Thursday, September 28, 2006

The 11 Best Live Albums

Alright, I'm going to come out and say it...Live albums suck. Every time one of my favorite bands puts out a live album, I get excited with anticiapation. I run out to the store the day it comes out and buy it. Pop it in my CD player ten seconds later and I'm completely disappointed. Why? They are the exact same songs I love when they were recorded in a studio. Well, the more I thought about it...I realized I just answered my own question. They are the exact same songs that are on a recorded CD. They are no different and sometimes maybe just slightly different. What's the fun in that? Obviously, when you go to the show, the live energy is completely different. You sucked into the mood of the show. But on CD, none of that emotion and energy is present. So why listened to that over the recorded versions? Answer: There's no reason. That's why I buy live albums, listen to them once...and never listen to them again.

Now argue with me if you want...but let me ask you two questions.

1. Of all the live albums you own, how many of them do you listen to on a regular basis?
2. And what percentage of music do you listen to is live?

When you think about it, I think you will realize, it's much smaller than you thought. Now I'm not talking about a cool live track of your favorite band covering a Bob Dylan or Christina Aguilera song...I'm talking about full albums.

So what makes a live album...listenable on multiple occassions. Number one, it has to be different recordings then the ones we're used to listening to on CD. Because if they are the same versions...then what's the point? Number two, there has to be audience participation. Because if we can't hear the crowd then it's not a live's just another recorded album. Number three, it has to be groundbreaking. It has to take your music to another level. If not, it's just pandering to the record labels, and the fans will see through it in a heartbeat.

So, here is my list of the 11 Best Live Albums (based on the above credentials - NOT based on performance):

1. The Band - The Last Waltz (4 CD box set) - The perfect concert, guest stars, covers, alternate versions and fan favorites.
2. Nirvana - Unplugged - The band's performance was groundbreaking on many levels and will forever be associated with Kurt's death as his final swan song.
3. Kiss - Alive - Without this album, Kiss would be nothing more than the 70s version of Gwar.
4. Depeche Mode - 101 - Rarely does a live album define a generation. But this album was the album that define the alternative generation of the late 80s. If you didn't own this and had it weren't cool.
5. Jay-Z - Unplugged - Not only groundbreaking, but a reinvention of the rap genre...this album is still to this day, years ahead of it's time.
6. Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense - Tied with the movie, it changed the Talking Heads from an underground success to a mainstream stalwart.
7. Metallica - S&M - Metal fused with a concert hall orchestra. A one of a kind performance.
8. Bob Dylan & The Rolling Thunder Revue - Live 1975 - Bob Dylan performs his acoustic classics with a full frolicking vaudeville band.
9. Pearl Jam - Live in New York, July 8th & 9th, 2003 (5CD) - Pearl Jam's concert for NY, post 9/11 is epic on scale and a zenith for the band.
10. Led Zeppelin - Song Remains the Same - Not just a must for the Zeppelin fan, it's a photgraph of the band at its peak.
11. The Cure - Entreat - A European only album finds the band performing its masterpiece Disintegration in a grandiose fashion. Robert Smith hitting 20-second high howls and the band jamming on 10-minute songs. It doesn't get better than this.


Anonymous said...

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Live Rust,is a live album I listen to regularly (on vinyl) and even more often hear in my head as the rain starts and Neil yells "please get away from the towers".
Also, Simon and Garfunkle in Central park probably had some groundbreaking status -- enough to get on your list. And Springsteen was a totally different beast live -- he must have a live album worth the list, though if I can't think of one, then maybe he doesn't. -- good list, even better introduction.

Anonymous said...

A few big omissions... Cheap Trick's At Budokan (original or the complete edition), The Who: Live at Leeds (also original or complete edition), Zeppelein's newer How The West Was Won, is a major upgrade to the flat Song Remains The Same... only not everyone's heard this gem yet, and arguably, Bruce Springsteen's Live 1975-85 is an essential sampling of The Boss at his best.

robert said...

stand by your van by sublime is an amazing one if you like the band. another really good one is alice in chains unplugged. probably two of my favorite albums of all time, live or not.

Axel said...

the best live album of all time is the band of gypsys with hendrix, billy cox, and buddy miles. the performance of machine gun is one of the most amazing performances on a guitar ever. in my opinion.

Larry Thompson said...

Jackson Brown Running on empty recorded live plus on tour bus and hotel room

Brad Glass said...

Great list. Looks like a new one is starting on the blogs at