Time to salute one of my favorite genres of Rock music, the almighty live concert album. Back in the day, it was always a rite of passage for major bands to release a live record (often a "double-live" album) to mark a certain pinnacle of their career. There are so many good ones in my collection that I found it hard to narrow the list down to 20, so there are some very worthy candidates missing here, like S.R.V’s Live Alive, Journey’s Captured and Foghat Live. Now, Dr. S., before you get all righteous on me, Get Your Ya-Ya's Out didn’t make my list mainly because I don’t actually own it, therefore I can’t really comment on it. From what I hear, though, it’s easily the best live record the Stones ever made…
Fandango!—Z.Z. TOP (1975) Only half of this album is live, while the other half is studio, and both halves were pretty damn good. The live side features the raucous 10-minute "Backdoor Medley" during which Rev. Billy Gibbons delivers a fine sermon, both vocally and on guitar. You also get to hear bassist Dusty Hill scream out "Jailhouse Rock" in honor of his idol, The King. What confounds me to this day is considering how good Z.Z. Top was/is live in concert, why in blue blazes didn’t they ever put out a proper full-length live album during their heyday? Ditto goes for Van Halen, too.
Woodstock Soundtrack (1970) Since there are so many different artists here, by its nature, this three-record set couldn’t help but be inconsistent. There were plenty of highs, though—and not just in the crowd—like Jimi Hendrix’s legendary take on "The Star-Spangled Banner", Sly & The Family Stone’s "Let Me Take You Higher", as well as The Who’s "We’re Not Gonna Take It/See Me Feel Me" and Jefferson Airplane’s "Volunteers", not to mention Joe Cocker's epileptic fit on "With A Little Help From My Friends". Could’ve been even better if the record company had been allowed to include CCR’s appearance, but you can thank their dickhead record label boss for that. They even put out a Woodstock II album later on, but from what I understand, it was for die-hards only who just had to have everything.
The Concert for Bangla-Desh—GEORGE HARRISON (1972) Another star-studded affair that had its highs and lows. On the low side, you had Ravi Shankar’s instrumental section on Side One. While I do respect brother George’s appeal to the assembled crowd at Madison Square Garden to approach the eastern Indian music with an open mind, I can’t help but find it rather irritating in the same way others find polkas or bagpipes to be annoying. As for the highs, you had Harrison himself playing his better tunes like "Here Comes The Sun" (acoustically with the boys from Badfinger), "My Sweet Lord" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (along with Eric Clapton), although he didn’t perform my favorite, "What Is Life?". You also had a five-song set from Bob Dylan that the audience just ate up, and a very entertaining rendition of the Coasters’ "Youngblood" by Leon Russell. You even got to hear Ringo flub the words (twice) to "It Don’t Come Easy"—a song he wrote himself! My other bitch is how George contrived to make this a three-record set (to wit, more expensive) when the material could’ve easily fit onto a conventional two-record set with room to spare. For instance, Side Six contains only two songs, and they clock in at less than seven-and-half minutes! Like Woodstock, Bangla-Desh is a very mixed bag.
Cheap Trick At Budokan (1979)/Budokan II (1993)—CHEAP TRICK Here’s a classic "live" album that would rate a lot higher with me but for some integrity issues. Knowing now what we didn’t know back then about CT’s "live" version of The Beatles’ "Day Tripper" released in 1980, which the band later admitted was totally a studio creation with overdubbed crowd noise, it makes me wonder how much—if any—of Budokan was truly recorded live. CTAB wasn’t a bad album, mind you, but the more I listen to it, the more fake it sounds. To make matters worse, some cuts on the CD version differ in places from those on the original vinyl version, like at the end of "Clock Strikes Ten" when Robin Zander’s voice craps out—it didn’t do that on the original LP—and the trade-off solo break at the end of "Ain’t That A Shame" sounds totally different and downright weird. The bookend 1993 Budokan II CD that featured the rest of the concert (if indeed it really was a concert) actually sounded better without the crowd noise so amped-up that all those shrieking nubile Japanese girls nearly drowned everything else out (like on the first record) and it featured even better songs like "Stiff Competition", "Elo Kiddies" and "Auf Wiedersehen".
