Your favorite performers. Their best-ever live recordings.
Nothing beats seeing your favorite band perform live. That’s why live albums are almost always disappointing. There are, however, some spectacular exceptions. Over the years, a handful of special albums have captured the aura and energy of groundbreaking bands and musicians at their very best. These are some of our favorites…
James Brown Live at the Apollo
Brown was so sure this would be a hit that he ﬁnanced the recording himself. It is now in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry.
Jerry Lee Lewis Live at the Star Club, Hamburg
The one and only album that captures Jerry Lee’s explosive stage presence.
At Folsom Prison
This breakthrough live album, which revived Cash’s ﬂagging career, combines two shows recorded at Folsom State Prison in California.
Grateful Dead Live/Dead
No record really captures The Dead at their best, but this one—the ﬁrst live album to use 16-track recording—comes the closest.
Rolling Stones Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out
Recorded almost entirely during two shows at the “new” Madison Square Garden and hailed as the best-ever live rock album at the time, it still more than holds its own.
Live at Leeds
The only live album made by the band when its “big four” of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon and John Entwhistle were together.
Aretha Franklin Live at Fillmore West
Not surprisingly, the album shot to #1 on the R&B charts. Is that Billy Preston on the organ? Yes, it is!
The Allman Brothers Band
At Fillmore East
The band’s breakthrough double-LP, which includes seven songs on four sides, was recorded at Bill Graham’s club in New York over the course of three nights.
A classic example of a live album that took a popular band to a whole new level.
and the Wailers
Marley had a two-night gig in London and the crowd was so electric the ﬁrst night that he decided to record the second.
Heyday of the Live Album
Why so many ‘70s discs on the list? When Johnny Cash released his Folsom Prison album, it was an eye-opener for the record industry, which had mostly released unimaginative, low-quality live albums for its top stars as quick-hit moneymakers. Cash proved to his fellow musicians and their labels that a live album could be its own sensational work of art and soon everyone was investing in concert recordings. The technology of the 1970s was crude by modern standards, but there was enough engineering talent to clean up the background noise without losing the crackling energy of performers playing to their Joel Baldwin/Look Magazine adoring fans. By the early 1980s, however, live albums had fallen out of favor. MTV triggered a brief revival with its Unplugged series, but we may never see (or hear) albums like the ones we plucked out of the record store racks all those years ago.
Earth, Wind & Fire Gratitude
A few non-live numbers are included, but here is EWF at the absolute height of its power.
Peter Frampton Frampton Comes Alive!
The album dropped in January, beginning a long and remarkable climb to #1 four months later on the strengths of the singles “Show Me the Way,” “Do You Feel Like We Do” and “Baby, I Love Your Way.”
Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band Live Bullet
A Detroit rock hero live in the Motor City, it features the indelible “Turn the Page.” Seger’s next album was Night Moves.
Paul McCartney & Wings
Wings Over America
Criticized for months of clean-up work in the studio, but what a surprise when the long-awaited double-LP came out as a triple album!
Jazz aﬁcionados are fond of arguing that the ﬁrst truly great live albums were jazz recordings. And you know what? They’re right. Here are ﬁve of the best…
Duke Ellington At Newport
Arguably the ﬁnest live performance ever captured of The Duke.
1961 • Bill Evans
Sunday at the Village Vanguard
A great jazz trio ﬁring on all cylinders.
1962 • John Coltrane
Live! At The Village Vanguard
Complex, textured and sometimes hard to follow, this was undoubtedly Coltrane’s most challenging album.
1995 • Miles Davis
The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel, 1965
Herbie Hancock and Newark’s Wayne Shorter were part of the Davis quintet recorded at this Chicago nightclub.
1997 • Dizzy Gillespie
& Charlie Parker
Diz ‘n Bird at Carnegie Hall
A crisp recording of their famed 1947 concert in New York.
Waiting for Columbus
Live albums are typically gifts to existing fans. This double-disc release created millions of new ones for Little Feat. Ironically, the band broke up a year later.
The Last Waltz
This “farewell” album was recorded on Thanksgiving 1976 and featured a superstar lineup of guest performers, including Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.
Talking Heads Stop Making Sense
The movie is an absolute must-see. The soundtrack album is nearly as good.
Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963
Sam Cooke is captured in front of an African-American audience in Miami in a performance so gritty and powerful that it was feared it might ruin his crossover career at the time, and was shelved until long after his death.
Jimi Plays Monterey
Much like Bruce and The Dead, no album really captures the ”live vibe” of Jimi Hendrix, but the Monterey concert comes tanta-lizingly close. Jimi blows the roof off of “Wild Thing” and then sets his guitar on ﬁre.
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band Live 1975–1985
The ﬁrst album in a decade to debut at #1, Springsteen’s ﬁve-LP/3-CD set was so highly antici- pated that it pre-sold 1.5 million copies. Many record stores sold it right off the delivery truck the morning it arrived.
Eric Clapton Unplugged
At 25 million copies and counting, this is the top-selling live album of all time. Clapton’s heartbreaking “Tears In Heaven” still makes his fans cry.
In New York
Nirvana fans were irked initially when they ﬁgured out that the band wasn’t playing a greatest hits set—and then watched Kurt Cobain & Dave Grohl knock it out of the park.
Frank and Judy
A pair of powerhouse talents at their best…
Judy at Carnegie Hall
The apex of Judy Garland’s 1960s comeback, this double-album was #1 for months and has never once been out of print in six decades.
Sinatra at the Sands
Frank in his natural habitat, Las Vegas, backed by Count Basie with arrangements by Quincy Jones.
Hell Freezes Over
The album takes its name from the answer to when the Eagles would get back together after splitting up in 1980. It instantly soared to the top of the charts and kicked off one of the most successful concert tours in history.
Jay-Z at the height of his powers, backed up by The Roots. Hard to argue that this isn’t the best live rap album ever made.
Live at the Hollywood Bowl
The original album, released in 1977, was pretty good. This is the re-mixed, re-mastered version you can actually hear over the shrieking teeny-boppers, and includes four previously unreleased songs.
Bruce Springsteen The Roxy West Hollywood, CA
Recorded in 1975 as Born to Run was taking the nation by storm, this album features Bruce & Co. at their best in an intimate, non-stadium setting. Released by Springsteen himself.
James Brown • King Records
Jerry Lee Lewis • Phillips Records
Johnny Cash • Columbia Records
Grateful Dead • Warner Bros. Records/Seven Arts
Rolling Stones • Decca/London Recordings
The Who • Decca/MCA Records
Aretha Franklin • Atlantic Records
Allman Brothers • Capricorn Records
Kiss • Casablanca Records
Bob Marley • Island Records
Earth, Wind & Fire • Columbia Records
Peter Frampton • A&M Records
Bob Seger • Capitol Records
Paul McCartney • Capitol Records
Duke Ellington • Capitol Records
Little Feat • Warner Bros. Records
The Band • Warner Bros. Records
Talking Heads • Sire Records
Sam Cooke • RCA Records
Jimi Hendrix • Reprise Records
Bruce Springsteen • Columbia Records
Eric Clapton • Reprise Records/MTV
Nirvana • DGC Records
Judy Garland • Capitol Records
Frank Sinatra • Reprise Records
Eagles • Geffen Records/Eagles Recording Co.
Jay-Z • Def Jam Recordings/Roc-A-Fella Records
Beatles • Universal Music Group/Apple Records