Greatest Live Albums Of All-Time”

  1. World B. Furr Says:

    I looked 5 times and didn’t see Band of Gypsys? But I know it’s there. It’s got to be. Right?

    • dkpresents Says:

      Winterland. I kept it to one album per artist so I could get more names involved. No doubt BOG is a fine album, but not my favorite live Jimi…

  2. cordell Says:

    pat travers band
    go for what you know

    “new” nirvana live at reading
    might should supplant MTV candlefest

    cheap trick at budokan (per mr cabral from the other day)

    foghat live
    (along with PTB, arena rock at its peak)

    (and i’ve got to get that D&Z, too!) (same goes for jimi@winterland)

  3. Nirvana Live At Reading Festival Tee | Michealunick945's Blog Says:

    [...] The 25 Greatest Live Albums Of All-Time « dk presents⦠[...]

  4. GK Says:

    Surely The Who’s Live at Leeds, UFO’s Strangers In The Night and Peter Frampton’s live album are worth at least a mention???

    • dkpresents Says:

      Check out this blog’s discussion of Live At Leeds, here. Personally I’m not familiar with the UFO album, nor that impressed by Frampton Comes Alive. But thanks for the comment…

  5. joshspence Says:

    I’m just saying in that actual 30 some odd set which is pretty good, The Who’s “Live at Leeds” doesn’t make the cut?

    Listen: Young Man

  6. Stefan Says:

    Nice List. Jerry’s Star Club album is in print again, have a look: http://www.amazon.de/Live-Star-Club-Hamburg-Vinyl-LP/dp/B002XKUWIA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1285004958&sr=8-1

  7. Stefan Says:

    Ehm, maybe a link to the label would be nicer: http://www.bear-family.de/index.php?sid=d072e674807ea745a0677a70c0f60740&cl=details&anid=252b11c49759de86986e771883f87f5a&listtype=search&tcinterpret=Jerry%20Lee%20Lewis&tcexact=0

    Nice German oldies label btw :)

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  12. Steve Says:

    Any live Deep Purple recording.

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