Greatest Live Albums of All Time (as chosen by random Internet lists)

Recently, a friend of mine and I were discussing live concerts and then inevitably, live albums. We each have our favorites (Allmans, Lou Reed, YaYas, etc.)

But then we got to thinking – what live albums are considered to be the best of all time as per the critics, you know, the lists you find on the Internet. And how would we calculate this?

Well, yours truly knows a challenge when he sees on. So ME went online and found as many ranked lists as he could. If a list wasn’t ranked, it wasn’t of much use to me. This is because my “scientific method” meant that I took the top ten of each list and then gave points for how many times an album was ranked Number 1, Number 2, etc. The results may surprise you.

Note – By and large these are (mostly) rock albums. Only a few lists ranked jazz albums or singers like Sinatra. (That said, the Rolling Stone countdown has a nice mix of jazz and rock). So, the countdown: (And for those who will be inclined to comment and say “I disagree with your choices,” recall they are not MY choices but an aggregaton of various sites. (See end of post).

10 – Get Your YaYas Out – Rolling Stones. Recorded in late ’60, early ’70, this is the Stones at the peak of their Mick Taylor/Keith Richards power. (Brian Jones had died only a few months before). Bassist Bill Wyman to Goldmine: “The Stones were a better live band then any other band at that time…. Me and Charlie were really always on the ball, always straight, always together and had it down. If we had our shit together we got it right.”

There is no meaner verson of one of the greatest songs of all time, “Midnight Rambler” on record. The crowd just starts randomly chanting in the beginning like they’re possessed:

9 – Framptom Comes Alive – You could NOT turn the radio on in 1976 without hearing this fucking album. Not that that was necesarily a bad thing. Lotsa good tunes and Frampton is always on point. Billboard says, ‘With his infectious live energy, guitar God licks, bare-chested/blonde-locks good looks — and, of course, his inventive use of the Talkbox — he gave the songs from his previously released solo albums new life. It remains perhaps the most explosive live album to date.”

8  Live at the Apollo – “Live at the Apollo was recorded on the night of October 24, 1962, at Brown’s own expense.  Live at the Apollo was an amazingly rapid seller. It spent 66 weeks on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, peaking at #2.” Rolling Stone ranked this #1 and of it said, “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business was in his prime. The longer he tries to restrain himself the more his voice quivers before he eventually caves, shouting and screaming as he begs and pleads.”

7 – Alive! Kiss. I’m not much of a Kiss fan but this album does come up quite a bit. Variety says, “Between Gene Simmons’ bass lines, Paul Stanley’s guitar riffs and Ace Frehley’s high-minded guitar solos — equal doses of Mick Ronson-like glamour and Jimmy Page-esque thunder — this was the stuff of real zeal, making “Alive!” its own zeitgeist moment.”

6 – Live and Dangerous – Thin Lizzy. I’ve always liked Thin Lizzy but somehow this album was not on my radar. A nice discovery as it kicks some serious ass. “Time was tight, so a live album was in order: Live And Dangerous was the snarling result, a document of a band that took no prisoners even on mellower tracks like “Dancing In The Moonlight.”

5  – Live at Budokan – Cheap Trick. Well, of course. Who else could take Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” and make it sound like like some cranked-up meth head was singing it outside your window? “Budokan presents the group in its best light: killer pop songs played by a world-class rock band, with Robin Zander’s versatile vocals and Rick Nielsen’s blazing guitar work front and center.” – Variety

4 – MTV Unplugged in New York – Nirvana. This one suprised me. Not that I don’t think Nirvana were a great band – I do. But many of these live albums are total headbangers. In a retrospective review for AllMusic, senior editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine said MTV Unplugged in New York was “fearlessly confessional,” as it found Nirvana and Cobain “on the verge of discovering a new sound and style.”

3 – At Fillmore East – Allman Brothers Band. Long-time readers know that this would be my number one. No head-banging here, just scads of great (if longish) improvisation. This album is the gift that just keeps on giving. The greatest band America ever produced IMHO. In 2004, the album was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, deemed to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” by the National Recording Registry.

