Despite the fact that there has been boatloads of legendary studio albums in the history of rock 'n' roll, there has always been a fascination with 'the live album'. When you think about it, rock music, regardless of the sub-genre, is something that has always been best appreciated live. Throughout the history of rock, there's always been this primal draw about going to see your favorite band live in concert, to experience the euphoria and get as close as physically possible to the bands performing those classic songs. For those who either want a memento of their 'live experience' or for those who are unable to experience the power of a rock concert in person, the live album becomes a powerful tool for both the artist and the listener.
Throughout history, there have been numerous live albums that are considered to this day mandatory listening. I guess the best way to begin taking a look at the 'live album' is to go back in time to the 1960's, when rock music was starting to become 'the' musical art form.
Though not a 'rock' artist per se, legendary funk machine James Brown might have kick started the whole process with his raucous Live at the Appolo. As the decade wore on and the explosion of the British Invasion and the psychedelic sounds of San Francisco started to really make an Impact, the world saw influential live albums from Van Morrison, the Velvet Underground, Janis Joplin & Big Brother and the Holding Company, Cream, Chicago, and many others, start to be released. It wasn't until very late in the decade and the dawn of the 70's, with landmark releases such as The Rolling Stones Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out, The Allman Brothers Band Live at the Fillmore, The Who's Live at Leeds, Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsies, Humble Pie's Rockin' The Fillmore, Miles Davis' Live Evil, The Band's Rock of Ages, J. Geils Band Blow Your Face Out, and Grand Funk Railroad's Live Album that things really started to pick up. As the 70's continued on, progressive rock, jazz-fusion, and hard rock/heavy metal started to become more and more popular, and after every few studio releases, bands who spent most of their time on the road anyway began to churn out live albums to the delight of fans around the world.
On the prog side, Yessongs from Britain's Yes, as well as Genesis' Live and Seconds Out proved to be big sellers, as was ELP's , Jethro Tull's Bursting Out, the excellent Playing the Fool by Gentle Giant, Live at Carnegie Hall from Renaissance, Nektar's Live at the Roundhouse, Kansas with Two For the Show, as well as stellar live sets from Camel, Van Der Graaf Generator, King Crimson, Focus, Supertramp, The Moody Blues, Barclay James Harvest, and many others. Canadian band Rush, whose early material straddled the line between progressive rock and early heavy metal, released the cult classic All The World's A Stage, a double live album that would prove to be the first of many for the mega act.
Over on the hard rock side, Deep Purple's Made in Japan has consistently been looked at as one of the most important live albums of all time, as the band included all their then mandatory songs and even some lengthy jams. Thin Lizzy's Live and Dangerous and UFO's Strangers In the Night made each band a household name, and let Michael Schenker, Scott Gorham, and Brian Robertson become bona fide guitar heroes. Though Led Zeppelin would hit loftier live album status years later with How the West Was Won , the soundtrack to their live concert film The Song Remains the Same is still an impressive display of heavy rock music in the 70's. Toss in Queen's Live Killers, Aerosmith's Live Bootleg, Free's Live, KiSS Alive and Alive II, Cheap Trick At Budokan, Uriah Heep's Live, and perhaps the biggest selling live album of all time, Peter Frampton's Comes Alive, and you have perhaps the strongest decade for live releases.
Let's not forget some of our other 'guitar heroes', many of whom released very popular albums that sold plenty of copies. Ted Nugent's Double Live Gonzo, Pat Travers' Live-Go For What You Know, Robin Trower's Live, Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group and their Live, Rick Derringer's Live, Johnny Winter's Live and Captured, Rory Gallagher's Irish Tour 74, Santana's Lotus, and Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush's Live album are just a few of the many gems to be released during this period. Fusion stars Frank Zappa, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, and Miles Davis also were very prolific with some powerful statements of their own.
Not wanting to let the Allman Brothers Band take all the credit, Southern rockers such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, The Outlaws, Wet Willie, The Marshall Tucker Band, .38 Special, and Blackfoot all released sizzling live platters at some point during the 70's and 80's, though some astonishing recordings from a few didn't see the light of day till the 2000's.
