My Top Ten Live Albums

Just wanted to acknowledge the recent passing of guitarist Ed King, the only non-Southerner in the great Lynryd Skynyrd. If you dig these guys, check out the Showtime documentary, If I Leave Here Tomorrow. Is there any irony in the fact that this band that perished in 1977 is still going strong while the founders of “southern rock”, the Allmans are gone?

So a little while ago I did a Desert Island Disc post. Someone suggested we do a follow-up but I thought, well, you know, the DID is a one-shot deal. You grab a bunch of discs, head out to the island and that’s all you get. Beyond that – at least it seems to me – we’re just reciting our favorite albums. Which is a whole different thing.

But someone, I think it might have been GreenPete said, “We should do our favorite live albums.” And it occurred to me that I had never listed those or even much thought about it. So I thought about it and here’s my Top 10 favorite live albums. (Plus two honorable mention.) If you want to play, feel free. One rule – it has to be entirely live, not part studio, part live like, say, Cream’s Wheels of Fire. Just give us a sentence or two on why we should give a shit.

I did a Spotify list at the end. The only thing I didn’t include was Keith Jarrett because it’s an entire album. You can dial that up if you’re so inclined:

  1. At Fillmore East – The Allman Brothers Band. This will come as no surprise to readers of this blog. But it’s universally hailed as a great live album and was, in fact, selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, deemed to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” by the National Recording Registry. This was from a three-night stand at the Fillmore in 1971 but I also own the entire three-night stand. Some repetition but for the fanatic, certainly worth having.
  2. Live at Leeds – The Who. You can’t beat this album with a stick. Just a tremendous amount of crunch ‘n roll from one of the greatest bands of all time. I originally got this in vinyl but the CD has more stuff and the 40th anniversary whopper also has Live at Hull plus Tommy.
  3. Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack. I love this fucking album. And the original vinyl was only a microcosm of the entire event. So much good stuff – Canned Heat, Richie Havens, Ten Years After, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, Santana. My son and I watched the movie together a little while ago and I pretty much had to tell him who everybody was
  4. The Koln Concert. Keith Jarrett. I featured this album on these pages a short while back. Jarrett has a ton of recordings but this one knocks me out the most. It’s just Jarrett playing solo and for my money no one does it better. If I had one other instrument to play it would be piano.
  5. Rock ‘n Roll Animal. Lou Reed. I also featured this album. Great, great versions of Lou’s Velvet Underground songs with the twin guitars of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner.
  6. Cheap Thrills. Big Brother and the Holding Company. “Four gentlemen and one great, great broad,” was impresario Bill Graham’s intro. (In retrospect, maybe ‘lady’ would have been more appropriate.) Janis Joplin belts the blues for ya. And then some.
  7. Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out. Rolling Stones. A document of the Stones’ 1969 US tour, the first one with Mick Taylor. Includes quite possibly their most evil version of “Midnight Rambler.” I’ll stick my knife right down your throat baby and it hurts.
  8. Live at the Regal. B.B. King. The man himself said this could have been recorded on any night anywhere but this one’s as good as any you’ll hear. B.B. gets the crowd worked up like it’s church. This was recorded in 1964 at the now-defunct Regal Theater in Chicago before most of us knew who B.B. was. He opened some of the shows for the Stones on that ’69 tour.
  9. Live at the Fillmore East, October 4th and 5th 1968. Sly and the Family Stone. Unbelievably, this thing sat on the shelf until 2015. I happened to catch a review of it in the paper. Terrific. Interestingly, the only artist to appear on this list twice.
  10. Cream: Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 2005. To the best of my knowledge, the last time the three of them ever played together.

Honorable Mentions: The Last Waltz, The Band; Stop Making Sense, Talking Heads, Johnny Winter And.

72 thoughts on “My Top Ten Live Albums

        1. Wow, Jim, I’m impressed you’ve heard of Nena. She was really big in Germany in the ‘80s as part of the so-called “Neue Deutsche Welle” (New German Wave, loosely translated).

          I know Nena also recorded an English version of “99 Luftballons” and ingeniously called it “99 Red Ballons.”

