The 50 Greatest Live Albums Ever

Keeping the thrill of a live performance when putting it onto tape is a tricky art – here are 50 live albums that have absolutely nailed it.

50 Tom Waits – ‘Glitter And Doom Live’

Why it’s so good:The album has 17 songs, spanning his entire career, pieced together from a whole slew of international live performances, and it’s got enough of his playful commentary that it makes you feel like you’re at one of the shows.

49 My Morning Jacket – ‘Okonokos’


Why it’s so good: A lethargic but epic extended set from the Kentucky space rockers comprises perhaps the best use of the Fillmore’s stage this side of the millenium. Crowd banter is played down over woozy jams to mesmerising effect.

48 Metallica – ‘S&M’

Why it’s so great: It’s a heavy metal band, backed by the San Francisco Symphony – get the title now? And it was the last Metallica release to feature bassist Jason Newsted.

47 Wilco – ‘Kicking Television: Live in Chicago’

Why it’s so good: It’s got music from four different live shows at the Vic Theater. Since the band decided not to release video footage on DVD, if you want to re-live the night (or pretend you were there at all), this is the ticket.

46 The White Stripes – ‘Under Great White Northern Lights’


Why it’s so good: Not only is it their only live album, but it’s also a film, documenting the band’s summer tour across Canada. Its mix of onstage and offstage footage makes us wish even harder the pair were still going.

45 The Cramps – ‘Smell of Female’

Why it’s so good: Their first live album has originals and covers (including ‘Faster Pussycat’ and ‘Psychotic Reaction’). The album artwork’s got a great photo of lead guitarist Poison Ivy posing in front of the world famous venue.

44 Talking Heads – ‘Stop Making Sense’

Why it’s so good: There’s also an accompanying film with the same title. The nine-track album spent a whopping 118 weeks on the Billboard 200 Chart, and a re-mastered, 16-track re-mastered version was released in 1999.

43 Iggy And The Stooges – ‘Metallic K.O.’

Why it’s so good: It contains part of their final live performance (until 2003) and Iggy’s infamously vulgar 45-minute version of ‘Louie, Louie’. Might not be the same as seeing him go mad on stage, but it comes close.

42 Future Of The Left – ‘Last Night I Saved Her from Vampires’

Why it’s so good: In addition to performing songs from their debut album ‘Curses’, they also unveiled four new ones during that tour (‘Drink Nike’, ‘Distant Jabs At A Soul’, ‘V.D.F.A’ and ‘Cloak The Dagger’).

41 Simon And Garfunkel – ‘The Concert In Central Park’

Why it’s so good: Even though it was recorded years after the two had parted ways, it was a beautiful reunion, recorded at a free concert in front of more than 500,000 people. They even sang duet versions of some of Simon’s solo tracks.

40 Muse – ‘Haarp’

Why it’s so good: Because we haven’t had a band this bombastic, this ludicrous and this able to really do justice to a stadium since Keith Emerson took a set of knives and three hundred trucks round the world in 1974.

39 The Mars Volta – ‘Scabdates’

Why it’s so good: It may not be that critically-acclaimed, and it may leave out a load of key tracks, but as the only live document of one of the best live acts of the last decade, it rips most other efforts a new one.

38 Cream – ‘Wheels Of Fire’

Why it’s so good: Any self-respecting live album needs a good solo, and this had not only 15 minutes of guitar noodling (‘Spoonful’) but 15 minutes of drum wankery (‘Toad’) too. The world’s first platinum-selling double album.

37 James Brown – ‘Live At The Apollo’

Why it’s so good: Recorded at his expense and against the label’s wishes, this went on to spend 66 weeks in the charts, thanks to its mix of vintage JB hits and crowd euphoria. It’s thankfully bereft of most of his overplayed hits too.

36 Queen – ‘Live At Wembley Stadium’

Why it’s so great: It’s got the fantastically outrageous Freddie Mercury. It also dispelled rumours of the band breaking up, as he said: “So forget those rumours, we’re gonna stay together until we fucking well die, I’m sure of it.”

35 AC/DC – ‘If You Want Blood’

Why it’s so good: Recorded back when original vocalist Bon Scott was still alive and doing his thing, this is ten tracks of maximum rock and roll turned up to 111. Awesome cover too.

