Greatest Live Albums Of All-Time

#music #top20 #lists #livemusic #beachboys #pearljam #badreligion #bryanadams #jimihendrix #marilynmanson #thedoors #freeband #kissband #wutangclan #chriscornell #franksinatra #ledzeppelin #allmanbrothersband #aliceinchains #neildiamond #allthemwitches #prince #newpowergeneration #peterframpton #charleycrockett

Charley Crockett's new album Live From the Ryman has been on repeat the past couple of days for me. I absolutely love it. Which got me thinking about whether or not I should, or even could, compile a TOP something-or-other list of the greatest live albums of all-time.

Driving home from my Dad's this past Sunday, I thought I would only be able to put together maybe 10 albums at most, and I thought there wouldn't be any that I would need to cut, but as I started digging through favorite artists of mine and whether or not they've released any live albums... I realized there are quite a few live albums worthy of being on a Greatest of All-Time list, and I don't think I've ever done a list like this before. Earlier incarnations of my website I used to do fantasy super groups of musicians, or playlists like I was doing with the last incarnation of the website. I might do more of those types of posts, but TOP (insert number here) lists are going to be a new thing going forward.

You may notice the numbers floating on top of the album covers, well, I'm using Topsters to generate the image, but I've also spent the past 3 or so days noodling around in JavaScript to come up with some reusable code that will slap numbers on top of a Topsters generated image, and since I've gone to the trouble of coding it, I may as well use it a few more times. Maybe I can refine it and add some more functionality to it down the road, will probably even do a separate post talking about the code (though, pushing it to github would probably be better). In any case...

On to the music!

The Methodology

Why live? There's something about performing for a crowd that is different from the album experience. But... what makes a good live album? Well I tried to stay within these confines, there are some exceptions to these rules though:

Already, if you're looking at the list, you know that there are tons of albums on this list that break at least one or two of these criteria... When selecting an album, if it had two of the five, then I considered it. Other albums may break two, three or all five of the criteria, but it has the same spirit as the others. Party! and How the West Was Won are the biggest elephants. More on that later though.

Anyway, this is from first to last, and in that order. I hate most “Top-Whatever” lists in that they always go from least important to No. 1... Try to keep the number one entry from you as a secret. I'm starting right from the best so you wonder why the last entry is last. I think that's a better framework.

The List

1. The Beach BoysParty! This is sort of the antithesis of live albums. This was absolutely an album engineered from start to finish in the studio. But, Brian Wilson was a musical genius, so he gets to break all the rules. The reason that this stands above the rest—even though it breaks all the rules—is exactly because it understands the energy that people love about live albums, and is arguably the reason so many live and unplugged albums found audiences. 2. Pearl JamLive at Benaroya Hall A benefit show, this is a stripped-down and mostly acoustic performance that consists of a lot of songs from the period of their career after the band secluded themselves from the mainstream media. I had fallen in love with the Touring Band 2000 music DVD that they had put out, which was just a compilation of the best versions of each song on the set lists from that tour. Because of that, the DVD is a solid representation of what their live shows are like. Benaroya Hall is the complete opposite of all heavy rock and chaos of a stadium performance, and it's an incredible side of the band that I never thought would ever be preserved. 3. Bad Religion30 Years Live So, I was actually at one of the shows that was used as the source audio for this compilation of live performances. Which is primarily the reason it's number 3 on this list. Still a really good album though, and I highly recommend it as a solid Greatest Hits type of album even. Each show of that spring tour was a set of 30 songs spanning the entirety of their catalog. Recorded from several shows that took place in the spring of 2010, we went to the show that was on March 27th. 4. Bryan AdamsBare Bones Often overlooked, Bryan Adams was a staple in my house. My father probably liked him more than my mother, but we had a couple of cassettes of his, and they were always in the car. Friday night meant going to Sangertown Square, getting to eat Chinese food with chop sticks, and going to the comic shop and the video game store, but the drive from our house was at least an hour or so. Just good memories. The Bare Bones version of the song “I'm Ready” was the version I gave the DJ to play at our wedding. 5. Jimi HendrixBand of Gypsys Personally this is my favorite Hendrix album, period. The twelve minute and forty second “Machine Gun” is absolutely worth the price of admission alone. Also the first album on this list to be recorded at the Fillmore East. From what I understand, this was a last minute hailmary to fulfill a recording contract obligation. I can't even imagine what would have transpired if they had been able to develop these song ideas more in the studio. 6. Marilyn MansonThe Last Tour on Earth Manson was a bit too scary of a musical act for me when he first came out. I was raised Christian, and that was before I rejected the notion of organized religion. I was only thirteen when this album came out. It wasn't until I heard Mechanical Animals as an album from beginning to end several years later that I gained an appreciation for his music, and could understand what it was that he was doing artistically. Once I understood what he was doing and why he was doing it, I could get enough and ran through his entire catalog of music, and I continue to listen to his new music as it's released. I've never seen Manson live (he's still on my bucket list), but if I could go back in time, this absolutely would have been the tour I would have wanted to see him live at. 7. The DoorsAbsolutely Live Honestly, what is there to say about the Doors... Or, for that matter, Jim Morrison's live performances? When I was younger I used to have a t-shirt with this image on it: I love the scene in Almost Famous where Lester Bangs says;