          Given your impressive knowledge of German music, you must also know Trio and their brilliant song “Da Da Da (Ich Lieb Dich Nicht, Du Liebst Mich Nicht”🤣

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        2. I actually heard that song on satellite yesterday in German. But the English version was actually a pretty big video on MTV back in the day and I personally had rather a large crush on Nena.

          As far as “Da Da” goes, are you kidding? Very first song I learned on guitar. 😀

          Liked by 1 person

  1. As promised, here are “my” top 10 live albums in no particular order, though of course I have to start with my all-time favorite band:😀

    Live at the Hollywood Bowl – The Beatles. It’s The friggin’ Beatles, do I need to say more? While the sound quality isn’t the best and Beatlemania was insane, the album is a great document of how the Fab Four whipped up their audience to sheer hysteria. Turn up your stereo, close your eyes, and you think you’re right there!

    Live Full House – The J. Geils Band. A great documentary of the ultimate party band!

    Live At The Apollo – James Brown. After you’ve listened to this album, you know why they called him “Mr. Dynamite” and “The Hardest Working Man in Show Biz.” Just a fantastic testament of Brown’s early soul and R&B phase.

    Live 1975-85 – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. A great live compilation of The Boss from what I feel was his best period.

    Live Rust – Neil Young & Crazy Horse. I just dig Neil and this album presents great songs from the first 10 years of his solo career – his best decade, in my opinion. I also like that album presents both the acoustic and grungy rock side of Young.

    Under A Blood Red Sky – U2. A great documentation of the early U2 and the rawness of their sound.

    In addition, I would include the following of your selections for the reasons you mentioned:

    At Filmore East – The Allman Brothers Band

    Get Your Ya-Yas Out – The Rolling Stones (it was close between that classic and “Sticky Fingers Live” from 2013)

    Live At Leeds – The Who

    Royal Albert Hall – Cream

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    1. Boy, I wish there were a better live document than Hollywood Bowl. I remember reading that Martin had to really clean it up to get it to not sound entirely like screaming. Wouldn’t it be a blast if the guys had been able to do an Abbey Road-era live album .and not just a few songs on Apple rooftop? (PS. No live McCartney/Wings that grabs you?)

      Bruce and Geils belong on my list but I don’t know who to toss off. James Brown is Rolling Stone’s number one (with ABB 2.) I’ll have to give that a listen.

      I don’t know Live Rust well enough and I do like the U2 album. Overall a very fine list and (as hoped) it will prompt some further listening.

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        1. That’s right, I forgot about that one. I don’t own but have listened to that album. It’s great!

          BTW, another live album I could have mentioned is “Tina Live In Europe” (Tina Turner, 1988). It includes footage from three shows, including a concert in Germany I attended!

          That woman was an incredible live performer. She was literally jumping around in impossibly high heels for more than two hours, leaving it all on stage. Frankly, it didn’t even matter that much what she sang!

          One of the highlights is a killer version of “Nutbush City Limits.” There are also a few other classics from the Ike and Tina Turner era on the album, in addition to many of her pop-oriented hits from her solo years.

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        2. My wife would have killed to see her in her heyday. Come to think of it, I once saw Ike and Tina Turner back in the day at a show in Central Park. It was some weird All-Star thing and I recall the Beach Boys being on it as well! Proud freakin’ Mary.

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  2. I’m a big fan of live albums. Love ’em! And like all the ones on your list, Jim (other than the one I don’t know, SatFS).

    I’d throw in, unranked…

    Tim Buckley “Dream Letter – Live in London 1968”
    Grateful Dead “Live Dead”
    King Crimson “Live in Vienna 2016”
    David Bowie “LiveNassauColiseum’76”
    Keith Jarrett “Solo Concerts Bremen Lausaune”
    Miles Davis “Black Beauty”
    Genesis “Live”
    Yes “Yessongs”

    That will do for now, I think!

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    1. I was listening to “Yessongs” not all that long ago. Good choice. “Live Dead” is, of course, a classic. The other artists I obviously know, the albums not so much. They are intriguing choices and I will shortly be all over (at least) the Jarrett and Miles. Thanks.