20) Frampton Comes Alive!—PETER FRAMPTON (1976) Yes, this thing was a monster in terms of sales and it made Pete the poster child for rapid career rise-and-fall, but content-wise, I’ve always found Comes Alive! rather inconsistent, therefore it doesn’t rate higher on my list. After years in obscurity, Frampton finally got to display what a fine guitarist he is here, if not the greatest songwriter in the world—"Someone drops a cup and I submerge"—what the hell does that mean?!? "Show Me The Way", "Baby, I Love Your Way" and "Do You Feel (Like We Do)" became radio staples, of course, and tracks like "Shine On", "Something’s Happening" and "It’s A Plain Shame" were standouts, but I found the rest of the record to be rather so-so—PF might’ve been better off just releasing a single live album featuring the better cuts instead of a double. I’ve also heard in more than one place that this album might’ve gotten the Budokan treatment too—i.e., totally manufactured in the studio with crowd noise overdubbed—but I’ve never confirmed that claim. Randy, Dr. S.—any takers on that one? I think it's live myself, but there's still that seed of doubt. Sad and strange irony, also, that two of PF’s band members from this record, drummer John Siomos and longtime keyboardist Bob Mayo, died within five weeks of each other in 2004.
19) Return To Paradise—STYX (1998) Styx made a surprising comeback in the late ‘90s, and this double-CD documents their wildly successful 1997 Return To Paradise tour. The inner friction that had already resurfaced within the band was not evident at all here, and this was a far better record than Styx’s first live release, 1984’s Caught In The Act from the dreaded Kilroy Was Here tour. If anything, Styx should’ve done their live record off the original Paradise Theater tour instead, but Return didn’t suck. Highlights included "Rockin’ The Paradise", "Lady" and "Lorelei" among many others. Can’t they all just get along?
18) Hiatt Comes Alive At Budokan (1994)/Live From Austin, TX (2006)—JOHN HIATT I lump these two releases together because they both come from Hiatt’s 1993 tour in support of his finest album ever, Perfectly Good Guitar. John’s band featured guitarist Michael Ward from School of Fish and the rhythm section of bassist Davey Faragher and drummer Michael Urbano from Cracker, and the four of them worked well to give Hiatt a much edgier sound that really appealed to me. Budokan, with its parody title and cover photo, was the "official" release to fulfill Hiatt’s contract at A&M Records, while Austin was lifted straight from Hiatt’s appearance on PBS’s "Austin City Limits" program, and between the two, they do a nice job of covering most of the bases in Big John’s career to that point. The Perfectly Good Guitar album is well-represented on both CDs, and young master Ward just smoked on the title track thereof. True story here: I was listening to the Austin CD on the way from Memphis to Nashville a couple years ago, and when I hit the Buffalo River bridge on I-40, right on cue, the song "Buffalo River Home" started playing. Hiatt lives in Nashville, so I’m sure that’s what he referred to in the song.
17) One More For/From The Road—LYNYRD SKYNYRD (1976) Molly Hatchet guitarist Dave Hlubek once stated that Lynyrd Skynyrd "were white-hot on-stage," and had they finished their ill-fated 1977 U.S. tour, "they would’ve been the Led Zeppelin of America." Hard to argue with that statement, especially considering Skynyrd put out a far better live album in '76 than Zep’s overblown The Song Remains The Same. One band I wish I could’ve seen live in their prime is Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I’m not even sure One More even did the band total justice in displaying how good they truly were live, but it’s close enough. "Gimme Three Steps" was one of the highlights here, and while I normally balk at 14-minute cuts on live albums, I didn’t mind "Free Bird" being stretched out a bit, since it holds one’s interest throughout. It still amazes me that the late Allen Collins played that entire freakin’ guitar solo by himself.
