The 20 Greatest Live Albums of All Time
Since the conception of the digital age, live album recordings seem to have taken a stone cold battering. Gone are the days of that earthy, organic quadrophonic surround sound that all but transported the listener straight through the speaker portal and to the concert itself.
So, here is as a smug and righteous analogue enema from us old dinosaurs to you digital types, Auto-Tune whores, Pitch Correction nerds and Garage Band groupies. Smack bang into the face of tinny, compressed and over-produced music, here is 20 of the greatest live albums ever to be put on record. Old school.
20. Television 'The Blow Up' (1978)
In October 2013, three days before my wedding which was to occur on the glorified olive plantation that is Italy's soccer ball, Sicily, one of my all time favourite bands Television arrived in my home town, somewhere they had never played before, after having recently reformed. This was a red-letter moment for me, and those that know me well wouldn't find it hard to believe that I had an extremely difficult decision to make; marry the love of my life, or ditch the wedding to see one of the greatest bands of all time. Television were coming to Melbourne, and two days prior, I was heading to fucking Italy. In the end, I chose marriage. I suppose it was the right decision; who the fuck knows in this crazy world we live in? Oh, by the way, listen to 'The Blow Up'. It's brilliant!
Jeff's okay I guess. As long as people stop playing 'Hallelujah' at their weddings or funerals or bah mitzvahs, then he's tolerable. When the man drowned in 1997, greedy types managed to sink their dirty little claws into his back catalogue and current studio recordings, affecting some sort of posthumously prolific, mainstream, musician ghost that would periodically rattle its chains in department store CD sections with another supposedly new release. Luckily, before he bit the big one, young Jeff performed regularly at a funky little dive called the Sin-E. Recorded over a series of evenings in the famous New York coffee house, Buckley, free of managerial restriction, really turns it on, showing us not only his unique blend of folk and rock, but also his well-schooled operatic presence, ridiculous humour, blues chops, snotty punk ethic, and even a rousing rendition of Jewish celebration song, 'Hava Nagila'.
If it weren't for Henry, I have no idea how I would have made it through my teenage years. His anthems of angry adolescence, bad acne, being too short, flunking out of school, and striking out with girls, all made for a very apt soundtrack to many a teenage boy's sprouting years, including my own. And with my obsession for air guitar and prancing around my room as if it were the main stage at CBGB's, this album slipped in seamlessly with all the other crap I had going on at the time. And it still does. Tracks like 'Hard' 'Tearing' and the ode to the awkward anti-social 'Out There' bite the listener in the ass, quite roughly I must admit, and tear all that has been cruel to you from sphincter to colon. Put it on, puff your chest out, hold onto your cock, and rock the fuck out.
This isn't up for debate. Kink's frontman Ray Davies is the greatest singer-songwriter to have ever trundled the face of the Earth. Shoosh! Don't even think about arguing. From 1964's proto-rock anthem 'You Really Got Me' to his mid-sixties invention of the concept rock album, to his decades of intellectual whimsy and oddball quips about contemporary British society, Davies has clearly shown that he transcends all; beat-pop, rock, folk, heavy psych... everything. On 'One For the Road', he's at it again, showcasing his and his band's extraordinary talents, all while purposefully challenging the audience with a set of numbers that often resembles a B-sides and rarities list rather than a parade of greatest hits. Dig on this. Seriously.
Merely gliding by Harlem's Apollo Theatre is enough to evoke a music lover's raw emotion to a surface world that the folk of the now gentrified neighbourhood do not seem to understand. But to actually walk into the theatre itself... whoa! The ethereal feeling is not only otherworldly, but it's downright fucking orgasmic. To be touched by the ghosts of Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson and James Brown actually tingles the genital region quite nicely. And it was here, in this theatre, that one of the greatest live performances to ever take the stage occurred. Luckily for us, the entire show was recorded in wonderful eight track analogue, and over 50 years later, we can still dig the rabid heat and sexuality that is more often preached than sung. This is the concert that made James Brown; a performer, hitmaker, ladies man, soul icon, and perpetual drunk driver with a loaded gun. God bless that man.
