Top 5: Live Albums


For replicating the live musical experience at home, a good hi-fi system is essential. But without the right music to listen to, you’ll be left wanting. 

A good live album will invoke the spirit of the event. A great live album will add even more to the studio music you love. Here are my favourite live albums, and a little bit about why I specifically chose these ones….

The Who – Live At Leeds
As a young lad growing up in Somerset, dreaming of being a rock star, my music teacher said to me “If you want to play the drums, this album will show you how it’s done”. He wasn’t wrong, Keith Moon’s stunning playing is on show in all it’s wonderful character and flair and it showed this twelve year old that not all songs have to be formulaic and 3 – 4 minutes long. As people who were there in the 60’s and 70’s often say, it was a different era to what I was currently growing up in (the 90’s). The creativity of how their performance knits together is something that is seldom seen in live performances of most rock bands and you genuinely feel that this is a once in a lifetime concert.

Bob Marley & The Wailers – Live!
If you had to pick a soundtrack to a barbecue, or a playlist to enjoy a summer’s evening with, you’d be hard pressed to find something as relaxing and full of groove than Bob Marley & The Wailers. Recorded in London, it’s only 8 tracks, so not the longest album, but contains the well-known performance of No Woman, No Cry. The smooth rhythms caress your ears and are perfect nourishment for the soul, such is the underlying positivity that you feel within the performance.

Queen – Live At Wembley
Britain has had its fair share of epic bands over the years; The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd…the list really does go on and on. All of whom have created countless hits and have the live albums to show for it. However, Queen Live At Wembley pips them all to the post for a couple of reasons. One, it shows a band at the absolute peak of their game, having stolen the show with their performance at Live Aid the previous year. Two, it’s the final performance for Freddie Mercury with the band. The album has since gone platinum in the US five times and the UK four times. Unlike some live albums that are short and sweet, this is a double CD live album with 28 songs. Sometimes you get quantity, sometimes you get quality…not often you get both, which is exactly what happens here.

Eric Clapton – Unplugged
It’s quite difficult to write a list of Top Five Live Albums without including an MTV Unplugged album. In fact, this list could very easily have included only albums from MTV Unplugged sessions, such is the quality and atmosphere of them. However, for me Eric Clapton’s performance in 1992 (a year after his 4 year old son’s death) perfectly encapsulates the soul and emotion connected with blues music. It is an excellent example of how, when it comes to playing guitar, feel is so much more important than how many notes you play. The album received huge critical praise at the time and won six Grammy Awards in 1993 (being only one of  six artists to have won Record, Album and Song of the Year, all in one night). It was remastered in 2013 in conjunction of a rerelease of the album and a DVD of the performance. It’s one of my all-time favourite albums and the one I never seem to tire of.

Metallica – S & M
When bands get to a certain level, there’s almost a ceiling that is reached in terms of where they can go from there. Aside from just continuing to release the normal studio albums every few years, there are a few obvious options. Number one is a release that contains B-sides, rarities and demo recordings. Number two is a traditional live album showing off the huge venues that you now play. Number three is you go off to do solo material or side projects until you have fresh vigour to record new material. The left-field option Metallica decided to take was option two but with a twist; A live album that combined the heavy metal they were loved for, augmented by the accompaniment of the San Francisco Symphony with epic results. Their late former bassist Cliff Burton always had a desire to combine two great loves of his and this prompted the band to work with legendary composer Michael Kamen to create S&M. Excellently produced and recorded, it goes to show how massive and dramatic music can be.

Honourable Mentions
We’re lucky to live in an era that means we have a rich history to call upon when it comes to music. Here are some albums that deserve mention, but that didn’t make it into my personal top five…

Buddy Rich Big Band – Big Swing Face (1967)

Deep Purple – Made In Japan (1972)

Bill Withers – Live at Carnegie Hall (1973)

Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains The Same (1976)

Nirvana – Unplugged in New York (1994)

Editors note: I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t also recommend Tom Waits – Big Time (1988), MC5 – Kick Out The Jams (1969) or Lou Reed – Rock n Roll Animal (1974). But therein lies the key; with so many great albums out there, it’s so hard to pick just five!

Author – Steve, Bristol store