6 of the Best Live Albums Ever
By Ben Schwind
Seeing a band live is one of the best ways to experience their music. Without studio tricks to hide behind, an artist’s real sound and personality move to the forefront. Many songs take on a life of their own and become drastically different than their studio versions. When a live performance is put to a record, it helps transport the listener to that moment, experiencing the music in its realest form. While it’s no substitute for the real thing, these albums are all must-listens for fans of live music.
Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive!
Basically required to complete any vinyl collection, Frampton Comes Alive!
is one of the most popular
live albums of all time. After releasing four studio albums to little acclaim, Peter Frampton found breakout success with his live double LP that featured three Top 40 singles. Frampton Comes Alive!
spent 10 weeks at #1 and became the highest selling album of 1976. As Wayne Campbell said, “Everybody in the world has Frampton Comes Alive
. If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide.” Songs like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Lines on My Face”, and “Penny for Your Thoughts” show Frampton’s range as a guitarist while his use of the talk box on “Show Me the Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do” made him synonymous with the guitar effect.
Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison
“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” 13 years after his hit, “Folsom Prison Blues”, Cash found himself recording a live album in front of Folsom Prison inmates. Unlike a traditional live album, At Folsom Prison
doesn’t have many of Cash’s popular songs, opting to play a set list curated for the incarcerated audience. Novelty songs like “Flushed from the Bathroom of You Heart” along with somber songs about prison life and addiction like “The Wall” and “Dark as the Dungeon” elicit a large range of emotions. Johnny Cash closes the show with a song written by an inmate at Folsom, “Greystone Chapel”. Cash laughing at himself while performing songs and bantering with inmates and guards make this album feel very alive, even 50 years later. The success of At Folsom Prison
would revitalize Cash’s career, earning him his first Top 40 hit in four years (Folsom Prison Blues) and his own TV show from ABC (The Johnny Cash Show) along with helping launch the outlaw country genre.
Allman Brothers Band - At Fillmore East
At Fillmore East
is the Allman Brothers best work and considered by many to be one of the greatest live albums of all time. The four blues standards and three Allman Brothers originals add up to 80 minutes of music that both rock and blues fans can get behind. Duane Allman and Dickey Betts give a masterclass on rock, blues, and country guitar solos throughout At Fillmore East
. Many extended jams like T-Bone Walker’s “Story Monday” or Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me” show just how to make a solo evolve and grow with a song. The finale of At Fillmore East
is a 23 minute version of “Whipping Post” that is a journey all in itself. If you’re not an Allman Brothers fan, this album will make you a believer.
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Live 1975-85
Usually, a live album is a single concert or a collection of concerts around the same time. Live 1975-85
is 40 tracks that highlight a decade of live shows from one of rock & roll’s premier performers. Through the course of the album, you listen to The Boss travel from the Roxy Theatre (500 people) to Giants Stadium (over 70,000 people) on his way to becoming the journeyman musician he is today. This album is littered with incredible performances by The E Street Band – both raucous and emotional. “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”, “Spirit in the Night” and “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” are perfect examples of the energy Springsteen brings to the table every night. For those looking for something really moving, check out “The River” where Springsteen opens the song with a story about receiving his draft notice.
The Band – The Last Waltz
The Band’s final concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco has become a hidden gem among music fans over the years. When originally released, The Last Waltz
peaked at #16 on the Billboard charts and the accompanying film by up-and-coming director, Martin Scorsese, made very little money. Since then, it’s gained a cult following due to the collection of artists that came out to celebrate with The Band. Ronnie Hawkins kicks off the guest appearances with a cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” that’s so energetic it’s impossible to ignore. Later, Neil Young joins The Band for a performance of “Helpless” that’s chill inducing. From Van Morrison to Bob Dylan to Muddy Waters, there’s a little something for everyone in The Last Waltz
. It’s hard to find a final track on a live album that feels as earned as a chorus of musicians that resembles a 1970s version of “We Are the World” singing The Band’s “I Shall Be Released”.
Grateful Dead – Live/Dead
No band is better known for their live work than the Grateful Dead. In 1969, the Dead had already experimented with live recordings on their last two albums but had yet to release a full live album. The band was interested in making something that better represented their music and Warner Bros. was interested in making a cheaper album – their last album, Aoxomoxoa
, had cost $180,000 to make – so the two parties set out to make a live album. The Grateful Dead’s first live album would prove to be one of their most loved amongst fans and is considered the gold standard of jam rock. While, Live/Dead
is actually a combination of three different shows, the tracks are seamlessly mixed together to create one unbelievable concert from the jam band forefathers. If you’re not listening on vinyl, the combination of “Dark Star”, “St. Stephen”, “The Eleven”, and “Turn On Your Love Light” create nearly an hour of uninterrupted music.
So there they are, six of the best live albums ever. While live albums are a special treat, nothing beats seeing a band in person. Check out our list of upcoming shows
for you to experience.
| 6/1/2017 4:00:00 PM
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