16) Live Bullet—BOB SEGER & THE SILVER BULLET BAND (1976) The Bicentennial was a banner year for double-live albums, what with Frampton’s, Zeppelin’s and Skynyrd’s offerings, as well as the lingering effect of Kiss' Alive! from the previous Fall (keep reading) and here was yet another double-live classic. Seger is another guy I deeply regret not being able to see live in person in concert during his heyday, and I get the impression this album gave a pretty good taste of what an energetic performer he could be. It’s also interesting that the versions "Travelin’ Man/Beautiful Loser", "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" and "Turn The Page" off Bullet are better-remembered than the studio originals. "Katmandu" and "Let It Rock" were good examples of the frenzy Seger and the Silver Bullets could whip a crowd into, to the point where Bob had to plead for the folks down front to step back and give a little space. And let's not forget my all-time Seger fave, "Get Out Of Denver". Much more consistent than Frampton Comes Alive!, Bullet did a fine job of summing up Seger’s career to that point.
15) Made In Japan—DEEP PURPLE (1973) The Book of Rock Lists deemed MIJ to be the "Greatest live Heavy Metal album ever made." Not sure it’s quite that good, but it definitely had its moments, especially the opening track "Highway Star", which blows the studio version away. Between keyboardist Jon Lord and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore trading blistering solos and singer Ian Gillan screaming like a banshee, you won’t find a much better concert-starter than this one to hit the ground running with. Japan also contains the definitive version of "Smoke On The Water" as the album’s centerpiece, and it also blows away its original, as does "Space Truckin’", although I coulda done without the extra 15-minute jam they tacked on to it in favor of some other songs, like say, "Speed King". That’s where I give Made In Japan a few demerits—too much self-indulgence and extended jams. Seems to me like you can fit way more than seven songs into an hour and 15 minutes.
14) Reunion—BLACK SABBATH (1999) What a pleasant surprise this double-CD was! After such a long time apart, it was anyone’s guess how well Ozzy Osbourne and the Sabs (Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward) would co-exist again on tour. Ward, especially, was a big question mark considering he hadn’t played a lengthy tour with Sabbath since the ‘70s because of his on-again/off-again drug problems, but BW was clean, lean and sober and could still pack a wallop on the drums after all. Ozzy couldn’t hit the high notes like he used to (particularly noticeable on "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" and "Spiral Architect"), and he did one too many "let me see your hands" for my liking, but otherwise sounded great. Iommi and Butler were stalwarts, as usual, and it amazes me how much noise just two guys with guitars can make.
13) Anywhere, USA—LITTLE VILLAGE (1992) Okay, this one’s a bootleg, but I’m including it anyway because it’s quite good. Nick Lowe, John Hiatt, Ry Cooder and drummer Jim Keltner formed a poor man’s supergroup of sorts in the early ‘90s and put out one album in 1991. I was already very familiar with the work of Mr. Lowe and I knew of Cooder’s prowess on the guitar, but Little Village introduced me to Hiatt’s humorous songwriting ability on such songs as "She Runs Hot" and "Don’t Think About Her (When You’re Trying To Drive)". Recorded at San Francisco’s now-defunct Warfield Theater on the one and only tour the band did, Anywhere, USA features songs from that album, as well as solo hits from the three mainstays like Nick’s "Half A Boy And Half A Man", John’s "Thing Called Love" and Ry’s version of Elvis’ "Little Sister". For a bootleg, the sound is excellent, apart from Cooder’s vocal mic being a bit lost in the mix. Well worth it, if you can snag a copy somewhere.
12) Tribute—OZZY OSBOURNE/RANDY RHOADS (1987) Ozzy was all set to release this live recording sometime in 1982 to capitalize on the unexpected success of his first two solo albums, Blizzard Of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman. That plan came crashing down (literally) with the untimely death of guitar wonder Randy Rhoads on March 19th of ’82. To his credit, Ozzy refused to release anything else at the time involving Rhoads, not wanting to appear to be cashing in on tragedy, even though he owed CBS Records a live album at the time, which eventually resulted in Speak Of The Devil (see below). Ozzy waited for a more suitable time to unleash this excellent recording—culled from a series of late 1981 concerts—and in a classy move, insisted that the album be co-credited to Rhoads. The Ozz-Man can be a real goof sometimes, but you have to give him credit for his loyalty. What’s scary is I think this was only a taster of what this Rhoads kid could do, as he was riffing from the get-go on "I Don’t Know" and never let up. Randy’s superb live take on "Children Of The Grave" is far better than just about any live Black Sabbath version I’ve ever heard, too. The only true disappointment is one of my favorites, "Over The Mountain", wasn’t included here, but we can’t have everything.