Ahh, the Japanese. How can one race of people be so polite to the point of utter sickly sweetness, yet so batshit crazy? Game shows where the male contestant is jerked off while trying to sing, a train system where a novelty sized shoehorn is used to pry commuters into an art installation portraying crowd suffocation, and the music... what about the fucking music?! To describe the craziest of the most nutso of Japanese music is easy; simply begin, and end, with the Boredoms. Seriously. Singer Yamantaka Eye's exhausting vocal style makes staccato seem altogether seamless and smooth, and more calls the violent spirits of Samurai ghosts of the Yakuza than serenades. 'Wow 2' is Boredoms at its purest; live, without audience, in a venue with locked doors, and improvising up a shit storm of O-Ren Ishii proportions. In a nutshell, this album is sheer fucking lunacy.
If you've never been to space, then you are really missing out. I've been, in fact, I live there, and cosmic-jazz inter-galacto extraordinaire Sun Ra has clearly been too. Just look at his musical collective's name; The Astro Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra. Take that Buzz Lightyear, ya pussy! Can I still say that? In fact, Sun Ra's entire life was a tribute to the universal beyond, and it shows here in this superb live recording from Egypt's pyramids, which, as we all know, was built by aliens. Pulley systems... pffft! By the way, don't let the term jazz fool you; 'In Egypt' is an incredible record and is thee almighty one that upped the ante for the fledgeling space rock scene that was beginning to kick along in the U.K. Bands like Hawkwind, Gong, and even Pink Floyd, owe a hell of a lot to the wild imagination of one Herman Poole Blount a.k.a. Sun Ra. Shit, no wonder he changed his name.
When I was in prison, the closest us inmates got to a country music legend performing for us was when old Butch McGee smashed his guitar over Switchblade Reynolds' head. Ahh, good times. Good times. Over at Folsom Prison though, well those lucky motherfuckers got to see the man in black perform for them! For free! How's that for an incentive? Slit the throat of old man McGraw down the road and git yerself a free ticket to a Johnny Cash concert! What next? Fuck a sheep on the steps of the Whitehouse and win front row seats to a Donald/Ivanka orgy! Anyway, America's skewed form of ethics aside, 'At Folsom Prison' will go down in history as one of the most bizarre concert performances ever, with an entire prison population getting quite juiced up for violence at Johnny's lyrics of killing women, beating up on guards, and snorting coke. Think N.W.A. playing California State Penitentiary, and you got your vibe.
In a normal list of top live albums, this is usually where Led Zeppelin's Live at Knebworth or some faff by Genesis would fall in. But not here. We're not the NME, nor are we apologists for crotch stuffing and drummers embarking on a really bad solo singing career. The band I'm about to crap on about are The Low Road's spirit animal. If you've never heard of Venom P. Stinger, don't be alarmed, they're more obscure than Donald Trump at an over two-inches long penis party. Dominating Melbourne's dinge bar scene from the mid-80s to the early 90s, Venom P. incorporated an indescribable blend of punk, jazz, scuzz rock, toddler tantrums, wheelchair epidemics, and some blues. But boy could they play. With jazz drummer Jim White leading the charge, the band could obliterate an audience in seconds, leaving them running home in a state of paranoia and crying into a security blanket. This is the closest most will ever get to a Venom P. Stinger live show. And that's bad. This was recorded in a radio station in L.A. and epitomises everything the band's ferocious live ethic stood for. And that's good. Now bugger off and get your Venom on.
