Putting together this list of classic rock live albums has been fun and I couldn’t wait to write part two. If you haven’t read part 1, give it a read to see the first 10 favourites and a history of live albums. Historically, I’ve ignored live albums, but that’s changing now.
Once again, like any of my lists there is no order. Picking my favourites in classic rock is one of the hardest things to do!
11. Pictures at an Exhibition – ELP (1971)
We ended the last post with a prog rock live album and we’ll begin this post with a prog rock live album. Call me pretentious, but I love prog rock and there’s nothing you can say to convince me not to like prog rock. The 70s were a golden age of studio albums and live albums and one of my favourites is this ELP one. I’m not someone who likes classical music. I find it boring, but give it a 70s twist with some synthesisers, electric guitars, and bass guitars and now we’re talking! Gives these old songs new life and makes it more relevant to young people. If you know your classical music, you’ll recognise that the title of the album is named after a Modest Mussorgsky song, and yes that composition is played on this album and pretty much makes up the whole thing, bar the last track “Nut Rocker” (tell Tchaikovsky the news! Prog rock is in!), but not all the pieces of the suite are used and ELP will put their own spin on it with Moog solos and rock and roll/blues/jazz elements like in “The Sage” and “Blues Variation”. The synths remind me so much of video game noises, I love it!
The best known song on the album, “Nut Rocker” wasn’t the first rock and roll version of the The Nutcracker, in fact, B. Bumble and the Stingers did it almost a decade before Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Personally ELP’s version will always be the best to me!
Keep in mind that it’s just Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, and Carl Palmer. No other musicians. Like any prog rock band, each musician is a master of their craft: Keith Emerson was one of the best keyboard/organ/synth players ever, Greg Lake was a great vocalist and bass player, and Carl Palmer is a great drummer. One of the best trios! The album was a commercial success, reaching #3 on the UK albums charts and #10 on the US albums charts.
Not the same performance as on the album, but below is a video of them performing Pictures at an Exhibition. Hard to believe this video is over 50 years ago!
Honourable mention: It was hard to pick which ELP live album to go with, but I think it’s important to note how amazing the live version of “Karn Evil 9” was on Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends: This being prog rock, just one song is as long as or longer than a studio album! Great for a road trip!
12. Made in Japan – Deep Purple (1972)
What’s better than a single LP live album? A double live album! This one is a favourite of many classic rock fans. Interesting to note that three albums on this list were recorded in Japan, the other two are in the first part: At Budokan by Cheap Trick and Mint Jams by Casiopea. At first, Deep Purple weren’t on board for making a live album even though they were great live (because they thought that their live act wasn’t the same on an LP), but their Japanese record label convinced them because they knew it would make good publicity, plus bootleggers were at their concerts and an official release would kill the bootleg market. The band still didn’t love the album, but fans loved it! Goes to show you that people are their own worst critics!
Deep Purple had a big following in Japan so it made sense to play a big show there and so they played three dates. Two at Festival Hall in Osaka and one at the Budokan in Tokyo. By the time they played those dates, they had just released Machine Head, which had two big hits: “Highway Star” and “Smoke on the Water”. It’s a great album overall so no complaints about the content of this album. There’s too many highlights on this album, it’s all killer and no filler, but I’d say my favourites were “Highway Star”, “Child in Time” (that jam/solo in the middle is epic – GOAT tier), “Smoke on the Water”, “The Mule” (great drum solo here and I love Ian Gillan’s screams), “Lazy”, “Space Truckin'”, “Black Night”, and “Speed King”.
If you’re looking for old rock and roll covers, there’s a good cover of Little Richard’s “Lucille”.
Unfortunately, there’s no live video of this concert. That’s my only complaint.
13. Wings Over America – Wings (1976)
From 1975 to 1976, Wings went on a world tour, playing shows all over the UK, Mainland Europe, Australia, and the US. Paul McCartney hadn’t done a US tour since the last Beatles tour in the US. It was also Wings’ only tour of the US and Canada, so if you didn’t see them during this tour, you wouldn’t have another chance to (unless you had the money to travel to the UK), but at least there’s this live album, and it’s not a single album or a double album, it’s a triple album! The reason for this decision is because of the success of a triple album Wings bootleg called Wings from the Wings. Mostly made up of Wings songs, there are 5 remakes of Beatles songs, Denny Laine singing “Go Now” from his Moody Blues days, a Simon & Garfunkel cover called “Richard Cory”, and Jimmy McCulloch’s composition “Medicine Jar”, co-written with Colin Allen.