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    2. Very good list. Nice to see Buckley on there and some Crimson. The Yes and Genesis I wore out back when and like Jim I dusted off ‘Yes Songs’ a while ago. I eat up that Miles stuff. I know it scares some folks but not CB. Doc and I tried to turn my neighbor onto Jarrett. It didn’t take but that’s OK it took with us,

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        1. Yup! He did like a bit of the Koln record and he did like your piece but he’s a funny old dude. He knows what he likes and doesn’t. He can play two Oscar Peterson tracks that sound similar to me and he grimaces at the differences.

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  3. Great idea, again, sir. Real strong list too and I do love a good live album (there’s an awful lot of cack live albums out there too though so it seems surprisingly easy to get it wrong).

    I’m gonna have a little think, a little list-drawing up exercise and come back with my list shortly.

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      1. Alrighty so I’ve probably kicked too much thought into this but, in no particular order my favourite 10 live albums…
        Nirvana – Live at Reading: avoiding the ‘unplugged vs live’ debate as this is a killer performance and set
        Mogwai – Special Moves
        Pearl Jam – Live on Two Legs
        My Morning Jacket – Okonokos
        Bruce Springsteen – Live 1975-85: I don’t know if this guy is very well known but this is a good little comp of some small local shows he managed to get booked
        Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Live Anthology: does this count? Am I allowed a four-disc box set? If not I’d say Led Zep’s How The West Was Won
        Replacements – For Sale
        Jeff Buckley – Live a l’Olympia
        Gary Clark Jr – Live
        Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert: “Judas!”

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        1. I’ll take your word that it’s a great list as, aside from a few I don’t know most of ’em. The Live Anthology is fine, no restrictions. Based on our previous discussion I most want to hear MMJ.

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        2. It’s worth a spin. I regularly drop the needle on it. I was tempted to put an Aerosmith one on there but found out, like most lists, whittling it down to 10 was tricky

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  4. Great list, Jim… very interest in the Sly album (wasn’t aware of it until today) and I’ve heard quite a few of the others. I’d have to put my thinking cap on to pick 10, as I’ve never really loved the live album… that said, those I’m fond of I’m helluva fond of!

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      1. I can’t even think of 10, but I’ll throw a couple out there::
        Masters of Reality – How High the Moon (easily my favourite live album. Recorded over two nights at The Viper Room)
        Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison (some might go for San Quentin, but in my mind it doesn’t get much better than this)
        Causa Sui’s Live in Copenhagen (exceptional psychedelic soaring sounds…)
        Allman Brothers Fillmore set (I have the reissue of the standard 2LP set)
        Danny & The Champions of the World’s Live Champs! (really great band – probably my favourite UK band and certainly one of the best, if not the best, bands I’ve ever seen).

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        1. Johnny Cash. You have to love any album that has a song named “Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog.” Most of the rest of these I just do not know. Causa Sui? Wow.

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        2. That Causa Sui album is easily one of the best sounding love albums I’ve heard. Really captures that ‘being there’ thing.

          You might find loads to like with Danny & The Champs… they have a bit of Tupelo Honey Van about them, as well as some Sam Cooke and Springsteen.

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        3. It’s a great album (Masters). I’ve probably listened to it a few times a month for the last 20 years. No exaggeration. And Cash… man, I listen to Cash weekly. Sometimes daily. So much great, powerful, music in his discography. At Folsom is him at the top of his game, though.

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        4. You’ve sold me on the “Masters”. I seen a great doc on the recording of the ‘Folsom’ record. And I agree about being on top of his game. That’s when Carl Perkins was in the band I think. One of the first live albums I ever heard was his San Quentin’ one. That’s where it started for me. Thanks Dad!

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  5. Good piece Doc. As usual it always interests me what your readers pick. Your list has a few of my faves. The obvious one is ‘Leeds’. The Cream is an interesting one because it wasn’t just one of those moldy reunion things. Those guys did it on those shows. Absolutely fantastic!
    When we were talking about ‘Plugged Nickel’ the other day, I was listening to ‘Black Beauty’ (I see VC listed it).
    Little to busy to give you a list and there are so many that I listen to but a few that come to mind are ‘Rock Of Ages’, Duke at ‘Newport’, Mayall’s ‘Turning Point’, Santana at ‘Woodstock’ (or anywhere), Various great Zappa albums and some lesser know names that i pull out all the time. I love great live music!! I’ll comment on some of the readers lists. They are hitting on many I dig. Otis in ‘Europe’, Vans ‘Too late to Stop Now’, Watt and the Wildcats ‘Live In Hansboro North Dakota’ ….

