The 50 Greatest Live Albums Ever

40. Little Feat - Waiting for Columbus

Many hardcore Little Feats would argue that Waiting for Columbus isn't Little Feat's best live album – that honour going to the widely-bootlegged radio broadcast Electrif Lycanthrope – but it's still a stunning collection.

Recorded in London and Washington DC, it showcases the band at their effortlessly slick best, with a sound padded out by the Tower Of Power Horns. It's somehow laid back and filled with energy at the same time, and while the band may have been in decline as far as their recorded work goes – they were two years past their absolute peak when Waiting for Columbus was recorded – the album still outshines their studio work from the same period. 

It's so good that when the band released an expanded edition in 2002, it contained at least three tracks – Skin It Back, One Love Stand, Rock and Roll Doctor and On Your Way Down – that weren't just as good as anything on the original, but were better than most band's best live recordings. Stunning stuff.

39. Kiss – Alive II

Kiss made their big breakthrough with Alive! Two years later came the sequel, and it was another blockbuster. Recorded on the Love Gun tour, Alive II reached No.7 on the US chart, two places higher than Alive! It was also a better representation of the Kiss live experience. 

There are many great moments on Alive II: the pure adrenalin in Love Gun; all the girls in the audience screaming as drummer Peter Criss sings the hit ballad Beth; guitarist Ace Frehley sounding shitfaced on his signature song Shock Me. There is also a killer Ace song, Rocket Ride, among five additional studio tracks that were on side four of the original vinyl version.

The band sounded more powerful on tracks such as I Stole Your LoveShout It Out Loud and Makin’ Love. The audiences were more hysterical. And the original vinyl-issue gatefold cover opened to reveal the full OTT splendour of Kiss on stage.

Slipknot's Mick Taylor agrees: "It’s not necessarily the greatest but the artwork on Alive II with Gene’s sweat running, the blood coming from his face and the make-up running had a profound influence on me. You only have to look at my own band to see how much so."

38. Whitesnake – Live… In The Heart Of The City

Long before David Coverdale set the controls for the heart of America, he created Whitesnake as a blues-based hard rock band in the classic tradition – and this live album was their greatest moment. 

Released in November 1980 as a double-disc set, Live… In The Heart Of The City was in effect two albums in one: the first disc recorded in June 1980; the second cut two years earlier. In both cases, the venue was the same: London’s Hammersmith Odeon. But by 1980, the band had its definitive line-up: Coverdale on vocals, Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody on guitars, Jon Lord on keyboards, Neil Murray on bass and Ian Paice on drums.

It’s what Manic Street Preachers bassist Nicky Wire likes to call “proper Whitesnake”. There is a deeply soulful quality to the band’s version of Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City, the R&B song made famous by Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, its chorus taken up with gusto by the fans – ‘The Whitesnake Choir’, as Coverdale called them. 

Equally, there is pure hard rock power in tracks like Come OnLove Hunter and Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues. And best of all is the hit single Fool For Your Loving, introduced by Cov in immortal faux-Cockney style: “’Ere’s a song for ya!”

37. Ted Nugent - Double Live Gonzo!

“Live is special," Ted Nugent told Classic Rock's Geoff Barton in 1976. "Epic [Nugent's label] wants us to do a live album in fact, but I don’t really think that the time is ripe. I want to approach it special – I think live is special. If we’re going to do a live album, I really want to be live. I want to be able to scream ‘MOTHERFUCKERS!’ on the tape."

Two years later the Nuge was as good as his word, delivering Double Live Gonzo!, and it went triple platinum. While it's difficult to imagine everyone's favourite reactionary killing and grilling guitar hero doing such brisk business today, it's worth taking to a moment to remember that at one time, Nugent was a genuine hot property.

Double Live Gonzo! shows why. Nugent goes crazy, his band toughen out the sound, there’s a sense of self-indulgence that actually works to the album's advantage. There are also truly some stunning moments, including Nugent rapping like a mad-eyed Del Boy, and a rendition of Great White Buffalo that is quite magnificent.

36. Led Zeppelin – How The West Was Won

There can’t be any doubt that Led Zeppelin were the hottest rock group on the planet when they pummelled the Forum in Los Angeles on June 25, 1972 and destroyed Long Beach Arena two days later. 

Jimmy Page considered the band were at the height of their powers at the time, following the monumental 1V. It wasn’t a question of how the West was won – America had already fallen – more why they didn’t prove it at the time by releasing a live album.