The Doors? Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon posing as a poet. Give me The Guess Who. They got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic.

8. FreeFree Live! Paul Rodgers is probably best known as the vocalist of the band Bad Company, but before those days he was in a British Blues-Rock band called Free. Obviously there was quite a lot of competition in that space in the 60s and 70s; with bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin, Traffic, and probably thirty or fifty other bands. In my own personal opinion, I think *Free is overlooked, and they're sort of a deep cut band. It's not only Paul Rodger's vocals, but also Andy Fraser's bass that make this a special band from that large group of British bands all performing similar music. 9. KISSAlive! For a lot of music snobs like myself, KISS sort of gets thrown to the wayside because musically they aren't as complex as a lot of other bands. To the contrary though, whatever people may say that they lack in musicianship, they more than make up for in theatrics. Personally, I think they have both. None of the lyrics of any of their songs are going to make you contemplate the nature of the meaning of life and what the fabric of reality is made of, but that's okay, because they're just a FUN and exciting rock band, and this album is amazing for capturing the essence of their live performances without having to rely on the stage antics. 10. Wu-Tang ClanLive at Montreux 2007 Unless I just don't know where to look, live hip-hop albums are rare. I thought about maybe including Jay-Z's MTV Unplugged album, but I don't think it's really the best live experience of his music. The Reasonably Doubt Madison-Square Garden performance does a much better job of that, but it was only released as a video and not as an album. So I'm sort of left with this album. Now, I could have just ignored hip-hop artists all-together, but this album really is a great listen. I think hip-hop and rap acts sometimes have their live performances ignored, but I get it. Rap isn't necessarily the most exciting thing to see live if you're a fan of instrumentation, the Wu-Tang Clan excels by virtue of the sheer number of MCs in the roster. When you have multiple voices jumping in and out, each with their own parts, or harmonizing with the others on the choruses and background vocals, it makes for a good live experience. 11. Chris CornellSongbook One of the most recognizable voices in all of rock music, every band he's been involved with has done big things. He also had a couple of really successful solo albums. But this album is just him with an acoustic guitar, going through the hits and the favorites. Cornell probably doesn't get enough credit as a songwriter, and this album really shows off what he had accomplished over the years. 12. Frank SinatraSinatra at the Sands The subtext of the album title says a lot for people who are familiar with respected musicians. Sinatra at the Sands with Count Bassie and the Orchestra Arranged and Conducted by Quincy Jones. If you ever wondered what Vegas was like when the mob ran it, just spark up a doobie and put this album on at a respectable volume in a dark room, close your eyes and let your mind wander. Surely nostalgia for old Vegas is a bit like all nostalgia, looking back in time with rose-tinted glasses. But there's nothing wrong with modern conceptualizations, that's how our own personal Americana mythology grows and influences future generations. 13. Led ZeppelinHow The West Was Won Released in 2004, this album is comprised of a couple of performances edited together, and I don't think the audio was taken directly from the soundboard. But, it is a much better package than The Song Remains the Same, IMHO. I'm probably one of the few people who thinks the MSG Led Zep performance isn't all that great when compared to other live performances whose recordings have survived throughout the years. 14. The Allman Brothers BandLive at the Fillmore East While the venue only existed for under a decade, it played host to some of the most iconic rock acts of its day, and this might be one of the most notable live recordings to have been formally published as an album from that time (other than the aforementioned Band of Gypsys). The Allmans were a band where the albums and radio cuts didn't do them any justice, in much the same way that any serious Deadhead doesn't even bother to listen to any other than live recordings. The version of “Whipping Post” that ends this album takes up the entire D side of the second LP. 15. Alice in ChainsUnplugged There have been a whole host of MTV Unplugged performances. Apparently they're still doing them... I haven't watched regular cable television in probably 15 years, but that's a story for another time. This one makes the list because it has some haunting performances on it, and apparently Jerry Cantrell played the set after having gone through food poisoning. That's insane. Anyone who has had food poisoning knows that once the shitting and vomiting stops, the last thing you want to do is anything but sleep. 