The 50 Greatest Live Albums Ever

10. The Allman Brothers Band – At Fillmore East

By the time At Fillmore East had climbed into the Top 10 in the US, The Allman Brothers Band were being hailed in print as ‘the best rock’n’roll group in America.’ 

Today, it’s the band’s defining moment. With lengthy jams the vehicles for some energetic ensemble playing and inspired soloing, At Fillmore East is also one of rock’s great live albums.

‘Hittin’ the note’. The Allmans’ phrase for what they did on stage was all about interplay, telepathy and a faith in your bandmate to testify with their instrument of choice. Recorded in New York in 1971, it not only captured the best of that musical theology, but also single-handedly pioneered southern rock and defined the art of the jam.

The shows have been reissued in their entirety, but the original double LP stands as the must-have bible for all things Allman, and one of the best live record ever made. Statesboro BluesStormy MondayWhipping Post… Amen, Brothers.

9. AC/DC – If You Want Blood You’ve Got It

If You Want Blood was recorded on 1978’s Powerage tour, much of the final cut coming from a gig in Glasgow, the Young brothers’ birthplace. “That,” said Angus Young, “was the magic show.”

Released on Friday 13th, If You Want Blood would include all the obvious crowd-pleasers like The Jack (its strictly live, ‘dirty’ lyrics included on record for the first time); Whole Lotta Rosie (with a new crowd chant of “Angus! Angus!” over the juddering intro recorded for the first time, thereby embedding it forever into the consciousness of all future generations of AC/DC concert-goers). 

There were also lengthy, barnstorming encores of Let There Be Rock (distinguished by the very real roar of approval from the Glasgow crowd at seeing the band return to the stage wearing Scotland football shirts); and Rocker, cleverly edited down from its usual 12-minutes-plus to a more radio-accommodating three minutes dead. The result was one of the great live albums.

8. Iron Maiden – Live After Death

By the time Iron Maiden’s World Slavery tour reached Long Beach Arena in Los Angeles in the spring of 1985, it had grown from a purposeful attempt to conquer the world into a bona fide victory march. Barely five years had passed since the band were breathing punters’ beer burps at the Ruskin Arms in London, but both the band’s confidence and the scale and ambition of their live shows had grown exponentially.

Live After Death is very much the snapshot of a young band at their peak, but it was also a cocksure riposte to the Deep Purple, UFO and Judas Priest live albums that had provided Maiden with a blueprint to emulate and then surpass. And With the advent of CDs just around the corner, Live After Death – with its gatefold sleeve, complete with highly detailed breakdown of the World Slavery Tour’s tech specs and logistics – was the last great live album of the vinyl era

7. Slade – Slade Alive!

Exploding into an introspective era of drab, post-Woodstock Beatles mourning, Slade Alive! (with its roar-along r’n’b and on-mike Black Country belching) kick-started the 1970s. A terrace chanting, scarves-on-wrists, lad’s rock exemplar that set the stage for The Faces, Mott The Hoople and, ultimately, Oasis, it served to depoliticise a rock scene that had forgotten how to have fun.

Slade may not have been cool, but they were an exciting live band who’d built their reputation on the power of their live shows. Manager Chas Chandler decided that the best way to end a career-long album chart drought was by capturing their intrinsic appeal on a warts ’n’ all live LP. And it worked. Recorded at a cost of £600, Slade Alive! not only broke the band in the UK, it went on to be the biggest selling album in Australia since Sgt. Pepper. Hence AC/DC.

6. Status Quo – Quo Live!

“Unlike every other live album from those days, there are absolutely no overdubs on that album, no going back and fixing the bum notes, nothing other than what we actually put out there on stage at the time,” Status Quo's Francis Rossi says. “We wanted to prove we weren’t like the others, we weren’t cheating. But every time I listen to it now, all I can hear are the mistakes. I sit here cringing, thinking: ‘I wish we’d put fucking overdubs on.’”

But it's that lack of overdubs – a complete lack of any dressing-up whatsoever – that gave Status Quo their unique appeal, and what gave Live! head-shaking brilliance. The fact that it was rough as a badger’s arse mattered not then, and matters even less so now.

That crowd you hear going ballistic – the Glasgow Apollo, famously the most ballistic audience in the British Isles – isn’t the product of some producer’s bag of tricks. Nor are those squawking, squealing, wheeling-dealing guitars and swing-hammer drums. That is the authentic sound of the original Quo, and you’re invited to accept no substitute.

5. Rush – Exit… Stage Left

On Exit… Stage Left, Rush are at their peak, combining prog rock odysseys with More modern classics such as The Spirit Of Radio and Tom Sawyer, and that combination certainly made its mark.

"I discovered Rush around 1981 or so, when Moving Pictures came out," says drummer extraordinaire Mike Portnoy. "As much as I love Moving Pictures and Permanent Waves and Hemispheres, to me, Exit…Stage Left was the go-to album, because it had all the best songs from those albums. 