It's a little known fact that Neil Young is actually a very talented storm bringer. It's true. At a Crazy Horse concert west of Melbourne a few years ago, the weather was freezing cold, but very still. Then, no sooner does Uncle Neil lick the opening bars to 'Like A Hurricane', all hell breaks loose. Rain, hail, armageddon, stiff winds... the works. And on Live Rust, this majestic, epic journey of an album, he can be heard admonishing the rain, and even beckoning his audience to yell to the skies and order "no more rain!" And it works! The rain stops! I shit you not. That is some powerful stuff from ol' Neil, but who's surprised really? The man's much closer to God than you or I will ever be. Live Rust is a ridiculously good album, predating that horrible time in our lives we call grunge by at least a decade. This is the real grunge; Neil and his band blister their way through some electrifying renditions of past favourites, showing up us Gen X'ers for, and to quote my Great Uncle while he shook his liver-spotted fist, "the pantywaists that you kids really are." Three words; Cortez the Killer. Start there.
I despised the Bill Withers song 'Lean on Me' as a teenager. You can't drink to it, you can't jack off to it, skate, fight, or pick your arse to it... as a 15 year old, the song's fucking useless. But now, at 42... well, actually, I still hate it. Luckily though, Bill Withers is a damn genius and on his monolithic Live at Carnegie Hall LP, he ensures that there is something for all of us to enjoy. The album's opener 'Use Me' really makes you want to use something alright. Inevitably, it's always that perfectly circumferenced hole in the back fence. But that's neither here nor there, and where 'Use Me' ends, 'Friend of Mine' and the honey-dripping 'Ain't No Sunshine' take over. What an education in socio-economics and street life it must have been for the predominantly white crowd, who can be heard on the record screaming save us Richard Nixon! Not really, I made that up. May I suggest that you stick with this album to the bitter end though, where Bill brings fire to the stage with his 13 minute closer 'Harlem/Cold Baloney'. That, right there, even in 1973, speaks volumes of America being one of the most lop-sided and unjust societies on the planet.
"Are their any paranoids in the audience tonight? Pathetic." This line spat by a disillusioned Roger Waters towards his audience pretty much sums up the tone of this dystopic but altogether brilliant album. At the time of this concert at London's Earl Court, Waters had plummeted to an all time low in his relationship with his fans (hence The Wall), and it's pretty bloody obvious too. You can almost feel the spit gobbing you between the eyes as the tense stand off between Roger and audience palpitate to near sonic heart attack proportions. The lyrical trade off between the oh so very English David Gilmour, and the snarky cynicism that Rog dishes out, is a wonderful contrast of love and hate, whimsy and hate, nurture and hate, and umm... hate. Is There Anybody Out There? is a nauseating emotional rollercoaster of a listen, the peak being Gilmour's ability to make grown men cry with lead break #2 on 'Comfortably Numb', and then, once you're on your knees and blubbering, scaring the living shit out of you with his introduction to 'Run Like Hell'. Whoever said Floyd were boring have obviously never listened to this desolate masterpiece.
In the 70s, necrophiliac father of the century Bill Cosby was the king of comedy. Genius he was; no swearing, no filth, just good, clean, honest fun with a hilarious premise and a moralistic plot. Ironic really. But out west in sunny Los Angeles, a new contender was rising; not Steve Martin, not Richard Pryor nor George Carlin, but one very skinny, interesting looking individual going by the name of Mr. Tom Waits. Tom had recorded several albums throughout the 70s, all of which were great, but none of which clearly portrayed the man's warped and twisted humour. The Tom Waits we all know and love now, would never have existed if it weren't for this album, Nighthawks at the Diner, a live recording that saw the dive bar crooner sending his intimate audience into fits of hysterical laughter with his screwball observations and hilarious old man story-telling. There's some songs on there too, not Tom's best tunes, but the blend of song and comedy makes sure that this is one damn entertaining live album worthy of position number eight.