In my opinion the album’s highlights are the strong beginning with “Venus and Mars/Rockshow/Jet”, “Let Me Roll It”, “Medicine Jar”, “Maybe I’m Amazed”, “Lady Madonna”, “Live and Let Die”, “Bluebird”, “I’ve Just Seen a Face”, “Blackbird”, “Go Now”, “Listen to What The Man Said”, “Let ‘Em In”, “Silly Love Songs”, “Beware My Love”, “Band on the Run”, “Hi, Hi, Hi”, and “Soily”. Lots of great tracks!
Below is a video on my friend Paul’s channel, of Wings performing “Medicine Jar” during their 1976 Wings Over America tour.
14. The Song Remains The Same – Led Zeppelin (1976)
While released in 1976, the show was actually recorded in July 1973 at Madison Square Garden. At this point in Led Zeppelin’s career they released one amazing album after another amazing album, a nice streak of masterpieces and essentials of classic rock. I still stand by my opinion that Led Zeppelin have a mostly consistently good discography (It’s not the best after Physical Graffiti, but at least there were some redeeming gems in the later years). Interestingly enough, this album got mixed reviews when it was released, but people generally like the remaster better. What makes this album very special is that there’s a whole concert film and the skit before the concert is such a meme, especially when John Paul Jones receives a letter and exclaims ‘tour dates!’ then takes a quick glance and says ‘this is tomorrow’. It cracks me up every time. The aesthetic overall of the scenes before the concert is top tier: very pastoral/cottagecore with a bit of dandy and gangster! Definitely makes me wish I could be in the countryside.
The whole album is great. I especially liked “Rock and Roll”, “Black Dog”, “Over The Hills and Far Away”, “No Quarter”, “The Song Remains The Same”, “The Ocean”, an epic almost 30 minute long version of “Dazed and Confused” (featuring Robert moaning and Jimmy’s funky guitar playing), “Stairway to Heaven” – introduced as “a song of hope” and with Robert Plant iconically asking “Does anybody remember laughter?”, “Moby Dick” – John Bonham shines on this instrumental and one of the best drum focused instrumentals, “Heartbreaker” (another great guitar solo), and “Whole Lotta Love” (that theremin though, best part of the concert film). Oops, I listed pretty much the entire album, didn’t I? Well, listen to all of it! It’s one of my favourites for a reason and don’t just take it from me.
Hyde from That 70s Show is spitting facts here:
Image caption for accessibility: A man with curly hair, sunglasses, and a Led Zeppelin shirt sitting in a bar saying “Hey, if god didn’t want me to wear this shirt so much he wouldn’t [have] made them rock so hard.”
Image caption for accessibility: A man with curly hair and a grey jumper crosses his arms in Eric Forman’s basement and says “Play more Zeppelin”.
The film was originally supposed to be a documentary about Led Zeppelin with some live performances recorded, but instead it became the concert film we all know it as.
Below, you can find the whole concert film – keep in mind that not all songs on the album are in the film:
15. Irish Tour ’74 – Rory Gallagher (1974)
Remember in the first part I shared a video of Slash talking about Rory Gallagher and he said he was good live, well this list wouldn’t be complete without a live album from Rory, but decisions, decisions. It’s hard to pick a good Rory Gallagher live album. He was amazing live. Just watch any live videos: Montreux, Rockpalast. Before I get into the album and the story, I want to share a video of his 1979 performance at Montreux. Rory at his best and that rhythm section, *chefs kiss*. That’s Gerry McAvoy on bass and Ted McKenna on drums. The live version of “Shinkicker” is better than the studio version. As always, Rory gave 110% – very energetic performance running across the stage and doing the Chuck Berry style duckwalk. Also some great acoustic guitar on “Too Much Alcohol”. His performance of “Shadowplay” at the end is the best, way way better than the studio version and when he stops to take a break… The devil works hard, but Rory Gallagher’s rhythm section works harder – such a big, tight sound from them. If you only have time for one song from this video, go to 22 minutes in and watch “Shadowplay”. AMAZING. I had to type that in caps for emphasis.