34 Jerry Lee Lewis – ‘Live at the Star Club, Hamburg’

Why it’s so good: Recorded at the famous Hamburg venue (known for earlier, rougher Beatles gigs), it’s pretty much been called one of the greatest live rock albums ever by music journalists worldwide.

33 The Band – ‘The Last Waltz’

Why it’s so good: Following Richard Manuel’s neck injury, The Band decided to call quits on touring. This farewell show featured special guests (including Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, and Neil Young).

32 U2 – ‘Under A Blood Red Sky’

Why it’s so good: Blistering versions of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ’11 O’Clock Tick Tock’ were just the tip of an epic rock iceberg that would see the band go on to play venues of exponentially greater dimensions.

31 George Harrison – ‘The Concert For Bangladesh’

Why it’s so good: One of two benefit concerts Harrison organised with Ravi Shankar for relief of refugees from East Pakistan, the event raised $243,418.51. Performances included Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr.

30 Elvis – ‘Aloha From Hawaii’

Why it’s so good: This gig was broadcast live via satellite, and was the most watched broadcast by an entertainer in TV history, airing in more than 40 countries. At the time, the event was also the priciest entertainment TV special, costing $2.5 million.

29 Bob Dylan & The Band – ‘Before The Flood’

Why it’s so good: This album documents the joint 1974 American tour of Bob Dylan and The Band. Recorded entirely in Los Angeles (except ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’, which was recorded in NYC), the album was certified platinum.

28 Curtis Mayfield – ‘Curtis/Live!’

Why it’s so good: This was Mayfield’s first live album, post-The Impressions. It included hits like ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’, ‘People Get Ready’ and ‘Superfly’.

27 Black Lips – ‘Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo’

Why it’s so good: During the show, singer Cole Alexander declares, “This is going to be the best live record of all time!”. Well, that amount of self-confidence pretty much secured the band’s second live album a spot.

26 Belle & Sebastian – ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister: Live at the Barbican’

Why it’s so good: They shared profit for a good cause. These guys performed their 1996 album in its entirety, and donated all proceeds of this album to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s “Asia Quake Appeal”.

25 Bill Callahan – ‘Rough Travel For A Rare Thing’

Why it’s so good: “We’re gonna get right down to business tonight,” he says, getting right to the music. This one’s got a gorgeous, folksy feel, with three fiddle players joining the singer on stage.

24 ‘Woodstock: Music From The Original Soundtrack And More’

Why it’s so good: Canned Heat, The Who, Crosby Stills and Nash, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Hendrix, Ten Years After – just get it if you haven’t already.

23 The Velvet Underground – ‘Live At Max’s Kansas City’

Why it’s so good: Recorded during their residency, this brilliantly slapdash LP captures the nonchalant, decadent essence of the band, right down to the 90 seconds of soundchecking and the guy asking about drugs between songs.

22 Jeff Buckley- ‘Mystery White Boy’

Why it’s so good: While the posthumous live release can occasionally come across as cynical, this selection of tracks from his seminal ‘Grace’ collected together by his mother demonstrates Buckley at his fragile and powerful best.

21 Pink Floyd – ‘Pulse’

Why it’s so good: Not only did it feature impeccable sound quality, the whole of ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ and a song they hadn’t played live since the 70s (‘Astronomy Domine’), but the cardboard box had a red LED that flashed endless from your CD shelf.

20 The Monterey International Pop Festival

Why it’s so good: A four CD set featuring Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and The Who alongside numerous others, this set is so good it’s almost cheating.

19 Lynyrd Skynyrd – ‘One More From The Road’

Why it’s so good: Neil Young might hate them and they might be less fashionable than bell bottoms, but not many put on shows like Skynyrd. Before half dropped out of the sky, they ripped through ‘Free Bird’ like the world was ending.

18 Iron Maiden – ‘Live After Death’

Why it’s so good: From the spoken word intro from Winston Churchill to the closing drum fills of ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ via endless galloping riffs and roars, this was pure British metal captured at its breathless peak.

17 Kraftwerk – ‘Minimum Maximum’

Why it’s so good: Kraftwerk pull off a seemingly impossible feat: making crushingly unsexy instruments like Sony VAOI laptops with Mobile Intel Pentium processors sound ethereal and captivating. You’re not missing much listening to it as opposed to being there either.

