Top 10 Live Albums


Photo Courtesy of the Daily Mail.

  1. Live at Leeds by The Who: This is a document that The Who were a force to be reckoned with. From John Entwistle’s brilliant “Heaven and Hell” to the 15-minute version of “My Generation,” this was the work of a timeless group. Daltrey’s shredding vocals were just the surface, on top of Townshend’s rapid-fire rhythm and fervent solos, Moon’s bullet-like drums, and Entwistle’s melodic bass. At the height of their career, Leeds is a glimpse into The Who’s blood and glory.
  2. Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out by The Rolling Stones: When faced with the daunting task of filling the recently deceased Brian Jones’ shoes, Mick Taylor brought the band into, arguably, their best phase. With a sound of professionalism—for The Stones anyway—Taylor and Richards dueled, while Jagger dripped out “Midnight Rambler” and “Love in Vain,” and howled out “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Street Fighting Man.” Charlie Watts, truly the greatest rock drummer, of course held it all together, while Bill Wyman gave it all a clean bass groove. It’s hard to argue these guys weren’t the Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in the World with a performance like this.
  3. It’s Too Late to Stop Now by Van Morrison: While Van the Man has a reputation for inconsistent shows, you would never know it with this set. His soulful voice surges with his lyrics of love and longing, while an array of saxophones, trumpets and strings provide a lush background. Belting out classics like “Into the Mystic,” “Domino,” and “St. Dominic’s Preview,” this was the proof Morrison didn’t need a studio to shake the world.
  4. Live at the Apollo by James Brown: James Brown’s performances are legendary and this album is why they aren’t a myth. Shredding out soul classics, you don’t have to see it to know he’s giving every ounce of energy he has. You can hear it as he gives that last ounce, and when he is out of it, so is the audience.
  5. Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal by Lou Reed: Lou Reed came out of his proto-punk cult band in search of a new identity. He discovered it with Transformer, obscured it with Berlin and cemented it with Animal. Reed was now a bonafide glam star. Recreating Velvet songs “Sweet Jane” and “Heroin,” Reed stepped to the side, just using his voice. Future Alice Cooper guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner provided the new Reed with clean, harmonizing licks. Lou Reed achieved rock stardom—and he lost it on his own terms.
  6. Live at the Royal Albert Hall 1966 by Bob Dylan: This is a document of one of the most notorious times in rock history. The collapse of Zimmerman at his peak. On what was a bootleg for years, Dylan does an acoustic set, songs to appease his old fans, despite his new trippy, mercurial lyrics. Then the second set comes. Bob Dylan, in an avalanche of boos, amphetamines and insomnia, lets out a glorious mess with the help of the Band. Sloppy and lackadaisical cuts of his most beloved song [and still wonderful], his folk fans are disgusted with him. It all comes to a climactic “Like a Rolling Stone,” in which one yells “Judas!” and another declares he will never buy another Dylan album again. Bob responds with “I don’t believe you! You’re a LIAR!,” before turning to the Band, and yelling away from the mic, “Play f*cking loud!” The boos start to drown out the guitars. This is one not, much for the powerful set, but for the moment in which a legend loses his footing.
  7. At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers: Widely seen as the group’s best album, At Fillmore East is a loose set of blues tracks that show off the band’s biggest strength: playing off each other. The highlight comes with the last track, Gregg’s “Whipping Post,” a twenty-minute jam of boogie-woogie delights.
  8. Rock of Ages by The Band: A New Year’s Eve show that overshadows The Last Waltz—or at least it should. Even though The Band’s legendary Last Waltz made for a miraculous film, Rock of Ages is the best showcase of the group’s skills. They are one of the tightest rock ‘n’ roll bands ever. This one was clouded by too many guests and cinematic ambition. They burned through their classics, like “King Harvest” and “The Weight,” but never let too loose. This was no jam band, and aside from Garth Hudson’s organ tricks before “Chest Fever,” they played whatever notes they felt were essential and then moved on.
  9. At Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash: Johnny Cash didn’t just play his hits at Folsom. He came up with a set for the men behind bars. Songs like Shel Silverstein’s “25 Minutes to Go” and Harlan Howard’s “The Wall” are an expression of empathy. Cash didn’t look down upon the inmates. Over the eighteen tracks, Cash shows off his famous sense of humor—beginning the show by slamming Columbia’s censors—and keeps the music rolling, with most tracks no more than three minutes. It’s his most well-known album and that’s not a bad legacy to have.
  10. The Night Watch by King Crimson: Whether it was the hits or just improvised little bits, King Crimson proved that, despite their constant lineup changes, they would still put on a great show. The prog-rock masters put on a show in Amsterdam at one of the highest points of their career: their debut was still fresh on their minds and their beloved albums Larks’ Tongues in Aspic and Red were the new releases. So they played the hits from all of those albums and showed that they could make beautiful music on the spot. The highlight is the improv tune “Trio,” a meditative introduction to side two. This is a band that has been forgotten a bit over time, and with albums like this, they’re begging to be rediscovered.

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