Best Live Albums
Live records seemed to have peaked in the 1970's. Re-worked versions of hits, interesting covers, and onstage banter were generally part of the package. In a world with no internet a live album was an opportunity to get to know your favourite artist, often at the peak of their career. Live albums somehow made you feel closer to musicians you admired.
Some live albums have been famously tweaked in a studio. Some live albums are so good they gave the artist the kickstart their career needed. Some live albums were released due to contractual demands as filler. And some live albums are terrible. But one thing for sure, live albums from rock bands bloomed in the 1970's.
Here in no particular order are a few of my favourites.
Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains The Same (released 1976)
I have a soft spot for this one. It's the first album i ever bought with my own money. This is the soundtrack to the movie of the same name. Unfortunately the original album didn't include many tracks featured in the movie. The band members have stated over the years that this is not Zeppelin at their best. But if this is the band on an average night, it makes you wonder just how good Led Zep might have been on a great night.
Recorded over 3 nights at Madison Square Garden during the summer of 1973 and finally released in 1976, the performance of these songs is truly inspired. The Song Remains The Same demonstrates everything Led Zeppelin could be. The band is grandiose, over the top and bombastic. They showboat and they borrow bits and pieces from classic songs. Robert Plant wails like a he's in heat. They perform extended – and occasionally truly beautiful musical interludes. Listening to the almost 30 minute Dazed and Confused isn't easy, but such was Zeppelin's penchant for excess. This is worth a listen, critics be dammed - if only for the guitar solo in Stairway to Heaven.
KISS – Alive!
Alive! highlights songs from the first three albums released by KISS. KISS had a live reputation by the time of this album's release, but this did not translate into sales. They were financially on the brink. Alive! changed all that becoming their first top 10 album on the strength of the single Rock and Roll All Nite. This double album includes many early KISS classics like Deuce, Strutter, C'Mon And Love Me and Hotter Than Hell. For many of us, it was the first time we heard KISS. It made KISS superstars.
Like many live albums, it is rumoured that a lot of overdubs were done in a studio. Peter Criss states in his autobiography Makeup To Breakup that the only live recordings on this album are his drums. Still, the band's energy here is contagious and KISS
Alive! is one of the great all time live albums.
CHEAP TRICK – At Buddhokan (released 1978)
Although Cheap Trick had limped along with several albums under their belts at this point, none of them sounded quite as bombastic as this one. Cheap Trick were much bigger in Japan at the time, and At Budokan was originally intended as a Japanese release. But when they import pressing sold 30 000 copies in the USA, their record company wised up and released it internationally. At Budokan is still Cheap Trick's biggest selling album.
The songs here sound much more alive than they do on Cheap Trick's studio albums. With the singles I Want You To Want Me and Ain't That A Shame, along with Surrender, the album sold in the millions. Rarely has pop/rock been captured so well.
DEEP PURPLE – Made In Japan (released 1973)
Like Cheap Trick's At Budokan, Made In Japan was originally intended for Japanese release only, to thank Deep Purple's rabid fans. The band enjoyed widespread popularity in Japan. Deep Purple MkII had released 3 albums at this point from which the setlist for this tour was based on. Live bootleg albums were quite popular at the time, and one called H Bomb from Purple was said to be the most successful. So releasing Made In Japan was released in part to thwart the bootleg market.
Much like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple could go to extremes in concert and push their music to excess. The improvisational skills and musicianship of the band really gelled during this tour from 1972 and Made In Japan has become a landmark in heavy rock and metal. Perhaps most importantly, Deep Purple became a household name in rock due to this album's success. Interestingly, it is believed that there are no studio overdubs on this album.
THIN LIZZY – Live and Dangerous (released 1978)
There has been considerable debate as to whether Live And Dangerous is mostly a live album or a studio album. According to the album's producer Tony Visconti, 75% of the album is studio overdubs, while manager Chris O'DOnnell has stated that 75% is live with just a few overdubs later to clean up the final product. Regardless of who you believe, this album is a testament to the power of Thin Lizzy at their peak, hot on the heels of the success of Bad Reputation. It has become a landmark live album in heavy rock.
This album is notable for being guitarist Brian Robertson's last before leaving the band (he would be replaced by Gary Moore). It was Robertson and Scott Gorham who developed Lizzy's signature twin guitar attack, and they are tight here with the band firing on all cylinders. This album represents Thin Lizzy's classic lineup in its glory years. Whether this album is studio or in concert, it's definitely Live And Dangerous.
Off Rock contributor Mike Lang is a lifelong rock radio broadcaster. He plays his guitar live on occasion. @theemikelang