11) Tripping The Live Fantastic (1990)/Paul Is Live (1994)—PAUL McCARTNEY These two are about as close as you’ll get to a live Beatles concert without shrieking girls drowning out the music. Say what you will about Paul’s post-Beatles output—which runs the gamut from outstanding ("Jet", "Junior's Farm", "Hi Hi Hi") to putrid ("Ebony And Ivory", "Say, Say, Say", "No More Lonely Nights")—but the man puts on an excellent concert and these CD releases reflect that. Tripping is worth it for "Hey Jude" alone, as well as "Get Back", "Can’t Buy Me Love" and "Back In The U.S.S.R.". Paul Is Live is the only live concert CD (that I know of, anyway) that was partially recorded at a show I attended, as four songs from Big Macca’s 1993 Arrowhead Stadium show made the cut here, including "Drive My Car" and (naturally) "Kansas City".
10) No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith (1980)/No Sleep At All (1988)/Everything Louder Than Everything Else (1998)—MOTORHEAD Hammersmith features original guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke and drummer "Philthy Animal" Taylor on early Motorhead favorites like "Ace Of Spades", "Bomber" and "The Chase Is Better Than The Catch". They continued the No Sleep series in ’88 on No Sleep At All with guitarists Phil "Zoom" Campbell and Wurzel at a concert recorded in Finland—"It’s too fucking hot in this freezing country!" bassist Lemmy groans. At All covered the middle period of the band with tracks like "Dr. Rock", "Eat The Rich" and "Deaf Forever". Then ten years later, Louder featured the latter-day Motorhead lineup of Cambpell, Lemmy and drummer Mikkey Dee. An excellent career-spanning double-CD, Louder contains dusted-off old favorites like "Dead Men Tell No Tales", as well as more recent Motorhead classics like "I’m So Bad (Baby I Don’t Care)", "On Your Feet Or On Your Knees" and "Overnight Sensation". All three albums are about as testosterony as you can legally get and guaranteed to make your ears bleed and kill your lawn.
9) Oslo-Wichita Live—THE RAINMAKERS (1990) I can’t think of two more disparate places to record a live album in, but Kansas City’s Rainmakers had huge followings in both Norway and Kansas, hence the title. It’s a dirty shame this band didn’t catch on better stateside than they did in Scandinavia—they were an excellent live act, and this CD is a mere taster of what they could do. Singer Bob Walkenhorst belts out his witty lyrics and Steve Phillips shines on the slide guitar on tracks like "Downstream" and "Tornado Of Love". And as was their custom, "Drinkin’ On The Job" was expanded into a medley of sorts, with Bob doing a verse from the Fireballs’ "Bottle of Wine", followed by the entire band launching into Chuck Berry’s "Memphis". According to local legend, the Rainmakers were even known to take on Bob Dylan’s "Subterranean Homesick Blues" a time or two in concert—I’d dearly love to hear a tape of that sometime.
8) Raunch ‘N’ Roll—BLACK OAK ARKANSAS (1973) Jim Dandy and the boys were at the top of their game here, and took the rather unusual route by issuing some new material on their first live album. The best of the new songs was the scorching "Hot Rod"—one of the better double-entendre songs of all-time—and "Gettin’ Kinda Cocky" didn’t suck, either. "Up" was pretty cool too, and a great vehicle for Tommy Aldridge’s peripatetic drum solo. A couple of BOA’s standards sound great here too, namely "When Electricity Came To Arkansas" and "Hot And Nasty". Black Oak’s second concert release, 1975’s Live Mutha!, covered their big hits a little better, but was poorly-recorded and suffers from a really bad sound mix. I understand there is now an expanded double-CD Raunch ‘N’ Roll set recently put out by Rhino Records which includes the complete concerts in Portland and Seattle that the original album was lifted from. Will definitely check that out soon.