As the decade came to a close and the 80's were just ready to kick in, many of the hard rock & heavy metal bands began to jump on the live album bandwagon. Towards the end of the decade, the Scorpions' Tokyo Tapes and Judas Priest's Unleashed in the East set the standard for metal live albums to follow. New Wave of British Heavy Metal legends Saxon joined the fray with their The Eagle Has Landed release, and Iron Maiden released in 1985 what could arguably be the quintessential live album in Live After Death. Despite these, the 1980's was not the treasure chest of live releases that the 70's was. Still, other acts such as Motorhead, Marillion, Dio, Black Sabbath, Triumph, and Saga, along with many of the bands already mentioned, continued to sporadically release some killer concert collections.
Which brings us to the 90's and 2000's…can't really say that live albums are a big staple of what the music buying public are into these days, but many bands still regularly release live sets of note. Jam band acts like Phish and The Dave Matthews Band have pleased their fans with some solid releases, and The Allman Brothers Band still churns out live sets every few years, even putting up for sale copies of each performance on each tour on their website. ABB members Warren Haynes & Derek Trucks have joined the act too, as their bands Govt Mule & The Derek Trucks Band have some wonderful live sets available that are well worth checking into. Though the band retired for quite a while after the death of Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead continued to shoot out arhival live albums to their rabid fans.
Releases from modern proggers Spock's Beard, The Flower Kings, Anglagard, Dream Theater, Kamelot, Symphony X, and countless others are available for consumption, showing that despite dwindling CD sales across the board, there is still a desire from the rock fan to hear a good live album that recreates the atmosphere of a live concert.
Strangely enough, some of the biggest bands of our time have never released live albums. The Beatles, Boston, and Def Leppard are three that instantly come to mind, and popular 80's thrash acts like Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus, Anthrax, and Slayer, never really released 'definitive' live sets. The same can be said for the mighty Van Halen and Motley Crue. It seems that the time to strike is early in a bands career, which is when the iron is hot. That's why you see a lot of extreme metal bands jumping on live albums fairly early on; some recent ones that come to mind have been from acts like Vader, Between the Buried and Me, Arch Enemy, Children of Bodom,, and the less extreme but equally as heavy Iced Earth and Evergrey. DVDs also have become the new way to experience a live concert, as anyone can then have a front row seat in the comforts of their own home.
The moral of the story? Well, there's a ton of great live albums out there, many of which give you a perfect snapshot of what these bands sound like on any given night out on the road. Though there's some debate as to how many of these are actual 'live' albums (rumors of plenty of studio overdubs are legendary for some of these), there's no denying the importance of these recordings. Here's a long list of some of my favorites (though I like many more than what's on this list), in no apparent order:
The Allman Brothers Band-Live at the Fillmore
Deep Purple-Made In Japan
The Who-Live at Leeds
The Rolling Stones-Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out
Iced Earth-Alive in Athens
Evergrey-A Night to Remember
Gentle Giant-Playing the Fool
UFO-Strangers in the Night
Thin Lizzy-Alive and Dangerous
Judas Priest-Unleashed in the East
Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush-Live
The Allman Brothers Band-One Way Out
The Derek Trucks Band-Roadsongs
Grand Funk Railroad-Live Album
Marillion-The Thieving Magpie
Barclay James Harvest-Live
Black Sabbath-Live Evil
Lynyrd Skynyrd-One More From the Road
The Kinks-One For the Road
The Outlaws-Bring It Back Alive
Humble Pie-Rockin' the Fillmore
Iron Maiden-Live After Death
Marshall Tucker Band-Way Out West
Johnny Winter And-Live At the Fillmore East
Jimi Hendrix-Band of Gypsies
The Who-Live at Isle of Wight
Jimi Hendrix-At Woodstock
Frank Zappa-Roxy & Elsewhere
Cheap Trick-At Budokan
Pat Travers Band-Live Go For What You Know
Blue Oyster Cult-Extraterrestrial Live
Led Zeppelin-The Song Remains the Same
Kansas-Two for the Show
Alice Cooper-The Alice Cooper Show
Little Feat-Waiting For Columbus