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  • Writer's pictureBlair Morgan

10 Must-Listen Classic Live Albums

All this talk about playing live and live recordings started me thinking.... in the age of record companies and signed artists, live albums held a special place, capturing the raw energy and magic of a live performance. Here's a list of 10 classic live albums that consumed many a listening hour:

Rock n Roll Animal - Lou Reed

Recorded in 1973 , Lou gets the best vantage point in the house to witness 2 x duel lead guitars going at each other (Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner lifted from the Alice Cooper band) and firing up the Velvet Underground back catalogue in the process. The guitar intro to "Sweet Jane" occupies an entire track ( and must have inspired legions of guitar players) building the sense of anticipation for Lou's junkie persona entrance. Post the Transformer album this ( and the following Lou Reed Live culled from the same show) helped Lou to gain a profile which he seemed to spend the rest of the decade unravelling (only to make an impressive return in the 1980's).

Get Yer Ya Ya's Out - The Rolling Stones

This is all raw power and swagger. Not only a new version of the band with virtuoso guitarist Mick Taylor onboard, this recording from the infamous 1969 US tour was a new experience for the Stones playing to audiences that largely remained seated and the first experience of concert PA systems transforming the ability to hear themselves properly. "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Love in Vain" live have never sounded better live and Keith is at the peak of his Chuck Berry prowess (there are two Berry covers " Carol" and "Little Queenie" ). Most of all Charlie "is good tonight in'ee" (to quote Jagger during the recording) not least via the iconic album cover shot.

Live 1992 - Paul Kelly

Listening to this Aussie singer/songwriter at the peak of his game, Kelly's recordings up to this date had always been marked by dodgy production choices . Stripped of all that you get close to the raw honesty and emotional weight of his songs. If there was any blueprint for delivering story based material simply via guitar, harmonica and voice, this is it. You can't help hearing the influence of Bob Dylan and that is no bad thing.

It's Too Late To Stop Now -Van Morrison

1973 was a very good year for live albums (see Lou Reed above plus David Bowie's David Live) . Backed by the Caledonia Soul Orchestra (both horns and a string section), Morrison delivers soulful renditions of classics like "Brown Eyed Girl," "Caravan," and "Into the Mystic." This live setting allows Morrison to stretch out and explore new emotional depths, making each performance seem both spontaneous and deeply personal. Can't help but wonder (again) that it further illustrates how a young (musical magpie) Bruce Springsteen was lucky to escape Van's wrath and /or a lawsuit as that years The Wild, Innocent & the E Street Shuffle and the Boss live persona at the time owes a huge debt to this.

Live Rust - Neil Young & Crazy Horse

 Neil Young owned the 70's even though he was all over the place at times and Live Rust is a powerful document of Young's 1978 tour, blending acoustic introspection with electric fury. The album showcases Young's dual musical personas, moving seamlessly from the gentle, reflective "Sugar Mountain" to the electric guitar intensity of "Cortez the Killer" and "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)." Crazy Horse's raw, unpolished sound complements Young's emotional delivery, creating a great aural accompaniment to the Rust Never Sleeps movie (check out his next live offering 1990's Weld where the volume is 11 all the way through .

Fragments of a Rainy Season - John Cale

 Recorded during his 1992 solo tour, this features Cale performing alone at the piano or guitar, delivering stark and powerful renditions of his solo back catalogue (no Velvet Underground here). Showcasing his classically trained staccato like piano & majestic voice , the minimalist arrangements allow Cale's lyrical and melodic prowess to shine, with standout tracks like "Paris 1919," "Fear (Is a Man's Best Friend)," and his definitive version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Having seen Cale in the same setting at the James Hay Theatre, Christchurch in the mid -late 80's , this was a great replacement for my bootleg recording that I captured on a Sony Walkman.

Stage - David Bowie

 Arguably his greatest live band including the rhythm section Dennis Davis & George Murray with Carlos Alomar & Adrian Belew on guitars , Stage" captures the Thin White Duke in all his theatrical glory during the 1978 "Isolar II" tour. The album features live performances of songs from his Berlin era "Low," and "Heroes," as well as revisiting and refreshing the Ziggy Stardust era and Station to Station. The latter title cut in particular is a highlight, one of those "wish I had been there" moments.

Running on Empty - Jackson Browne

Running on Empty is a unique live album that documents the life of a touring musician. Unlike traditional live albums, it features new songs recorded live on stage, in hotel rooms, and on the tour bus. This innovative approach provides a raw and intimate look at the realities of life on the road. The title track and "The Load-Out/Stay" became mainstays of his concert performances for years to come (including last year as noted here). Browne's heartfelt songwriting and the spontaneous energy of the recordings make Running on Empty a standout album that captures the essence of the 1970s rock touring experience.

Live at Budokan- Cheap Trick

A high-energy live album that catapulted the band to international stardom with each household on planet earth seemingly owning a copy. Recorded at the iconic Tokyo venue in 1978, the album captures the band's infectious energy and the enthusiastic response of their Japanese fans. There were hits - "I Want You to Want Me," "Surrender," and "Ain't That a Shame," and the album showcases Cheap Trick's blend of particular power pop. "Live at Budokan" is a timeless live album that continues to resonate with fans decades later given the bands longevity.

Drinkin' TNT 'n' Smokin' Dynamite -Buddy Guy & Junior Wells

This found it's way into our household via mail order from the US in the early 80's. Featuring a great backing band including the Rolling Stones Bill Wyman, Drinkin' TNT 'n' Smokin' Dynamite is a live album that captures the electrifying chemistry between blues legends Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. Recorded at the 1974 Montreux Jazz Festival, the album features fiery guitar work from Guy and soulful harmonica playing from Wells. Standout tracks "Messin' with the Kid" and "Hoodoo Man Blues" demonstrate their deep understanding of the blues and their ability to connect with the audience. The raw energy and spontaneous interplay between the two musicians make this album a must-listen for blues enthusiasts.

Give any of the above a listen, each offers an essential entry into each artists back catalogue - when a live album was a "thing".


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