7) Live—AC/DC (1992) Not the cleverest title in the world, but content-wise, this one’s outstanding. Go with the deluxe 2-CD set here instead of the single—you get more bang for you buck. For as raw-sounding as AC/DC is, they are surprisingly crisp and clear live in concert. Singer Brian Johnson sounds even better here than he did on AC/DC’s studio records around that time when his high range started to betray him, and he did a fine job re-interpreting the old Bon Scott classics like "Highway To Hell", "Dirty Deeds" and especially "Whole Lotta Rosie" and "Let There Be Rock". The newer stuff like "Thunderstruck", "That’s The Way I Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll", "Fire Your Guns" and "Heatseeker" also really cooked here, along with the classics from Back In Black. AC/DC’s first live release with Scott, 1978’s If You Want Blood…You’ve Got It, wasn’t bad at all, but it seemed almost tame compared with this one.
6) Speak Of The Devil—OZZY OSBOURNE (1982) Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath staged a dueling live albums battle in 1982 and Sabbath lost miserably with the decrepit Live Evil set featuring Ronnie James Dio on vocals. Since Ozzy owed CBS a live album and didn’t want to release any live material featuring the late Randy Rhoads at the time, he (or someone) came up with the brilliant idea of doing a live album comprised of strictly old Black Sabbath material, since they were just as much his songs as they were Sabbath’s. Ozzy’s backing band—drummer Tommy Aldridge, bassist Rudy Sarzo and guitarist Brad Gillis (on loan from Night Ranger) had to cram like college students during finals week to learn most of the old material, and the result was most impressive. Ozzy had to re-learn some of the stuff himself, as it had been ten years or more since he’d sang some of the songs, like "The Wizard". Other highlights included "Never Say Die" from his final album with Sabbath, "Symptom Of The Universe" from Sabotage and a rousing version of "Fairies Wear Boots" from Paranoid.
5) The Kids Are Alright—THE WHO (1979) While not a live album, per se, Kids was the soundtrack to Jeff Stein’s outstanding Rockumentary on The Who, and it features several live cuts from various points in the band’s career. The best of those come from Woodstock ("Pinball Wizard" and "See Me, Feel Me") and Keith Moon’s final performance ever ("Baba O’Riley" and "Won’t Get Fooled Again"), filmed specifically for the movie in May, 1978 at Shepperton Studios. When cranked at full volume, Roger Daltrey’s scream at the end of WGFA can curl the hair on a bald man’s head! In addition, the (literally) explosive "My Generation" sequence from The Who’s 1967 "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" appearance is a total hoot. Also included on the record but not used in the film was an excellent live version of John Entwistle’s "My Wife". I highly recommend Kids (both CD and DVD) for you youngins out there looking for your first taste of one of the greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll bands of all-time.
4) Here And There—ELTON JOHN (1976) The original single-LP Here And There issued in ’76 was merely contractual obligation stuff for EJ, so skip it and check out the deluxe 1995 double-CD re-issue that fleshes out both performances—Royal Festival Hall in London (Here) and Madison Square Garden (There). The expanded Here And There went beyond Elton’s usual concert suspects like "Bennie & The Jets", "Crocodile Rock" and "Rocket Man" to include other hidden gems like "Grey Seal", "Country Comfort" and "Burn Down The Mission". Also included is "Candle In The Wind" the way it SHOULD be played, complete with Davey Johnstone’s beautiful guitar figure, as opposed to the moribund dirge-like 1986 Live In Australia hit single version where Elton’s voice sounded like crap prior to his throat surgery. Those songs alone were worth the price, but this CD set was elevated to "must-have" status by documenting a little Rock ‘N’ Roll history, John Lennon’s surprise on-stage appearance with Elton at MSG on Thanksgiving night of ’74 and the trilogy of songs therein—"Whatever Gets You Through The Night", "Lucy In The Sky" and "I Saw Her Standing There". What a crying shame that no one thought to film or videotape this concert as well (to my knowledge, only still photos exist of it), but of course there was no way of knowing that this would be the last time Lennon would set foot on any concert stage. Thankfully, we at least have the audio of what was a fun and very energetic performance by Elton and Lennon (John & John?). JL introduced "I Saw Her Standing There" as "a number of an old estranged fiance of mine called Paul." Funny he used that word, because John reconciled with his estranged wife Yoko backstage after that concert.
