There’s several things that constitute a great live album. In no particular order these are: setlist, sound quality, on-stage banter, crowd reaction, and a palpable sense of time and place.
The best live albums comprise most or all of these, and transport you directly to the front of the crowd by the opening few moments. They give you a real sense of being there, from the intros (Johnny Cash’s ‘At Folsom Prison’) to the crowd noises (the screams at James Brown’s Apollo gig) and the songs themselves. They’re moments in time, frozen for ever, enjoyed by a lucky few live but appreciated by millions ever after. When they work best, they make you desperately wish you could time travel to the front barrier and relive every moment.
Thin Lizzy’s ‘Live And Dangerous’ is just such an album. Impeccably captured and packed full of crystal clear drums, bass lines that hump your head throughout and endless jackhammer riffs, it indulges in the perfect amount of freestyle jamming and digressions from the recorded version without descending into a wankathon, while the cheesy one-liners somehow seem to only add to the charm. Witness also the crowd claps three minutes in, the ecstatic roars that don’t let up, and the slick changes between tracks.
Some people have charged Thin Lizzy with fraud, insisting they went back into the studio to add more guitar lines after the event. The band always denied this. Either way, it’s still the best live album we ever heard. The Who, Neil Young, Radiohead, Johnny Cash and Nirvana join them in the top ten.
From Gene Simmons’ “you’ve been a dynamite audience” to Lou Reed’s “good evening, we’re called The Velvet Underground. You’re allowed to dance”, these albums show the bands with their fans, at the top of their game, doing what they do best. They’ll bring back memories, even if you weren’t there.
50 - Tom Waits - 'Glitter And Doom Live'
49 - My Morning Jacket - 'Okonokos'
48 - Metallica - 'S&M'
47 - Wilco - 'Kicking Television: Live in Chicago'
46 - The White Stripes - 'Under Great White Northern Lights'
45 - The Cramps - 'Smell of Female'
44 - Talking Heads - 'Stop Making Sense'
43 - Iggy And The Stooges - 'Metallic K.O.'
42 - Future Of The Left - 'Last Night I Saved Her from Vampires'
41 - Simon And Garfunkel - 'The Concert In Central Park'
40 - Muse - 'Haarp'
39 - The Mars Volta - 'Scabdates'
38 - Cream - 'Wheels Of Fire'
37 - James Brown - 'Live At The Apollo
36 - Queen - 'Live At Wembley Stadium'
35 - AC/DC - 'If You Want Blood'
34 - Jerry Lee Lewis - 'Live at the Star Club, Hamburg'
33 - The Band - 'The Last Waltz'
32 - George Harrison - 'The Concert For Bangladesh'
31 - U2 - 'Under A Blood Red Sky'
30 - Elvis - 'Aloha From Hawaii'
29 - Bob Dylan & The Band - 'Before The Flood'
28 - Curtis Mayfield - 'Curtis/Live!'
27 - Black Lips - 'Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo'
26 - Belle & Sebastian - 'If You're Feeling Sinister: Live at the Barbican'
25 - Bill Callahan - 'Rough Travel For A Rare Thing'
24 - Woodstock: Music From The Original Soundtrack And More
23 - The Velvet Underground - 'Live At Max's Kansas City'
22 - Jeff Buckley- 'Mystery White Boy'
21 - Pink Floyd - 'Pulse'
20 - The Monterey International Pop Festival
19 - Lynyrd Skynyrd - 'One More From The Road'
18 - Iron Maiden - 'Live After Death'
17 - Kraftwerk - 'Minimum Maximum'
16 - Aretha Franklin - 'Live At Fillmore West'
15 - Bill Withers - 'Live At Carnegie Hall'
14 - Joni Mitchell - 'Miles Of Aisles'
13 - Deep Purple - 'Made In Japan'
12 - Led Zeppelin - 'The Song Remains The Same'
11 - The Rolling Stones - 'Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out'
10 - Kiss - 'Alive!'
9 - The Ramones - 'It's Alive'
8 - MC5 - 'Kick Out The Jams'
7 - Jay Z - 'Unplugged'
6 - Nirvana - 'Unplugged In New York'
5 - Johnny Cash - 'At Folsom Prison'
4 - Radiohead - 'I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings'
3 - The Who - 'Live At Leeds'
2 - Neil Young & Crazy Horse - 'Live Rust'
1 - Thin Lizzy - 'Live And Dangerous'
Photo Gallery: NME's top 50 live albums
Photo Gallery: The worst ever onstage banter
NME's top 50 live albums on Spotify
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What are your top live albums?