Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Who's The Best...Live Album?


Karen: What's your vote for best live album? There are some obvious choices (Live at Leeds by the Who, Frampton Comes Alive by Peter Frampton are two that immediately spring to mind), but let's hear some of your favorites.

Karen: I'll get things going with a few favorites,a couple well known and one rather obscure. Get Yer Ya-Yas Out by the Rolling Stones is a great example of the band as they transitioned from the Brian Jones era into the Mick Taylor era (which I think was their most musically creative period). The band is tight and energized, and the production is clean -although some of this may be attributed to some clean up in the studio later on. But it's an exciting album that might be the Stones' best live album. Some of these versions of songs sound better than the studio versions -Stray Cat Blues and particularly Midnight Rambler stand out here. I heard this version of Midnight Rambler on the greatest hits album Hot Rocks before I heard the studio version (the original studio version came out on Let It Bleed). It's telling that they used the live version on that collection - it's clearly superior, played with much more drive. Charlie Watts is a beast throughout the album (culled from four performances over a three day period in November 1969). 

Karen: Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison is a classic. To me, Cash transcends genres. He's his own type of music. I love listening to his voice here, and it's a kick hearing his interactions with his prison audience and the officials  in 1968. Everything here just screams authenticity, and Cash was certainly seen as an anti-hero type (the Man in Black), playing songs about bad men, regrets, and shots at redemption. I really like Cocaine Blues and I Got Stripes, but I think this is one of those albums where it's best to just listen to the whole thing rather than cherry pick tracks.

Karen: My obscure fave is by proto-punk godfather Iggy Pop. Recorded in 1988, King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents is a tour de force by the Iggster. A combination of old Stooges tunes and Iggy's later solo efforts, it's hard thrashing rock all the way. His backing band isn't particularly noteworthy -they're no Sales Brothers, unfortunately -but they do a good enough job with the material, and Iggy himself provides enough energy to send the set into the stratosphere. There are 17 tracks here and as Iggy says at one point, "we're gonna try to rock it to you straight, no bullsh*t" and they succeed at that. This album is practically worth the price just to hear Iggy's comments between songs. At this point in his career, he was obviously grateful to be performing. He comes off alternately humble ("thanks a f%$* of a lot for being here," "This is all the music I can give,") to crazed, confrontational ("You do it! Go ahead and do it mother f%@#er!"). In other words, prime Iggy. The sound quality is also surprisingly good -unlike some other live Stooges and Iggy albums I've heard. 

Karen: All right, I've blathered long enough. Your turn!

29 comments:

Edo Bosnar said...

Some good picks, there, Karen. I really appreciate the shoutout for Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison.

Here's my picks:
The Talking Heads: "Stop Making Sense" - hands down their best album, and arguably one of the best live albums ever.

The Doors: "Absolutely Live" - worth it just for their cover of "Who Do You Love," with Krieger just shredding it on the guitar, but the whole album is fantastic.

Oddball pick:
Jimmy Buffett: "You Had to Be There" - my older brother had this, and I just loved listening to it with him. Like Karen noted with the Iggy album, Buffett's comments between the songs, plus the hilarious spoken-word bit called "God's Own Drunk" really make this album a winner.

david_b said...

I'll second the Folsom Prison, Edo.

Adding..:

1) 'Beatles at Hollywood Bowl'. Compiled from both '64 and 65 concerts, for decades it's been the best non-bootleg hi-qual recording of the Fabs, when they still cared about how well they played (and the crowd could hear 'em..). Oddly enough, it was not selected for CD release in the '80s.

2) Wings 'Last Flight'. It's near criminal that Macca hasn't released this live show from 1979, what became the last short tour for Wings. Having Lawrence Juber playing 'Wonderful Christmastime' live and his solo on 'Let It Be' alone are worth the price of admission on this studio-quality bootleg McCartney himself did for possible release back in the day.