16 Aretha Franklin – ‘Live At Fillmore West’

Why it’s so good: From Hendrix to Neil Young, everyone’s had a go at the Fillmore, but it’s the soul, power and energy searing through this (plus the radical reworkings of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’) that elevate it above most.

15 Bill Withers – ‘Live At Carnegie Hall’

Why it’s so good: Forget the Rumble In The Jungle concert with James Brown a year later, this massively underrated effort showcased the soul legend at his absolute prime.

14 Joni Mitchell – ‘Miles Of Aisles’

Why it’s so good: Capturing the bluster and chaos of a rock band live can be hard, but bottling the fragile essence of a fine singer songwriter can be harder. That’s why this delicate offering is so vital. ‘A Case Of You’ is evidence of pure magic.

13 Deep Purple – ‘Made In Japan’

Why it’s so good: Comprised of the biggest-hitting tracks from arguably their three best studio albums (‘Deep Purple’, ‘In Rock’, ‘Fireball’) this was Deep Purple unleashed – as loud, fast, ludicrous and vital as they got.

12 Led Zeppelin – ‘The Song Remains The Same’

Why it’s so good: ‘Whole Lotta Love’, ‘Stairway To Heaven’, a 12-minute ‘No Quarter’ and a 26-minute ‘Dazed & Confused’ – the (often brilliantly self-indulgent) songs speak for themselves. Four of our greatest musicians at their individual peaks.

11 The Rolling Stones – ‘Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out’

Why it’s so good: That fact that someone’s shouting for ‘Paint It Black’ (not on the album) ahead of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ says it all – by this point the Stones had a catalogue most bands would give a testicle for.

10 Kiss – ‘Alive!’

Why it’s so good: Eddie Kramer (engineer for Hendrix/Woodstock) took Kiss’ bombastic glam punk and turned it up to 12, landing the band a quadruple platinum monster and license to rock and roll all night for the next 26 years (and counting).

9 The Ramones – ‘It’s Alive’

Why it’s so good: During 50 short minutes and 28 tracks, The Ramones threw north London a New Years Eve they’d never forget. Ten rows of chairs were thrown on the stage by the end of one of the most riotous sets of all time.

8 MC5 – ‘Kick Out The Jams’

Why it’s so good: The garage rockers were too visceral, unhinged and political to lay down a polite studio album for a debut so they attempted to get their ethos down on a live disc. The title track alone shoots it into the upper echelons of our list.

7 Jay Z – ‘Unplugged’

Why it’s so good: Jigga’s joined by The Roots for an intimate (by his standard) run through The Hits, from ‘Hard Knock Life’ to ‘Girls Girls Girls’ with the help of a bumptious studio audience. Classic stripped-back hip hop.

6 Thin Lizzy – ‘Live And Dangerous’

Why it’s so good: Two discs, 19 killers and no fillers, sound quality that makes you feel you’re humping the speakers at the front, and plenty of cheesy one-liners from Phil Lynott.

5 Johnny Cash – ‘At Folsom Prison’

Why it’s so good: Quite apart from the unusual venue and evocative crowd noises, Cash’s comeback album (recorded during a morning and an evening session in the clink) wins for the sheer power of its confessional country songs.

4 Radiohead – ‘I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings’

Why it’s so good: Many of the live arrangements stray quite a lot from the original recorded versions, and there’s one track (‘True Love Waits’) which was never before released on a studio album, performed by Thom Yorke on acoustic guitar.

3 The Who – ‘Live At Leeds’

Why it’s so good: Foo Fighters make ‘Young Man Blues’ a feature of their set for a reason. When Roger Daltrey joined them at the NME Awards, we remembered why. The album opens with the track, going from great to better.

2 Neil Young & Crazy Horse – ‘Live Rust’

Why it’s so good: Did you see Neil Young at Glastonbury in 2009? If so, you’ll know why. Recorded when he was an even more visceral proposition, this captures acoustic Neil (‘My My, Hey Hey’) as well as electric Neil (‘Hey Hey, My My’).

1 Nirvana – ‘Unplugged In New York’

Why it’s so good: Nirvana’s first posthumous release not only showcased some of the band’s finest moments (‘Come As You Are’ in particular), but some choice cuts from the likes of David Bowie and Leadbelly. Still as raw as the day it was made.

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