16. Neil DiamondHot August Night I'm a big Neil Diamond fan. I had always known his more popular tunes, but when Saving Silverman made it cool to like Neil Diamond, I was all-in. This particular album is unique not only because of where it was recorded, but also because the live versions of these songs have slightly different arrangements and Neil isn't bashful about vocally performing the songs differently as well. I grew up hearing mostly the UB40 version of “Red Red Wine,” but I still remember the moment I found out it was actually a Neil Diamond song, I realized that I had been incorrectly categorizing his music as Top40/Pop, and really stated to dig into all of his music. 17. All Them WitchesLive in Brussels I knew there had to be at least one contemporary stoner rock/doom metal band with a live album that would grace this list. The Sword does have Greetings From...(Live) and King Buffalo has a three song live EP, but unfortunately neither of those albums really compares with this album. It's a long set too, 90 minutes isn't for the faint of heart. Even top acts in their prime will often cut their sets to a tight 60 minutes. Even TOOL (my favorite band of all-time), usually only does a 90 minute set, and they are known for having a large catalog of songs that approach or exceed 10 minutes, routinely. ATW isn't exactly progressive in the same way as TOOL, and they aren't a jam band like the Dead or Phish, and they're from Nashville, but they aren't country. ATW is its own unique brand and experience unlike anything else I've really listened to. This album is why they're on my concert bucket list. 18. PrinceOne Night Alone... The Aftershow: It Ain't Over! (Up Late with Prince & The NPG) [Live] This one is the winner for the longest title (though, it isn't quite as long of a title as that one Fiona Apple record). No, seriously though, Prince has a couple of live albums. I went with this one because I don't feel like Prince gets his due when it comes to greatest guitarists of all-time. Just listen to the first track, “Joy in Repetition”. That's it, the rest of the album is amazing, but you'll understand why he's one of the greatest guitarists of all-time. He lets the song breathe too, so there are times that he's not even touching his guitar, and other moments when you almost can't even hear the rest of the band because his guitar is screaming so hard. Overall, this has a decidedly more jazzy feel than a lot of his other more popular music. 19. Peter FramptonFrampton Comes Alive! Easily the single reason why most bands have a record published which is a live album. The story goes that so many copies of Frampton Comes Alive! were sold that the record company couldn't press enough records, and they started filling record sleeves with coupons for other records in the hopes that no one would notice. I also think this album is one the rare times that a live album has had some of the songs released as singles, single which also peaked on charts in their own right. The only other time I'm aware of that happening is with the Family Values Tour 1999 album and Aaron Lewis' impromptu version of the song he hadn't quite written yet, Outside. Anyway, if you haven't heard this album, or any of the songs on it, I would be shocked. But I'll let you get away with this not knowing this album if you were born after the first decade of the new millennium and your GenX parents couldn't bear the thought of letting you listen to such silly seventies music. 20. Charley CrockettLive From The Ryman That brings us to the reason I started this list. It's last on the list for right now because it's still a fresh listening experience for me. It really is a fantastic live performance though. I honestly believe if it had been recorded in the pre-MP3 days that it would easily have a music video on MTV, and several singles playing on the radio. The much faster rendition of “Paint It Blue” that ends the concert in particular is an instance much like Eric Clapton's “Layla,” where the live version is superior to the original and gives the tune a new lease on life. Not that it wasn't a good song before, but the recorded version just doesn't have the same energy that it does here.