Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Live recordings that bring the magic

Amazon has a listing that proposes to be "The 100 Greatest Live Albums of All Time". My intention is not be rate or validate this listing but rather note some of my favorite live recordings. If I understand it correctly, in the music business live recordings are a relatively inexpensive way to get another album out. You do not need new material, and no fancy studio, just some recording equipment at a venue that is already in the works. From my experience most live recordings are not worth purchasing. The sound quality is often shoddy, the balance between the instruments can be off, and some performers or bands just do not have that special magic when doing the live show. Most of my personal collection of something over 350 titles are NOT live recordings. However, every once in a while a band will surprise you. They will bring the magic to the show. That is not to say the recording is a replacement for being there, I know far better than that. Some of that magic shines through onto the recording. Sometimes it is just the energy. Other times the band just comes together in a way that was far superior to the studio recording. Some of these recordings have very different versions of the songs in comparison to the studio recordings, and those versions are far better than what was put forth in the studio. Here are the recordings that I already own (on vinyl or CD) from Amazon's 100 list 11 Neil Young - Live Rust. This is one heck of an album, and if you can find it watch the movie that was made of the same concert. I love the road-eyes. I do not own any studio Neil, I far prefer this. 13 Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense. Again, this is one heck of an album, and again if you can find it watch the movie. I do not own any studio Talking Heads, only this. I find the Heads too cold in their studio recordings. 18 The Who - Live At Leeds. The quality of the recording leaves something to be desired. You need to be a who fan to appreciate this one. Listen to it for the energy - sparks nearly fly. 21 Cheap Trick - At Budokan. These guys were never meant to be taken seriously, and this is just a fun album at its core. 29 Eric Clapton - Unplugged. I own loads of studio Clapton from all periods of his career. Listen to this for the interesting versions of some songs (like Layla) and for the emotion that bleeds off the tracks (like Tears in Heaven). 48 Deep Purple - Made in Japan. Sound quality is iffy, but this is a recording for the times. Egocentric long versions of every song. Just about perfect. 66 Peter Frampton - Frampton Comes Alive! I own no studio Framton and was not a fan until this album came out. Sound quality is not bad. The real attraction here is better versions of every song vs. his studio recordings. 90 Stevie Ray Vaughan - Live at Carnegie Hall. Recording is not bad and the energy is terrific. 95 Neil Diamond - Hot August Night. Hate to admit that I like Neil Diamond. More accurately, I like THIS Neil Diamond album. Its fun and the emotion comes through very well. Some of these albums made me a fan of the artist, which I had not been prior to hearing the recording. Another good example of that is Sarah McLachlan - Mirror Ball. Prior to that album I found Sarah rather dry. Again, it is a decent recording but she really puts out the emotion with good versions of the songs. I think the band cuts loose a bit more than on the studio recordings. Where is the magic for you? What live album changed your mind about an artist and made you a fan (or a reluctant fan)?


  1. So I know they're generally scoffed at by serious musicians, and I don't make the claim that they're the most talented band out there, but KISS Alive is an amazing album that really brings it. KISS is one of those bands that delivers a great live performance.

    Iron Maiden's Live After Death is another amazing live album, though that's cheating a bit, since it was recorded over a couple nights at Long Beach Arena. It's generally regarded as one of the best live heavy metal albums.

  2. Amazon states in their criteria listing "Albums were performed live in front of an audience, but don't necessarily have to be culled from a single performance."

    So it is not cheating. I would award extra points to a single night performance though.


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