3) Blues Brothers 'Made In America'. Not an actual 'live album' obviously, it still ranks as one of their best original releases (and last during Belushi's lifetime). Crowd effect dubbed in, it still represents an actual concert by Danny and John at their pinnacle.

Scott Lovrine said...

"At Fillmore East"----The Allman Brothers Band

"Deliverin"----Poco

"Live Johnny Winter And"----Johnny WInter And

Doug said...

Great suggestion of Stop Making Sense, Edo - and one of the best concert films, too. Much if not most of it is available on YouTube.

Interesting, David, that you mentioned "piping in" the crowd noise. When Karen was getting this ready for publication, the first album I thought of was KISS: Alive!. It's been pretty well-documented that Paul Stanley spent quite a bit of time in the studio augmenting that album, to the point of re-doing some of the guitars, ramping up the crowd noise, etc. Still a nice album, though.

I enjoy the live tracks on U2's Rattle and Hum. The gospel version of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is wonderful, and "Bullet the Blue Sky" is really angry.

Doug

Gary said...

ioTwo of my favorites are "Live Bullet" by Bob Seger and "Cheap Trick at Budokan"
upholden italnem

Humanbelly said...

Ahhh, DaveB, you swiped my number 1. . . !

To us Beatles Fans who belatedly latched onto the group in the 70's, that Hollywood Bowl album is a small, personal slice of pop/rock Heaven. Now, it's definitely not a masterpiece of musical precision on the Boys' parts, and it was clearly a tough row to hoe for the production guys trying to reclaim it for album release-- but man, it so aptly and wonderfully captures the Beatles concert experience, warts and all. It's probably the best version of Ringo on BOYS anywhere-- he actually sounds vocally quite strong, whereas John & Paul are clearly dealing with tour-huskiness throughout both concerts. HELP has a classic moment of Lennon singing the wrong lead lyrics to Paul & George's back-ups. SHE'S A WOMAN is one of my favorite tracks-- definitely prefer it over the studio version of the song.
I too am astonished that this has never, ever been released on CD. ESPECIALLY because there's no doubt that 35 years worth of advances in digital sound technology could only make it all the more listenable to (no offense, out there) hi-fidelity snobs.

#2-- so naturally, it's probably gotta be WINGS OVER AMERICA since that was still in my prime album-buyin' phase, and I was pretty much a Beatles-Zuvembie. And that's not a bad set (although stretching it into a double-album by doing basically 4 songs per side was a shameless money grab). However, Denny Laine's songs turned out to be the ones that tended to catch my ear the most. Who knew?

Ultra, ULTRA obscure oddball pick-- and one of my favorite live recordings of all time:
PYRATES ROYALE: LYVE BEHIND BARS--- They're a local Chesapeake Bay area folk/vocal group that ONLY performs pirate/maritime-themed music. . . a huge amount of which is bawdy & raucous, and the other huge amount is fun and engaging, and the remainder is musically poignant and breathtaking. They've been around for, oh, 25 years or so, and have a SPINAL TAP-esque propensity for going through fiddle-players. This particular album (their first) was recorded in a pub/tavern in Wheaton, Maryland. . . and you can pretty much hear the alcohol flowing. . . !

HB

Matt Celis said...

Beach Boys in Concert...redeems the boys in so many ways. What a great live act they were in the early '70s even while producing a string of not-great LPs. Many songs soun so much better on the live album than they did on the studio releases. I can't detect and studio fixes...if there were any, they must be very subtle.

J.A. Morris said...

I'll go with 'Kick Out The Jams' by the MC5. Not only is the performance filled with energy, but it was their debut album as well. It holds up pretty well, despite some of the "hippie" slang in between songs.

The Sly and Family Stone:The Woodstock Experience is great. Of course some of the songs were released on the Woodstock soundtrack, but the whole performance wasn't released until 2009. I listen to it during every long road trip.