2 – Live at Leeds – The Who. When this album was released, the venerable New York Times referred to it as the greatest live album of all time. And personally I can easily go back and forth between this (for the crunch) and At Fillmore East (for the improv) all day long. I never get tired of it. “They’d become a fearsomely powerful live band, as fluid as they were brutal: four wizards at separate corners of the stage, raising a golden demon together.”

And at number one, drum roll, please

1 – At Folsom Prison – Johnny Cash. This, for me, was the big surprise. Of all the country guys, Cash was far and away my favorite. I know of this album but I never think of it in and amidst all the loud stuff. But it comes up over and over again and, among the lists I consulted, had the most Number Ones.

Wikipedia: Al Aronowitz of Life stated Cash sang the songs like “someone who has grown up believing he is one of the people that these songs are about.” For The Village Voice, Ann Fisher wrote that “every cut is special in its own way” and Richard Goldstein noted the album was “filled with the kind of emotionalism you seldom find in rock.”Fredrick E. Danker of Sing Out! praised At Folsom Prison as “an album structured an aural experience for us.”

Other albums that were mentioned – Kick Out the Jams, MC5; Stop Making Sense, Talking Heads; Live at the Regal, B.B. King; Made in Japan, Deep Purple; Strangers in the Night, UFO; Exit Stage Left, Rush; Live Rust, Neil Young; I Might Be Wrong, Radiohead; Live at the Harlem Square Club, Sam Cooke; The Last Waltz, The Band; Live at the Royal Albert Hall, Bob Dylan; Live at Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix; Before the Flood, Dylan and the Band; If You Want Blood You Got It, AC/DC

List/sites consulted – Far Out Magazine, Rolling Stone, LouderSound, NME, Paste Magazine, Guitar World, Billboard, Variety (for quotes), Udiscover music, Stacker, Long Live Vinyl, Classic Rock



17 thoughts on “Greatest Live Albums of All Time (as chosen by random Internet lists)

  1. None of those surprise me at all. Even the Nirvana one. Now, an argument can be made that the Kiss one isn’t really live since they redid most of it in the studio, but it feels live, it sounds live so if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…it must be.


    1. My biggest surprise was Johnny Cash. I never hear it mentioned at that level. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard that Thin Lizzy’s album might have had a fair amount of studio work.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I read this with interest a few days ago but didn’t get time to comment. I love that Dylan 1966 album that was listed in the section below – that’s my favourite of the albums mentioned. I guess that Cash album is his most famous record – and probably same with Kiss.


      1. He just doesn’t seem like an album guy to me – maybe the later Rick Rubin stuff. So those prison albums seem much better known than his studio records from the same era. There’s a San Quentin one from 1969 as well.


        1. I can’t comment on your site anymore. I get the error below with Edge and Chrome. If you don’t know what it is and WP can’t fix it, then I’ll have to bow out. Technical problems on computers with stupid errors like this get on my last nerve.

          Nonce verification failed.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Thanks for telling me – I did have a go at fixing it after this comment, by shortening the cache life of my posts. Looks like you were able to comment on that jazz post, which is good.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s a fine list overall. My favorite live albums of all time are the Allman’s at Fillmore East and the Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Yas Out. If I only could pick one, I’d probably go with the latter.

    As a Beatles nut, I would also add “Live at the Hollywood Bowl”. In spite of the high-pitch screaming fans, I still find it fascinating.

    Seeing “Live at Folsom Prison” at No. 1 surprised me as well. Frankly, I had never listened to that live album in its entirety until now. While it still wouldn’t be my no. 1, it would definitely be among my top 10. Cash’s great sense of humor and way to engage with the audience make for a very entertaining listening experience!


    1. I would say the two I go back to the most are ABB and Leeds with a preference for the former. But YaYas ain’t too shabby.

      As mentioned to some other commenters, I had no idea ‘Folsom’ was that highly regarded. And if you are looking for some headbands, can’t beat Thin Lizzy

      Liked by 1 person

  4. At Folsom Prison easily takes that top slot, yep. One of the things that makes a great live album is when the setting and audience influence unique performances of the songs.

    Might I throw in Muse’s Live at Rome Olympic Stadium? The crowd sings along. It’s magical.


What would you say?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s