Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My Favorite Live Albums EVER!

We live in a day and age where the live concert album is in very much the same category as greatest hits albums. They tend to be collections of familiar tunes released after a band is finished or at least way past its peak. This has not always been the case. There was a time when live albums were filled with rare performances and deep cuts that thrilled fans and made them extremely popular. Some of my friends never cared much for the raw sound of live recordings, but I was- and am- a big fan. The other morning a few live songs popped up on my iPod and I began to piece together a list of my Top 10 Favorite Live Albums of all-time. As you would expect with me, some of the choices are a bit off the beaten path. But I still love them all! So in no particular order, here we go...
  1. After the Flood, Bob Dylan & The Band (1974) - Remarkable electric live performances of classic Dylan tunes like Blowing in the Wind and Like a Rolling Stone paired with The Band singing their hits like The Weight and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. A true tour-de-force of the era.
  2. Wings Over America, Paul McCartney and Wings (1976) - Because of enduring popularity of The Beatles, it's easy to forget just how huge this band was in the 70s. McCartney is at his live best on this album which actually included a few Beatles tunes. In 1976 all 4 mop tops were still alive and we were still hoping for a reunion. This was as close as we got to hearing the Fab 4 live. It has lots of hits, the definitive version of Maybe I'm Amazed, and a few acoustic hidden gems like I've Just Seen a Face and Richard Cory. One of the best selling live albums ever recorded.
  3. Mighty Day on Campus, The Chad Mitchell Trio (1961) - The soaring harmonies, acoustic guitars and folk banjo of the Trio are just brilliant, but the songs are the thing here. Great stories, some moving and some hilarious, fill the record from beginning to end. In addition to the title track, there's Lizzie Borden, Super Skier and Hang on the Bell Nellie. My dad introduced me to this great album, and his favorite song was Puttin' on the Style. The CD is in my collection and on my iPod. Great stuff.
  4. 4 Way Street, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1971) - We discovered this double album that was half acoustic and half electric when I was in high school- and we wore the sucker out! The acoustic sides featured solo efforts from each member of the group (Triad, Love the One You're With, Chicago, Don't Let It Bring You Down), with the others playing supporting roles- along with a few CSNY classics like Teach Your Children. The electric album was classic 70s jam, with lots and lots of guitar solos on Southern Man, Ohio and more. The album concludes with an amazing acapella version of Find the Cost of Freedom. It's a very political album that captures the era perfectly.
  5. That Was the Year That Was, Tom Lehrer (1965) - Tom Lehrer was a professor at MIT who also happened to be a musician. In 1965 he wrote humorous songs filled with political commentary for a TV show called That Was the Year That Was, but other artists sang the songs on the show. He recorded this album so the world could hear the songs as they were meant to be. I can sing every word of this brilliant performance, from Who's Next? to New Math to Pollution. Don't know Tom's music? Then check out the wonder that is The Vatican Rag! I owe the Semmler brothers and their dad Hank a great debt for introducing to me to this music.
  6. The Live Set, Michael W. Smith (1986) - In the mid 1980s I still thought of contemporary Christian music as a bunch of people trying to play Jesus Loves Me on electric guitars, but as a youth pastor I kept exploring the genre in hopes of finding something I thought my students would like. The first time I ever heard this album everything changed. This was good stuff, performed by outstanding musicians- and the songs were great! Before The Live Set the only MWS song I knew was Friends. Hearing Lamu, EmilyOld Enough To Know and In the Pursuit of a Dream played live gave a new appreciation of the music. And my youth didn't like it- they LOVED it! We gave away so many copies of the cassette at TNT. SO many...
  7. Jimmy Buffett at Fenway Park, Jimmy Buffett & the Coral Reefer Band (2004) - There is nothing quite like Jimmy Buffett in concert. It's more of an event than an show, and I've been fortunate enough to be there a few times in my life. He has released many live albums, but this is my favorite for a couple of reasons. The set list is classic, with all the songs you know by heart plus some hidden gems. JB and the wild crowd of Parrotheads seem truly psyched to be playing Fenway Park, and the recording captures the party atmosphere. And finally, this album holds the secret to the real reason the Boston Red Sox would finally win a world series just a month or so later. At one point the Ghost of the Bambino takes the stage, and Jimmy's dancing girls beat it to death with baseball bats. No more curse. Red Sox win!
  8. The Beach Boys in Concert, The Beach Boys (1973) - You knew there would have to be at least one from my favorite band, right? This album would make the list even if the only song on it was Marcella, but there is so much more, including an incredible rocking version of Surfin' USA. So it nudges out the 1963 classic simply called Concert. Listening to the double live set reminds me just how incredible the guys sounded live at their peak. Not many live bands could pull off Good Vibrations and make it sound BETTER than the studio version!
  9. Live/1975-1985, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (1985) - This one is a bit of a cheat, as it is not a concert album but a triple album collection of live recordings from a 10 year period. But WHAT a 10 year period!!! Bruce and the gang are captured at the top of their game and all of the classics are there, from Badlands to Rosalita to Hungry Hearts. The demand for this box set was so great that record stores (remember them?) would sell out as soon as shipments arrived. At the time I didn't yet own one of those new fangled CD players, so my copy of this great American classic is on 3 cassette tapes. Oh well...
  10. An Evening with John Denver, John Denver (1975) - I know I said that these are in no particular order, but if they were ranked by actual "playing time" this double album would be at the top. Again, like so many of the others from the 70s, it is filled with hits- but that's not what makes it great. Songs like Farewell Andromeda, Summer, Forest Lawn and Saturday Night in Toledo Ohio are what make this a must have collection for any John Denver fan. A soaring version of Rocky Mountain High, great stories from the singer, the definitive version of Thank God I'ma Country Boy and the very moving This Old Guitar make this a masterpiece. I bought the entire album on iTunes and love to just let it play. Great memories for sure.
And here's one bonus for you. In 1976 a previously unknown artist released a double live album that took the world by storm, becoming one of the biggest selling records in history. I was never a big fan of Frampton Comes Alive, but I am fairly certain that when I graduated high school in 1977 you had to prove you owned a copy before you could get your diploma. It was that kinda big...

So what about you? Does anyone listen to live albums anymore?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4/22/2015

    What- no Cheap Trick Live at Budokan? Your list is incomplete, my friend! ~ Chris Cooper


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