When I was a young child, about 7, my wonderful and hard-working mother moved her and myself in with one of the greatest men in human history, who would also go on to hold the unenviable position of being my step-father. To back up that bold statement, let me provide you with one of about 3.47 million reasons why that man was, and still is, such an awesome dude; to put it simply, he owned a copy of Thin Lizzy's Live and Dangerous. When I first laid eyes on that cover, even as a 7 year old, that was it for me; I wanted to be a rock star. I still want to. A leather clad Phil Lynott jerking off his bass guitar while displaying ample crotch in the traditional hard rock straddle position was too much for such a small and innocent child. I needed to become him. But becoming Phil Lynott proved to be quite difficult. The dude is just way too cool. Right from the time the needle hits the vinyl, Live and Dangerous begins its tutorial; cock grabbin', groupie sharin', line snortin' R 'n' R, with balls out riffs and tough guy imagery that just makes you want to dangle your sack in a pile of uncooked meat. Or is that just me?
Speaking of dangling your balls in raw meat, here's Iggy Pop. That crazy bastard is kind of like Neil Young in that I have witnessed him controlling the weather. Again, I'm being serious. And once upon a time, Iggy hugged me! But he hugs everyone, so to be honest, I feel like a bit of a cheap hugslut. Shit he's an incredible live performer though, and that fact shines through here on Metallic K.O. as Iggy, James Williamson and demoted brothers Ron & Scott Asheton pile on a set of strutting rock 'n' roll's finest. From the opening power chords of 'Raw Power' through to the final thrash out of rock staple 'Louie, Louie' (a song about the female menstrual cycle apparently- the more you know), the album sweats, drinks and pukes like you would expect any Stooges concert to do. It's fast, it's loud, and it's raw, and although the sound quality is not too fantastic, the gritty atmosphere and smoky vibe that pours through the speakers more than authenticate this as a concert to never forget. By the way, this was the Stooges final show for more than 30 years, so if nothing else, grab yerself a slice of dang history!
Back to Harlem, and what do you get if you cross a justifiably angry black man with a predominantly black panther crowd in a heated and cramped venue on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X Boulevard? I don't know. But this album's pretty cool, and is the breakout release for remarkable jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron. Forget about school, forget about black history month, forget about what you read online, Small Talk at 125th & Lenox is your real history lesson brother. With just Gil, a set of bongos, and the occasional bass guitar taunting an angry and highly responsive crowd, there is absolutely no chance for the listener to not feel the heavy vibe going down. Anger, passion, wit, and raw emotion all play their role here, and if you ever wondered what it must have been like to be a black person during the heated civil rights movement of the 60s and 70s in the U.S of A., then this is your reality check. Whilst there's always a hell of a lot of pleasure derived from listening to live concerts, there often isn't a great deal of tangibility. Here though, at least if you're a honky crackerjack white dude like me, best be prepared to start feeling pretty fucking bad about the disgusting actions of some of your fellow race members.
Listen when: Whilst thoroughly entertaining, this is a serious album. Play this to your children, and your children's children, and explain properly and responsibly why this man was so pissed off in the first place.
Aren't old 1960s folkies a funny bunch? So fickle. So... I don't know... fickle. In early 1965, Bob Dylan was God to pony-tailed communists everywhere for the simple reason that he wrote a damn fine acoustic tune and apparently told it like it really was. Come 1966 though, Bobby committed treason. He became a traitor, a heathen, or as a young fella in the crowd on this infamous recording so clearly yells out, a "Judas!" Why would someone yell such a thing? Because Bob plugged in. All of a sudden, the hero of a downtrodden generation was prancing around on stage in elaborate costumes while singing about girls he hates and giant hats and all sorts of whimsical sixties wonder. And the folkies hated it! But, as the Judas crowd member himself puts it, "I was an idiot." Umm, yessir, you were; this is a cracking concert my friend. Together with his band The Hawks (future The Band), Dylan rollicks through a set of outlandish and absolute spit-fuelled rock that pile-drove a rather large carrot up the respective arses of the attending folk pundits. The growing boos and hisses as the concert progressed, only seemed to feed Dylan's loathing for his fans as he brought home one of the angriest sets to ever be put on record. And no, I don't know what the hell he's singing about either.