Ultimately for this list, I picked Irish Tour for its compelling story and because Rory is playing in his country. But don’t stop there, I highly recommend Live in Europe, released in 1972. Definitely an essential and I included it in my live albums playlist.
To understand the story, I think it’s important to talk about Irish history and The Troubles. Don’t worry, it’s a Cliff Notes, not a history lecture. If you don’t know, the island of Ireland is split into two countries. Most of the island, 26 countries, belongs to the Republic of Ireland and 6 counties in the northern part of the island are Northern Ireland, which is still owned by the UK (some Irish Republicans might say occupied, but I’m trying to present the facts objectively here). Back in the 70s there was a border with manned crossings. It is no longer that way because of the Good Friday Agreement, which also allowed people born in Northern Ireland to hold both British and Irish citizenship. When I went to Northern Ireland, the only way I knew I wasn’t in the Republic anymore was when I stopped seeing bilingual signs and the speed limit signs were in miles per hour (yes, the UK still measures speed in mph – surprisingly the US is not the only country to do that). The Troubles lasted from the late 60s to 1998, and during that time there were many bombings and terrorist attacks. Thousands were killed and many more were injured. The Europa Hotel in Belfast was known as the world’s most bombed hotel.
These issues have come up again because of Brexit. If there’s a hard border again between the North and the Republic, then that will anger a lot of Irish Nationalists, but if the border is in the Irish Sea, then it will anger the Unionists/Loyalists. It’s important to note that Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. Scotland voted to remain as well. England and Wales voted to leave. Basically in any national election, England can override all the other countries in the UK since they are the bulk of the population. So it’s understandable why there are nationalist movements in Northern Ireland and Scotland and it’s starting to grow in Wales too as they’re realising England or Westminster doesn’t care about them either. At the very least, people want more autonomy. They don’t want Westminster bossing them around.
Back to how this relates to Rory Gallagher. Belfast was a war zone in the 70s, that was the time when violence peaked. Bands playing there would be putting themselves in danger and often would cancel shows. The day before Rory was to play Ulster Hall in Belfast, 10 bombs exploded all over Belfast and everyone expected him to cancel the show. Belfast is a city that had a special place in Rory’s heart because that’s where he first went when he left his hometown of Cork before moving to London. Many of his bandmates were from Belfast, whether they were in Taste (Richard McCracken, John Wilson) or his backing band in the 70s (Gerry McAvoy, Lou Martin). Rory and his band said the show must go on and played an incredible show that made everyone feel at peace, set aside their differences and unite around good music. Rory never gave up on Belfast and always made sure to play shows there after that. A genuine guy.
Overall, Irish Tour ’74 is a great album and I recommend the tracks “Cradle Rock”, “Tattoo’d Lady”, “Too Much Alcohol”, “As The Crow Flies”, “A Million Miles Away”, “Walk on Hot Coals”, and “Who’s That Coming?”. Three songs were covers: “I Wonder Who” (Muddy Waters), “Too Much Alcohol” (by J.B. Hutto), and “As The Crow Flies” (by Tony Joe White),
Better yet, there’s an accompanying concert film. Here’s his performance of “Tattoo’d Lady” – one of the best tracks on the album:
16. Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! – The Rolling Stones (1970)
Rory Gallagher could have joined The Rolling Stones, but he turned it down, so it only makes sense to follow with The Stones. The Rolling Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out is a favourite live album of many, and it’s easy to see why. The Rolling Stones were on top in the late 60s and early 70s. Hit after hit after hit. This is The Rolling Stones at their best. Lester Bangs called this album “the best rock concert ever put on record”. I personally am more of a Who Live at Leeds girl, but this album has some great tracks. My personal favourites are “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Midnight Rambler”, “Sympathy For The Devil”, “Honky Tonk Women”, and “Street Fighting Man” (what a way to finish the album!). “Carol” and “Little Queenie” were Chuck Berry covers and “Love in Vain” was a Robert Johnson cover.