"It had Jacob’s Ladder, Xanadu, YYZ. So to me, Exit…Stage Left was the go-to album to have a crash course in Neil Peart. I remember just learning every one of those songs - inside and out - and pretty much redefining my drumming at that stage of my life. 

"Neil turned my world upside down - in terms of what you can do with a drum kit. As well as progressive type writing - in terms of longer songs and odd time signatures. That was the album that really shaped my style."

4. UFO – Strangers In The Night

Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris knows a thing or two about live albums. Maiden have made eleven of them – including the legendary Live After Death from 1985. And Harris has no doubt about what is the greatest live album ever made. “UFO are one of my favourite bands,” he says. “And Strangers In The Night is my favourite live album. Some albums get boring, but I’m still listening to Strangers.”

In fact, Maiden have for many years used a track from this album, Doctor Doctor, as the intro at their own shows. Released in 1979, Strangers In The Night was the final act of UFO’s golden years. Just before the album was released, guitarist Michael Schenker quit the band. But his performances were stunning. 

Everyone in the band was at the top of their game. And across this double album are so many great tracks: Natural ThingOnly You Can Rock MeLights OutThis Kid’sRock BottomDoctor Doctor and arguably best of all, the Zeppelin-sized epic Love To Love.

3. The Who – Live At Leeds

It’s hard now, to imagination or recreate the impact that The Who’s Live At Leeds had on its release on May 23, 1970. 

The record itself was just six tracks, three of which were covers – Johnny Kidd’s Shakin’ All Over, Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues and Mose Allison’s Young Man Blues – along with Substitute, My Generation and Magic Bus

It wasn’t short – My Generation was 16-minutes long and included snatches of See Me, Feel Me, Listening To You, Underture, Naked Eye and The Seeker, while Magic Bus was a blistering seven-and-a-half minutes – but it was simple, crude, brutally loud for the time and wrapped in a simple brown sleeve. 

But it finds all members of the group – fresh from a formative US jaunt – on riveting, almost telepathic form, and Roger Daltrey outstripping even his improving performances on Tommy, let alone on the earlier albums.

“I was a big Who fan," says Rush's Geddy Lee. "I still am. Like a lot of people, it started with My Generation for me. I used to go up to Sam The Record Man in town to get my music. That’s where I got Live At Leeds one Saturday morning. And the bass in My Generation, I mean, John Entwistle, my god, he was such an absolute influence on me and his playing on Leeds is unsurpassable."

2. Thin Lizzy – Live And Dangerous

Although producer Tony Visconti later claimed that 75 per cent of Live And Dangerous was recreated after the fact in the studio, as someone who was at one of the shows I can assure you that the album is an accurate representation of the classic Lynott-Robbo-Gorham-Downey line-up at the peak of their powers.

It does what all truly great live albums do: delivers even better performances of stone-cold studio classics. Best of all, it conveys the sense – palpable at the shows – of what those guys were really like to be in the same room with. There must have been 50 people hanging out on either side of the stage, everyone from George Best to various Page 3 girls, TV celebs, groupies and drug dealers, all spilling on to the stage at various moments. You can’t see it on the record, but you can hear the fun, feel the crackle. 

A double album, it includes a bunch of the best rock songs ever written: not the band’s first hit single Whiskey In The Jar, but so many others: Jailbreak, Emerald, Don’t Believe A Word, Dancing In The Moonlight (It’s Caught Me In Its Spotlight), Rosalie, Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed, The Rocker, and of course Cowboy Song and The Boys Are Back In Town

It also has one of the great rock ballads, Still In Love With You, on which Gorham and Robertson’s playing will break your heart. And it has the kind of between-song banter that only a man as charming as Phil could have gotten away with. “Is there anybody here with any Irish in them? Is there any of the girls that want a little more Irish in them?”

1. Deep Purple – Made In Japan

Japanese culture had barely touched Britain in the early 70s. The idea of a rock band playing gigs there was truly exotic. Made In Japan was a trailblazing release spawned in a far-away land; it had a mysterious, otherworldly cachet that other live albums, recorded in much more mundane locations, couldn’t match. It also helped that it was a double album, with a delicious, golden gatefold sleeve.

Deep Purple were at their peak, having released the career-defining Machine Head just months before. On Made In Japan they straddled a fine line between intense and indulgent, the four sides of vinyl giving them room to stretch – and we mean stretch. Incredibly there were only seven tracks; Highway Star, which opened side one, was the only one to clock in at under seven minutes. 

Side Four comprised a monstrous, 20-minute version of Space Truckin’The Mule, meanwhile, contained a six-minute Ian Paice drum solo. It might sound preposterous now, but back in the day we could only shake out heads disbelievingly at the sheer, unbridled brilliance of it all. 

“Of its ilk it’s still probably the best live rock’n’roll album ever made," says Paice. "And that’s putting everything Led Zeppelin have done, anything Black Sabbath may have done, Bad Company, Free… As a tour de force of innovation and living on the edge and great playing with a fantastic sound, nothing comes close."

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