I thought it would be interesting to produce a post that summarises what I recommend as the best ONE live album per group or artist.
This is going to be controversial in places and will involve some hard choices. Other times, the answer is pretty obvious because a group has released an absolute classic that stands head and shoulders above anything else they’ve done.
Sometimes I’ve gone with my personal opinion when I have strong views on the merits of albums, other times, I’ve bowed to the wisdom shown in my readers polls.
In nearly all occasions, the band or artist will have more than one live album to consider but occasionally, there is just one that I think is much to important to ignore. For example, if I take two personal favourites of mine The Cate Brothers Live isn’t included but Wings Over America will be. I’ll do my best to explain why.
I’ve numbered the albums so that I can keep changing the title of the article but the albums are listed in alphabetical order of the artist or band. To save confusion over whether Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band should be under S for Springsteen or B for Bruce, I’ve opted to go with the first name featured, unless it is The… so The Who are under W.
I don’t think it’s spoiling the surprise if I say that many of the choices come from the 1970s, the decade where live albums became an essential part of the catalogue.
The Best Live Albums By X Groups And Artists
ABBA – Live At Wembley Arena In 1986 a single LP album was released called Abba Live that mainly featured songs from a November 1979 concert In London. In 2014, the full performance by ABBA was released as a 2 CD set. As you’d expect this is packed with well known hits with a few lesser known album tracks interspersed. It’s a fine album from the world’s second best pop group.
AC/DC – If You Want Blood You’ve Got It
A fine example of the “first is best rule”, this captures the Bon Scott version of AC/DC in rip-roaring form in Glasgow on 30 April 1978. This is my choice and the clear winner of the best AC/DC live album poll.
Aerosmith – A Little South of Sanity
This album from the second part of the band’s career is my preference but Live Bootleg is leading the best Aerosmith live album poll. I’ve always found the production/recording of Live Bootleg from 1978 to be muddy and I don’t feel it captures the peak band from the Toys In the Attic/Rocks era. A Little South of Sanity has a clear sound from the 1990s features the more commercial songs from the 1980s.
Alice Cooper – Raise The Dead: Live From Wacken
I’ve selected this one because it’s at the top of the best Alice Cooper live album chart, just ahead of A Fistful of Alice. This is an artist/band who missed the opportunity of releasing a career defining live album in the 1970s.
Barclay James Harvest – Live Tapes
Even though the band themselves admitted they were seen as the poor man’s Moody Blues, they created quality music on the threshold of art rock and prog rock. My preference is for Live Tapes from 1976/77 rather than the best BJH live album poll leader, Live from 1974.
Be Bop Deluxe – At the BBC 1974-1978
Many BBD fans will be annoyed I haven’t chosen Live In The Air Age from 1977 but I’ve gone with the BBC recording which features 3 In Concert recordings. This band could and should have been huge. I Saw BBD on the Modern Music tour which is the source for Live In The Air Age but for some reason Bill Nelson chose to ignore that album when making the song selection so it’s not a proper souvenir of my experience. It’s no surprise that the poll to find the best BBD live album doesn’t agree with me. I’d also like to recommend the 2011 recording Live In Concert At Metropolis Studio released by Bill Nelson with sax and flute added to the mix. It’s terrific.
The Beach Boys – In Concert
Bring together performances from 1972/73, this album presents the Beach Boys in power pop mood. Brian Wilson isn’t on it but don’t let that put you off. Few people have voted in the poll to find the best Beach Boys live album.
Black Sabbath – Live Evil
This album tops the best Black Sabbath live album poll by a large margin. This is another band that missed the 1970s boom in live recordings and this 1982 version has Ronnie James Dio rather than Ozzy Osbourne handling the vocals. You may view this as outrageous but Dio was a much better singer. The band sound different but are just as heavy.
Led Zeppelin – How The West Was Won
Personally I prefer the BBC concert recording from 1971 that previews songs from Led Zep 4 but this album from the Houses of The Holy tour in 1972 is romping away with the vote in the best Led Zeppelin live album poll. I dislike the overblown Dazed & Confused (guitar whipping) and Moby Dick (drum solo) so much that I don’t have them loaded on my mp3 player.
The Who Live At Leeds
Often referred to as one of the greatest live albums ever recorded, what started as a six track official bootleg has gone through a series of changes over the years. The latest version has given us the talking in between the songs. I love getting the full concert experience with the Tommy songs inserted in the proper place but I have great affection for the first 38 minute version. With the Isle of Wight and Hull concerts from 1970, the 1967 Monterey performance, the 1968 Fillmore East and Woodstock from 1969 available, we have a lot of early performances by The Who. What we’re short of is performances after Who’s Next from the Moon era. I also love the 1999 album Blues To The Bush with Ringo’s son Zak Starkey on drums. This is the dominant album in the best live album by The Who poll with the Isle of Wight album currently in second place.
Another video from Pete Pardo of the Sea Of Tranquility website, this time looking at Paul McCartney and Wings and his ten favourite songs.
This band has a terrific live album in Wings Over America as it chronicled the tour to promote Wings At The Speed Of Sound in 1976.
My Ten Favourite Wings Songs
These aren’t in order of preference but the order they appear on Wings Over America. Unlike Pete, I don’t seem to want to rank these great songs.
Venus & Mars/Rock Show
Maybe I’m Amazed
Live And Let Die
Magneto And Titanium Man
Silly Love Songs
Beware My Love
Band on the Run
I you haven’t heard the album and you like classic rock, I urge you to give it a listen. Unlike Pete, I haven’t made a distinction between Paul McCartney’s solo albums after The Beatles split and the Wings albums so I am including Maybe I’m Amazed
Pete Pardo Top Ten Songs By Paul McCartney and Wings
I’ve been sharing videos by Pete Pardo from the Sea of Tranquility website. Here is what he has to say about The Rolling Stones.
Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out is often considered to be one of the very best blues rock live albums. Even better as far as I’m concerned is The Brussels Affair. The Stones really should have released this majestic slice of Mick Taylor inspired rock back in the early 1970s.
I’ve been featuring the videos from Pete Pardo from the Sea of Tranquility website and here are his thoughts about Bachman Turner Overdive.
BTO never released a classic live album in the 1970s, which I think is a shame. They are an under-rated band, especially in the UK where the success of their single You Ain’t Seen Nuthin’ Yet overshadows everything else they’ve done.
I will point to the 2012 Bachman & Turner live album, Live At The Roseland Ballroom which is excellent in terms of songs selected, performance and sound quality.
More videos from Pete Parlo from the Sea of Tranquility website, this time his love of Deep Purple is carried over into Whitesnake.
I’ve blown hot and cold on Whitesnake ever since they were formed. I like Deep Purple Mark 3 and 4 a lot but by the time Coverdale formed his new band in 1978, bluesy hard rock was unfashionable and, whilst they had a few catchy hits over the years, the did go very “hair metal” at one stage.
Pete is much more of a fan and I’ve since learnt that his favourite song ever is by Whitesnake. Continue reading →
Pete Pardo (from the Sea of Tranquility website) loves Deep Purple. They are his all-time favourite band and the Mark 2 version of the band are responsible for possibly the greatest hard rock live album ever recorded in Made in Japan.
If you ever think that live albums have not-so-good versions of the studio songs, think again. There is no comparison between the four songs on this album from Machine Head to how they sounded live in the era of Mark 2 Deep Purple. Better? “Not ‘arf!”
Don’t think all you need to hear from Deep Purple happened between 1970 and 1973 either. Deep Purple marks 3 and 4 also had plenty to offer fans of hard rock and the revival band is also highly skilled, even if they don’t have the same flair to go away from the studio albums.