    I’m writing this as I listen to Papa John Creach live. He’s just trying to flog some t shirts right now.

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    1. ‘Black Beauty’ is new to me so I look forward to that. The other ones you mention, yeah, especially ‘Turning Point.’ Killer. Otis, sure. I don’t think I know Van’s. Little Feat’s got a great one. I wish you hadn’t mentioned the Wildcats. That’s a minor masterpiece I wanted to keep to myself.

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      1. Little Feat are getting more and more play around here just like the ABB. I know the album I think you’re talking about. ‘Beauty’s’ from the Bitches Brew era. Watt and the boys are a little home cooking from my childhood.
        Real good piece. I love live music. Like Dan Hicks says in ‘Canned Music’ “Don’t get your baby to close to the band when it’s live music”.
        Pat Travers ‘Boom Boom Out Go the Lights’ Segers ‘Live Bullet’ …

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  6. Another impressive list, Jim. Although the RnR ANIMAL version of “Sweet Jane” is classic, with Hunter and Wagner’s twin-guitar intro, you MUST listen to the original double-LP 1969 LIVE by the Velvets. Patti Smith called it “a dream,” which is apropos. Some of the best versions of Reed’s best songs, when the band was peaking as a live act, and Reed was playing guitar like a madman. The only negative is the primitive recording technology. Beyond that…you’re in for a special experience. (Seriously, listen with headphones, alone, at night, with open mind, and let me know what you think.)

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      1. Anxious to hear your thoughts. But you really need to make the listening an “event.” I know it’s tough to do in these days of sampling (snag a bit here, then move on to something else), but the best way to appreciate this record is to replicate the concert experience: set aside a couple hours late at night and dig the whole thing at once. (Just a suggestion!).

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        1. Great idea in theory but realistically not feasible. Hell I probably haven’t listened to an album all the way through since high school. Maybe I’m not getting the full concert experience but trust me, I’m digging what I’m hearing. I don’t think it will ever replace “Rock and Roll Animal” with its twin-guitar attack in my affections. But it’s a nice discovery for sure.

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        2. (I’ll try to whip something up for a live album list. Been out of town and away from computer.) But there’s no reason a full album listen shouldn’t be feasible, Jim. I realize it’s probably symptomatic of our scan/scroll/text/tweet/sample/acronym/”lack of sustained concentration” culture, but you’re the Music Enthusiast! Plus, your age and the fact that you wrote a book (which I’m still reading) indicates you do have ability to focus.

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        3. Self-editing is a good thing. I reread what I wrote, and it does sound haughty and accusatory, which I didn’t intend. (Hell, I can point a finger at myself.) Anyway such cultural criticisms don’t belong in a music discussion, so for all that, I apologize.

          Yeah, not like the old days. I sense we both agree that, especially for a live album, you need to listen to the whole thing with little or no interruption. (A bit different for individual songs.) I still look forward to your opinion…whether derived from one sitting or several!

          Top 10 coming up.