As for "unofficial" releases, Springsteen 'Prodigal Son Live at Winterland' (from the 1978 Darkness tour) is better than any of his official live albums. I've gotten to where I generally prefer his live recordings to his studio albums.

david_b said...

HB, actually the 'Across America' album is a glorious triple-album, but I'd agree that I would have shortened it to a 2-album set.

I'm assuming Macca wanted to exploit the aura of having a live extravaganza of 3 disks to equal George's 'All Things' and Bangladesh albums, plus address his contractual obligations to Capitol Records.., freeing him up for new negotiations.

Fred W. Hill said...

I used to have Wings Over America on vinyl -- it was damaged by termites (they ate the sleeve, leaving residue that stuck to the vinyl) while in storage while I was stationed in Greece during my Navy years. Eventually I'll replace it with the cd version, but, yeah, that was a great live collection with both Macca Beatles and post-Beatles hits as well as some great more obscure songs. Another fave of which I do have the CD re-release is the Who's Live at Leeds. To be honest, I'm not that much into live albums, but I do love this one, not just for the great renditions of favorite songs, but also for Townshend's jokes and comments made during the concert. Also, I love many of the live tracks included on The Kids Are Alright soundtrack, which includes Keith Moon's last performance in concert. BTW, I was somewhat into the Who before I saw that film, in 1979, but afterwards I became a Who fanatic. They didn't quite displace the Beatles as my favorite all-time band but they did take over from the Stones as my 2nd favorite.

Anonymous said...

This is just tooooo weird. I had some time this weekend and I edited and moved some of my live recordings to playlists on my iPod!!! Little scary. A few that I've listened to the past few nights have been Queen Live at Hyde Park 1976. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Live at the Hammersmith Odeon 1979. Tangerine Dream Live In Paris 1981. Fleetwood Mac Live at the Capitol Centre 1975. Pink Floyd Live at the BBC 1970.

The ones that I keep going back to are Tom's, Tangerine Dream, Cheap Trick at Budokan and the second part of Zep's BBC recordings which I think is the show at the Paris Theatre.

And thanks to Karen's Iggy post, his TV Eye Live. A scary good time.

There are a few live albums that one song makes the album a must have, IMO. "Sloooooooow Ride", "Boom boom! What is it? Out go the lights", "Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the band, pretty eye, pirate smile, you'll marry a music man".

Ah Jan, we hardly knew ya......

The Prowler (pulling into Nazareth, and feeling half past dead, looking for someplace where he can lay his weary head).

PS Remember, it's better to burn out than fade away, my my, hey hey....

david_b said...

'Live Bullet' by Bob Seger anyone..? Awesome album.

Doug said...

You and Gary both like it!

Matt Celis said...

My favorite perfrmance on Wings Over America is "Time to Hide." Have to give Paul credit for sharing the spotlight with his bandmates when he could easily have just done only his own tunes.

And you can't cut it down to a double LP: it's supposed to be a representative souvenir of Wings in concert. Paul puts on a long show! At least he did the two times I saw him. Value for money.

Matt Celis said...

Can't believe I forgot: Beatles at the Star Club in Hamburg. Too awesome. "Talkin' 'Bout You" alone is worth the price of the bootleg. Dirty rock makes the Stones sound like the cast of Oliver!

mr. oyola said...

Stop Making Sense is the best concert film EVER, but the album version cuts a lot of it (though later they did release a fuller version that I unfortunately still do not own).

Prince's "Sign o' the Times" film has some great performances, too - but the album is not a live one. . .

Yeah for me - live albums I like are Grateful Dead ones - like Europe 72 is fantastic and one of my all time favorites.

Live at Leeds of course - I love The Who.

I also love Ben Folds LIVE - which is just the man and his piano - but fantastic.

Do MTV unplugged albums count? Because then I'd include Nirvana Unplugged.

david_b said...

'Concert for Bangladesh' was certainly pretty cool, especially for spot on performances of 'Here Comes the Sun' and 'Something'.