This album was recorded during their 1969 US tour in Baltimore and New York City. Opening acts included Terry Reid, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, and Ike & Tina Turner. It was the first tour with Mick Taylor. The album’s title is a the name of a Blind Boy Fuller song “Get Your Yas Yas Out”, with ‘yas yas’ meaning ass.
Below, you can see a behind the scenes video of the band mixing the album.
17. All the World’s a Stage – Rush (1976)
Rush, like Rory Gallagher, were difficult to pick a live album for this list. They released quite a few, and I wish I could also put Exit… Stage Left on this list too, but I’ll give it a mention here and put my favourite tracks on the playlist. As a former theatre kid, I love the album’s title! By this point, Rush had just released two awesome albums: Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures and you can regularly hear songs from these albums on classic rock radio, especially in Canada where there are CanCon rules. Easy way to meet the quota? Play Rush! Sound quality on this album is pretty good and you hardly hear the audience, so this is another album I’d say is a ‘live album for people who hate live albums’. That drum solo on “YYZ” is everything – RIP Neil Peart 💔. Now this is what I love about live albums, extended drum and guitar solos! That’s the kind of stuff you miss out on if you stick to studio albums only. You can find a video of Exit… Stage Left below.
Rush liked that album better than their first live album, but I really like their earlier work, so that’s why I picked All the World’s a Stage. I highly recommend listening to both and it would be wrong of me to mention one, but not the other.
Anyway, All the World’s a Stage is Rush’s first live album in a long series of live albums, one being released every four studio albums. Recorded at Massey Hall, in the band’s hometown of Toronto, this was a show as part of the 2112 tour. 2112 is one of my favourite Rush albums, so you can understand why I love this album so much. It was released to buy Rush some more time while they were working on A Farewell to Kings. It’s a great album overall, but I especially liked “Bastille Day”, “Fly By Night”, “Lakeside Park” (about their hometown), “2112”, “By-Tor and the Snow Dog”, “In The End”, “Working Man”, “Finding My Way” (a great drum solo here with Neil being introduced as ‘The Professor’), and “What You’re Doing” (this one reminds me so much of Led Zeppelin). It was a success and went gold. If you like Rush’s older albums like Fly By Night, Caress of Steel, and their self-titled debut, you’ll like this album.
18. The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert – Bob Dylan (2016)
This one was a suggestion from my friend, David. I was talking about live albums with him and we both agreed that The Who’s Live At Leeds is GOAT, but he suggested Bob Dylan’s 1966 Royal Albert Hall live performance as another top tier performance. There’s a little confusion with this one because there’s an album called The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 that is labelled as the Royal Albert Hall 1966 show, but in fact, it was recorded at Manchester Free Trade Hall. This was the famous show where a heckler shouted “Judas!” at him. It all started at Newport Folk Festival, when Bob Dylan debuted his electric set. What made his 1966 tour famous, or maybe infamous to some people, is that he did the acoustic set first and then the electric set next. Many people loved both sets, but there were folk purists who hated the electric set. I have talked about this in previous posts about Bob Dylan. You can watch the famous Judas scene from No Direction Home below:
Seven tracks on this album are acoustic and eight are electric. My favourites from the acoustic set are “Visions of Johanna”, “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” (probably one of my all time favourite Dylan compositions – The Byrds and The Chocolate Watchband’s versions are the best imo), “Just Like a Woman”, and “Mr Tambourine Man”. One thing that surprises me so much is how heavy Bob Dylan’s music is during in 1966. “Tell Me, Momma” is heavy for 1966! What a visionary! Other great songs are “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down”, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, “Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat”, and “Like a Rolling Stone”. The question is Acoustic Dylan or Electric Dylan? Both!
In 1964, Eric Clapton was still with The Yardbirds. The Yardbirds at this point were best known for their versions of American blues and R&B songs by artists like Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, and Bo Diddley. After touring with Sonny Boy Williamson II, The Yardbirds got a record deal and their debut album was a live album called Five Live Yardbirds, recorded at the famous Marquee Club in London. As the title suggests, there are 5 people in the band: Eric Clapton, Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty, Keith Relf, and Paul Samwell-Smith. It’s considered one of the earliest important live albums in British rock history.