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        4. Here you go. Too many honorable mentions to list (ABB, Live at Leeds, Feat, Dylan/Band, Genesis…).
          1. Velvet Underground, 1969 Live. This came after John Cale left the band, but his absence made them musically tighter, and more a rock combo than a multimedia collaborative. The album is derived from two club dates, in Texas and San Francisco, and you can count the number of people in the room by the clapping. Reed’s monologue intros are priceless. The shows include a number of non-album songs, radically different arrangements (including the full, original “Sweet Jane”), blazing and hypnotic rhythm guitar and keyboards, and a guitar solo by Reed on “White Light/White Heat” where he plays like he’s possessed. Not just a great live album, but a singular document of a monumental band at the peak of its performance power.
          2. Grateful Dead, Cornell 5-8-77. For years, this was a legendary cassette exchanged between Deadheads. Has probably the best versions of “Morning Dew,” “Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain,” “Not Fade Away,” and many others. On a good night, the Dead were unsurpassable, and this was a GREAT night.
          3. Otis Redding/Jimi Hendrix Experience, Historic Performances Recorded at the Monterey International Pop Festival. The Hendrix side is notable more for it’s historical significance, where a guitar hero was born. But Redding’s singing, backed by Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn, was pure joy and, in my opinion, still without parallel.
          4. Bill Evans, The Village Vanguard Sessions. Evans did this not long after his important contribution to Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue.” It’s a trio session that’s notable for the uncanny interplay between Evans’ piano and the bass playing of young Scott LaFaro (who died in a car accident soon after). Smoky, romantic jazz that’s never sappy.
          5. John Coltrane, Live at the Village Vanguard. Coltrane sets fire to the club.
          6. B.B. King, Live at Cook County Jail. King’s “Live at the Regal” is very similar, as far as the songs and performance quality. I prefer this one due to the venue, and the introduction by that woman who makes the mistake of mentioning the warden.
          7. Robin Trower, Live. I rediscovered this recently after forgetting what a blistering guitar album it is. No overdubs, but Trower’s monster playing sounds like three guitars at once. “Live” is overshadowed by the classic studio LP “Bridge of Sighs,” but I prefer this album.
          8. 801, 801 Live. A side project by Phil Manzanera while Roxy Music was on hiatus, it also includes Eno (who does several of his best solo songs), Francis Monkman of Curved Air, and a great rhythm duo of Bill McCormick and Simon Phillips. The highlights are Manzanera’s guitar and Eno’s vocals on the weird “Miss Shapiro” and a fascinating interpretation of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
          9. Phil Ochs, Live Again! A new release, recorded at Michigan State in 1973, it’s all solo acoustic, which is the best way to hear this courageous, important folk-protest artist, and it gathers his best songs. His chatter on stage is alternately humorous, angry, sad, and revealing. Made in the era of Nixon, but easily fits in in this era of (shall remain nameless). Helped me cope with the events of 2016 (and it still helps me).
          10. Yardbirds, Five Live Yardbirds. Smoking, gritty R&B covers by the band when Clapton was still around. Another live record that’s not only musically hot, but a rare peek into an important moment in rock history: the mid-60s London R&B club scene, which also spawned Mick, Keith and Co.

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        5. Very, very interesting, some familiar to me, some not. Notes – still digesting Velvet Underground. More later on that. As to the Dead, when I wrote about them I heard about this album and probably have heard pieces of it on Dead channel but not all. No argument on 3, 4 or 5 (the latter of which I own.)

          I can live with Cook County as long as B.B is on there somewhere. 🙂 I haven’t heard the Trower one but I’ll add it to the list. Love that guy. I know nothing of 8 or 9. Like Ochs but minus Dylan’s early stuff I’m not a big folkie. Big Yes on 10. That was actually their very first album.

          Nice list. Some food for thought (as well as listening) here.

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        6. Well, I listened to ‘Live 1969’ and I’d have to agree with you. It’s an excellent album. I knew that Velvet Underground had played live quite a bit (notably here at the Boston Tea Party) but I had dismissed them somewhat as an artsy Warhol studio band. But this is excellent stuff. What I had to overcome was hearing the blazing guitars of ‘Rock ‘n Roll Animal’ because I feared the songs would lose their power. But they don’t. The combo of Reed’s (mostly) rhythm guitar with that otherworldly organ does the songs justice nicely.

          Over and above songs like ‘Rock and Roll’ and ‘Heroin’ which I’ve heard 5,000 times, I really dug ‘We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together’ and ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ which I wasn’t familiar with. So yea, while it won’t replace ‘Animal’ in my affections it is terrific album. BTW, I read that maybe the audiences weren’t as small as it sounds but that there wasn’t a mic on the audiences to pick up their sound.

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  7. Pete. Some very cool choices and off the mainstream. Nice to see some Jazz. The Coltrane is fantastic. ‘801’ is a very good choice. Have quite a few of these. I just watched the ‘Monterey’ thing , between The Who and Otis and the MG’s it was a toss up for me. I think this was Otis’s last gig. Man I can watch and listen to that over and over. He was something special. They should have an Otis Redding Day down your way.

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