Leon Russell's rendition of 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' with 'Youngblood' certainly elevated it to primo saloon-stompin' heights. I believe a great quality of a well-written sone is when someone else covers it at times better than the original recordings. The Stones never did it as well as ol' Leon on piano.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnXtBEsRu88

Also the live version of the 'Bangladesh' title track nullifies the studio version (unfortunately released as a single).

Very exciting intro and live track. Apparently Leon gave George the suggestion to open the song with those lines.

Anonymous said...

I always liked Priest...Live and I think it holds up; Halford knew how to work up a crowd.

Mike W.

Paul said...

Edo brought up Stop Making Sense by the Talking Heads, which I would agree, is one of the best live albums (and as Doug added, films) ever made.
Doug also brought up Kiss: Alive. This is also the first one that came to mind for me. I think that it may have been the first live album that I was really aware of. My brother, a cousin, and I would "perform" the whole album over and over again, arguing beforehand who would play Gene Simmons.
But, probably my all-time favorite live album would have to be Peter Gabriel Plays Live. I actually heard many of the songs from this album before I ever heard the studio versions, and therefore, have become the definitive versions for me.

Edo Bosnar said...

Osvaldo, my current "Stop Making Sense" CD is the expanded version, and yes, it includes much more material than my original copy (on cassette).

As for the Grateful Dead, I have yet to hear a live recording (legitimate or bootleg) that I like. To me, the Dead just had to be experienced live - and I count myself lucky to have been able to see them about 5-6 times in late '80s and early '90s.

Matt Celis said...

Funny thing: I've seen Rob Halford around town a few times and always forget he's famous! He either lives or used to live in San Diego and could be seen in the Hillcrest neighborhood now and then.

Humanbelly said...

Wow, can't believe I forgot WINGS OVER AMERICA was a triple album! It crossed my mind for a second, and then I simply dismissed it as too over the top (how foolish!). Man, I haven't had that album out in, literally, decades.

Yeah, Matt-- Time to Hide is one of my very favorite tracks, as well.

HB

Graham said...

Some of my favorites include a couple already mentioned (Stop Making Sense, Fillmore East). I also really liked the recent Tedeschi/Trucks Band live set (Everybody's Talking). I didn't get to hear Frampton Comes Alive until several years ago, but I liked it.

Some others that I don't think have been mentioned but are my favorites include B.B. King's Live at the Regal, Sam Cooke's Live at the Harlem Supper Club, James Brown's Live at the Apollo, and the Neville Brothers' Nevillization. On all of those, the crowd is as much the performance as the artists involved and you can tell it really motivates them.

Logan said...

Genesis, "Three Sides Live" is my all-time favorite. The energy in those songs surpass the studio versions. Same with Billy Joel's "Songs in the Attic" (even though it may not neccessarily be completely live).

Ditto on The Who, Seger and of course, Wings as well.

Logan said...

Oh yeah...forgot Supertramp "Paris"...that one might be my favorite after all.

Humanbelly said...

Good call, Logan-- yes, that is a terrific chunk o' Supertramp. Boy, I sure loved that group, too-- completely a late 70's/early 80's pop sound. BREAKFAST IN AMERICA is one of those "Greatest Album Ever" nominees that can get overlooked over the course of time.


HB

Anonymous said...

I agree with Edo about the Doors doing "Who Do You Love." A couple versions out there. They just wailed on that song. It kinda churns like a chainsaw in certain parts.
Who Live at Leeds, or Isle of Wight, for me. Keith Moon!

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Anonymous said...

Some very late entries here---

Yes, Live @ Leeds is the best, Keith Moon is so energetic...

I love The Song Remains the Same--probably most for the sentimental value.

What about Bowie---the final Ziggy concert (it's even better to hear while watching the film),
and David Live is great, too. I just saw Bob Weir at the old Tower Theater near Philly, and the sound there is still incredible!

starfoxxx

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