That oversight was rectified in 2003 with the release of the three-CD How The West Was Won. Of course it’s familiar. The snatch of LA Drone is followed by the three-minute warning of Robert Plant’s Valhalla screech in Immigrant Song, and Page showing off his full range, from madrigal to power chord crunch, on Heartbreaker. It’s what it is. 

Black Dog’s lascivious blues leer sounds a tad embarrassing at this juncture (it’s noticeable that Plant shows no interest at all in his own ancient history), but we can’t rewrite his past. Better to bask in the breaks as Over The Hills And Far Away transitions from British folk into the furiosity of John Bonham’s impersonation of someone detonating a device inside an iron and steel foundry. 

35. U2 – Under A Blood Red Sky

Pieced together from stop-offs on 1983’s War tour – including their game-changing set at Red Rocks – Under A Blood Red Sky was a shot in the arm for the live album format as its golden age began to dip. Its release felt like a pivotal moment; the live album was still the calling card of the rock behemoths, and not to be meddled with by rag-tag members of the post-punk underclass. 

But U2 had grown up eyeing the bands behind the great ones – Bono has cited the impact of Thin Lizzy’s Live And Dangerous – and here they hijacked the format on such sky-scraping moments as I Will Follow and The Electric Co. (the latter costing them $50,000 after Bono dropped in an unauthorised snippet of Stephen Sondheim’s Send In The Clowns).

It worked, too: Under A Blood Red Sky enjoyed monster sales, woke up America and reignited the live album as a commercial proposition. The future would hold giant lemons, Salman Rushdie cameos and the sheer ubiquity of Bono, but this album is the sound of a flesh-and-blood live band who didn’t need gimmicks to own a stadium. Remember them this way.

34. Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense

More famous for the concert film than for the soundtrack itself, Stop Making Sense finds Talking Heads in 1983 – at the height of their popularity – as they tour Speaking In Tongues. This film is the stuff of legend now, from its artful staging to its constant frenetic energy, intricate dance moves and – of course – that massive suit. 

“We didn’t want the cliches," said Chris Frantz. "We didn’t want close-ups of people’s fingers while they’re doing a guitar solo,” he says. “We wanted the camera to linger, so you could get to know the musicians a little bit.

“The idea was to have the movie presented to the viewer as if the viewer had the best seat in the house – and that doesn’t involve looking at the audience. We thought it would be like seeing the concert the way we in the band would like to see it.”

33. Wings - Wings Over America

“It was a very exciting time and the Wings Over America tour was the culmination of a lot of hard work," Paul McCartney told us. "When I think back to that era it was very happy. We’d come up the hard way. Now, finally we were in the US in 1976 and it was all coming round. We needed to see if we could make it at a bigger level – and America was that bigger level. It was the place to crack.”

That sense of freedom, excitement and discovery is captured perfectly on the triple-vinyl live set that emerged from the tour. The highlight is probably Maybe I’m Amazed, a stately delivery of the standout track from 1970's McCartney debut solo album. Vocally, Macca rings every inch of emotion out of the pleading lyric and Jimmy McCullough wades in with a quite majestic solo.

Strangely, the track listing – heavy on the band's June show at the Forum in Los Angeles – was partly a reaction to the success of an earlier triple-vinyl bootleg release, Wings from the Wings, which provided the focus group to Wings Over America's finished product. 

32. Rainbow – On Stage

In the 70s, the double live album was a defining statement for such giants of rock as Kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Thin Lizzy. Blackmore cut two monolithic live doubles with Deep Purple, and Rainbow’s On Stage he matched them for bravura and excess.

Recorded on the Rising tour, it featured the definitive line-up of Blackmore, Dio, Powell, bassist Jimmy Bain and keyboard player Tony Carey. Across four sides of vinyl were just six tracks, including a marathon version of Purple’s heavy blues Mistreated. And while Dio soared, it was Blackmore’s virtuosity that shone brightest.

31. The Band - The Last Waltz

Recorded on Thanksgiving Day in 1976, The Band’s eloquent command of sources is underlined by the appearance of Muddy Waters for the emphatic Mannish Boy, Mavis and The Staple Singers taking The Weight all the way to the Baptismal font, and their first employer Ronnie Hawkins invoking Bo Diddley voodoo.

This is a heart-lifting celebration of a vanished era, Bob Dylan back with his barnstorming Basement Tapes buddies, Joni Mitchell at her luminous peak, Neil Young and Dr John in Night Tripper mode. The one sore thumb in the whole gathering remains Neil Diamond, included against the better judgement of his colleagues by Robbie Robertson, who had coincidentally produced a recent album.

But one Diamond does not a dog’s dinner make, and The Last Waltz captures an extraordinary musical community at the point of dispersal and preserves it for the ages.

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