This album was never released in the US, but four of the tracks ended up on Having a Rave Up With The Yardbirds. Rave Up refers to the sound of their sounds, which is perfect for parties. Whenever I listen to The Yardbirds, I feel so alive. Joe Perry of Aerosmith is a big fan of the album, saying that it was a blueprint for their work, especially the opening track, “Too Much Monkey Business”. In my opinion the highlights are “Too Much Monkey Business”, “Smokestack Lightning”, “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”, “Respectable” (has kind of a ska like sound at about 3:25 in), “Pretty Girl”, “I’m a Man”, and “Here ‘Tis”.
20. At Fillmore East – The Allman Brothers Band (1971)
Last, but not least we have another greatest of all time live albums. This album was The Allman Brothers’ commercial and artistic breakthrough and considered one of their best albums. If you’re into long jams and jazz fusion (in fact, this is an early example of fusion before the term was widely used), this is the album for you, but The Allman Brothers are more than a jam band. They did well as a live act, first playing the Fillmore East in 1969, opening for Blood, Sweat & Tears. Bill Graham loved them so much he said that he’ll bring them back, and so they played the Fillmore West in San Francisco, opening for Buddy Guy and BB King. They came back to the Fillmore East in New York City to open for the Grateful Dead. People in both cities loved The Allman Brothers. The studio can be really restricting and Duane Allman didn’t want to do another studio album, he wanted another live album and the result was At Fillmore East. The band regard their performances as slightly above average, but if this is slightly above average, I can’t imagine how amazing their best shows were, must break the scale! It’s an album that’s great start to finish, but I recommend “You Don’t Love Me”, “Hot ‘Lanta” (has a prog rock meets jazz meets southern rock sound imo), “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”, and the epic 23 minute long closer “Whipping Post”.
Not the performance from the album, but here’s a live video of them from 1970 playing the Fillmore East:
Some more albums:
You thought I’d stop at 20? Come on, this is The Diversity of Classic Rock, I’m going to share a few more because I can’t resist and because there isn’t just 20 good live albums. The first one is Rockin’ The Fillmore by Humble Pie, their last album with Peter Frampton. My favourite tracks on it are the epic length version of Dr John’s “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” (23 minutes long, take that “Do You Feel Like We Do!”) and Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah I Love Her So” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor”. You have to love Steve Marriott’s voice. I only wish this album had more Humble Pie originals.
Second one is the MC5’s Kick Out The Jams. Like The Yardbirds, The MC5’s debut was also a live album. They were one of the first punk bands and a big part of the counterculture. If punk isn’t your thing, that’s okay, because their sound incorporated blues rock, garage rock, hard rock, and psychedelic rock. The title of their debut is iconic, as is the song that it’s name after. It needs that live sound because that’s where the energy is. The album was recorded at the Grande Ballroom in their hometown of Detroit on 30-31 October 1968, the sound? Mindblowing and some of the heaviest stuff from that year. Not only did it have an awesome sound, the messages were unapologetically left wing and about revolution and liberation. This isn’t music for squares, it’s music for Yippies. The band’s manager was poet and political activist John Sinclair.
Sinclair was a founding member of the White Panther Party, an anti-racist socialist group and allies of the Black Panthers. He was arrested for possession of marijuana in 1969 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Hippies and young leftists criticised this sentence as harsh and they protested it. There was a John Sinclair Freedom Rally concert held in Ann Arbor with John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Phil Ochs, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Bob Seger, and Stevie Wonder performing. Thanks to young activists’ efforts, Sinclair was released in 1971. When Michigan legalised marijuana, he was the first person to legally purchase it.
The last album on this honourable mentions list I’ll mention is UFO’s Strangers in the Night. The recordings in Chicago and Louisville were their last concerts with Michael Schenker until the band reunited in 1993. I especially like the songs “Only You Can Rock Me”, “Doctor Doctor” (one of my favourite hard rock songs ever), “Lights Out”, “Rock Bottom”, and “Shoot Shoot”.
Full playlist below (click on the Spotify logo to see the full playlist):
Did I miss a favourite live album of yours? Have a different opinion? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
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