The audacity of a band, a bunch of rowdy White Panther ragamuffins (I know, I'm old), to launch a debut album as a live format, is just plain... audacious! This is unheard of! I mean talk about your brass balls! And brass balls and audacity is just what the MC5 possess in spades. The pre-Stooges assault on Detroit culture play a brand of rock that wreaks of sweat, flamboyance, and together with vocalist Rob Tyner's utterly preacher-worthy rhetoric scattered throughout the show, provides a militant call to action for anyone who's listening to simply fuck shit up. The concert was recorded on Devil's Night, the night before halloween, that traditionally would see hoards of revellers literally setting fire to downtown Detroit, and with the repeated balls-blues refrain of "Motor City's Burning!" during the song of the same name, one can't help but wonder if indeed that's what was going on in that exact moment. The now overused term motherfucker in the music world can also be attributed Rob Tyner's controversial introduction to the album's title track, "It's time to Kick Out The Jams motherfuckers!" Up until then, motherfucker only existed on the street, not in record stores. With a superstar line-up of heavy musicians, this album completely knocks you off your feet with its incendiary prose and guitar driven mayhem. Make no mistake though, this is rock and Detroit soul in equal measure. And Rachel from Friends likes them, so, umm... yeah.
The Youth Are Getting Restless was my call to arms to get all political and stuff. As an angry, pissed off teenager who couldn't get laid, this album planted the seed for a life of socialist militance and an general dislike of everything conservative and right wing. Perhaps there would never even be a Low Road if it weren't for this album. Ok, enough gushing. But hear this; if you want to witness one of the most powerful, extraordinary voices in rock and roll, look no further. If you want blistering guitar, and a tinge of metal influence in your punk rock, dig this. If you want crazy bass solos, smatterings of reggae that's actually good, and a drummer that makes Animal from the Muppets look totally pissweak, then this is your album. In the pasty white boy world of punk rock, Bad Brains were a revelation and a kick ass breath of fresh air. All black, all spiritual, all insane, all politically charged, and with lunatic singer H.R.'s raspy scream and random telephone vocal, this incredible electro-shock of a live album is sure to even convert that Ivanka idiot to left-wing radicalism. By the way, we don't want her.
Fuck it. I make no apologies about this. Kiss Alive is without a doubt the greatest live album ever to be put together and sock us around. It has bloody everything! Cock rocking, cock grabbing, cock extending, and of course, quite excellent musicianship. Dig the opening; cue murmuring crowd noise, Ace Frehley opening riff, and... fucking bang! Smoke bombs and explosions all over the stirring intro to sleaze track Deuce. And let's talk about Deuce for a moment; Baby if you're feeling good, baby if you're feeling hot, you know your man is working hard, he's worth a Deuce! Cunnilingus visions and an aching face come to mind when I hear that. I don't know why. But a more fitting, better live album opener I have not yet heard. By the song's end, you just wanna fuck. So, back to that hole in the fence. But that's cool, you'll still be able to hear Kiss plugging along on your stereo because the album is fucking loud! The band are absolutely switched on during this concert, with a frenetic Ace Frehley at his cocksure best, while Gene and Paul trade lyrical and crowd taunting blows through every rock god moment. And drummer Peter Criss? Rarely has he ever sounded so good as he does on this album. I'm just happy he turned up. Must've been sober that night. Look, you can bag out Kiss all you like, and I know, once their merchandise crossed over to those fucking Hello Kitty bags, I kind of chundered in my mouth a little too. But there's no denying, this is one Goliath of a rock album, and if you were going to teach Rock Strut 101 to a class of impressionable youths, this is the album you would model your lesson plan on. And to those who used to draw lightning bolts all over your arms, legs, and dick in permanent marker as a childhood pledge to the Kiss allegiance, back at ya, brother.