3) Live At Leeds—THE WHO (1970) As in the case with E. John above, skip the original release that only had six tracks on it and go with the expanded 1995 re-issue CD to get a taste of The Who at their absolute leanest and meanest in concert. Recorded on Valentine’s Day, 1970 at Leeds University in merry ol’ England, this concert almost sounds as if it were played outdoors instead of in a small theater. Mistakes abound here and there, but that’s part of the charm of the ‘orrible ‘Oo—even on their worst nights, they could still blow away most ordinary bands (Wishbone Ash, Savoy Brown, Humble Pie, anybody?) on their best nights. This was somewhere between a good and bad night for The Who, and oddly enough, even the expanded re-release doesn’t contain the whole concert, as the entire Tommy section was omitted, apart from "Amazing Journey/Sparks". Pete Townshend seemed in great spirits on that night, and his between-song patter is quote humorous at times ("It was our first #4…", he intro-ed one song) and he was just shredding licks right and left on "Young Man Blues" and "Shakin’ All Over". Undoubtedly, The Who went on to make even greater records (Who’s Next, Quadrophenia, et al), but Leeds was an excellent document of the early period of quite possibly the greatest live Rock band that ever took the stage.
2) Double Live Gonzo!—TED NUGENT (1978) This was Sweaty Teddy’s finest hour (okay, hour and 25 mins.) in my opinion, when he still talked with his guitar instead of out of his ass. DLG featured a decent mix of Ted’s biggies to that point, as well as two great new songs ("Yank Me, Crank Me" and "Gonzo") and some old Amboy Dukes favorites like "Great White Buffalo" and "Baby Please Don’t Go". Ted’s between-song stage raps are classic here, like "This guitar right here is guaranteed to blow the balls off a charging rhino at 60 paces…" and "Anybody wants to get mellow, you can turn around and get the fuck outta here!" The live versions of "Just What The Doctor Ordered", "Stormtroopin’" and "Motor City Madhouse" rendered their originals much like Ted’s charging rhino, too. My only real gripe is that the Free-For-All album wasn’t represented here at all, and I would’ve gladly traded the nearly 15-minute instrumental "Hibernation" to hear live takes on "Free-For-All", "Dog Eat Dog" and "Turn It Up" instead. Even as is, Gonzo! is an outstanding live recording that doesn’t sound too doctored-up, apart from the crowd noise being a little too amped-up in places, but that’s a common malady on most any live album. Ted’s stock has dropped with me precipitously over the years because of his bullshit right-wing political ranting, but none of that diminishes his musical output, and Gonzo! is a killer live album.
1) Alive!—KISS (1975) "You wanted the best…" Alive! was definitely the best $6.38 I ever spent on any record album. I spent pretty much the entire summer of ’76 constantly listening to this tasty slab of hard Rock, and it’s my #2 all-time favorite album, period, behind Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Yes, I know, it’s not all live—many of the guitar parts and vocals were re-dubbed to cover mistakes—but it’s still close enough for me, and Alive! did a far better job of capturing the essence of Kiss than their first three studio records (or any of their subsequent live albums) ever did. From the opening pyro bomb on "Deuce" to the final goodnight scream after "Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll", Alive! took no prisoners and rocked from start to finish, and did a great job of elevating the material from those first three albums, which were so poorly-recorded, especially Kiss and Hotter Than Hell. Even the weaker songs like "Got To Choose" and "Rock Bottom" stand out here. Peter Criss gets a lot of grief for being a subpar drummer, but I disagree, and he was much more animated and adventurous on the drums back then before he de-evolved—at least his drum tracks required the least amount of doctoring on Alive!. This album also saved Neil Bogart’s Casablanca Records from the brink of destruction by going platinum and rescuing the company from bankruptcy caused by one too many lame disco acts and a bomb of an album filled with (mostly unfunny) "Tonight Show" clips.