The 30 best live concert albums of all time

Led Zeppelin in concert, 1975 - rex
Led Zeppelin in concert, 1975 - rex

Recently, a story in the New York Times predicted that live music would not return to the world’s stages until the autumn of next year at the earliest. According to Zeke Emanuel, a bioethicist and professor of healthcare management, “Larger gatherings – conferences, concerts, sporting events… I think those will be the last to return.”

This is bad news indeed for those of us that enjoy experiencing music in the company of several thousand over-heated strangers. But for anyone jonesing for a night in the presence of a good band, a half-decent seat, and a pint of overpriced lager in a wobbly plastic pot, help is at hand in the shape of the oft-maligned yet reliably durable concert album.

To help us navigate our way through this quietest of concert seasons, we have amassed a list of 30 essential live LPs. Some of these you will know, and some you may not. You may have even been a member of the audience for one or two of them. Either way, we hope you enjoy these accounts of an international pursuit that, for the time being at least, today seems like a memory from a previous life.

30. Pearl Jam: 8/20/2018, Chicago, Illinois

With more than 500 live albums to their credit, Pearl Jam have transformed themselves from leading lights of the Grunge Nation to a modern-day Grateful Dead. Like the Dead, they make a point of never playing the same set twice; as well as this, the enormodome-sized venues in which they play are far larger than the band’s somewhat selective commercial profile – at least of late – would suggest.

Recorded at the Wrigley Field baseball stadium – home of the Chicago Cubs -  8/20/2018, Chicago, Illinois is an account of one of the Seattleites’ more remarkable shows. With the band almost 90-minutes into their set, the storm clouds that had been gathering over the North Side of the city broke their banks and drove the musicians off the stage for three full-hours. Undeterred, Pearl Jam eventually returned from whence they came in order to finish their 29-song set at two o’ clock in the morning.

“It’s kind of like I’ve been waiting for a lifetime for this one,” singer Eddie Vedder, both a Chicago native and a dedicated fan of the Cubs, told the crowd. “Not only is this the crown jewel of Chicago, but the crown jewel of the whole planet earth.”

29. Peter Frampton: Frampton Comes Alive! (1976)

At the beginning of 1976, Peter Frampton was a journeyman solo artist of middling repute. As the guitarist with Humble Pie, in the early years of 1970s he had enjoyed a measure of success in the United States with the albums such as Smokin’. Under his own wing, his fortunes plateaued. Given this direction of travel, no one could have predicted the improvement in fortunes that followed the release of Frampton Comes Alive!

Recorded at venues in New York and California, the 14-song set limped its way onto the Billboard Hot 200 at a pallid 191. But with America in the market for well-crafted Adult Oriented Rock, the Kentish singer’s timing was perfect. Three months later, Frampton Comes Alive! had climbed to the top of the charts, where it remained for 10-weeks. By the end of the year, it was the best-selling album of all time, a title it would hold until the release of Saturday Night Fever in 1977.

“A year before Frampton Comes Alive!, we had released the studio version of Show Me The Way as a single, and it totally tanked,” Frampton told MusicRadar. “It was pretty strange to put out the live version and watch it go through the roof. It was still the same song. What had changed? AOR was the big radio format at the time. And they were playing Frampton Comes Alive! like crazy. If you put on an AOR station – any station – you’d hear pretty much all the songs from that record.”

28. Cheap Trick: At Budokan (1979)

In 1978, Cheap Trick were the world’s premier exponents of bubblegum rock that only a select few in the United States knew anything about. But in Japan, the oddball quartet from Rockford, Illinois, were received with a reverence that was matched only by The Beatles. Like fading baseball players, the band headed east to ply their trade for audiences that cared for their craft.

Recorded over two nights at the Nippon Budokan, in Tokyo, At Budokan was originally released only in Japan. But when US radio stations began airing the coronavirus-catchy I Want You To Want Me, highly-priced import copies of the single-disc LP began to sell. Sensing an opportunity, Epic Records issued a domestic edition of the 10-song set, and in doing so helped Cheap Trick to sell more than three million albums where before they had sold almost none.

Today recognised as one of the finest live records of its time – or of any time, actually – it is by far its authors most commercially successful release. Ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as one the 500 best LPs of all time, in 2020 At Budokan was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

27. Supertramp: Paris (1980)

The motivation for recording Paris was simple, and hardly noble: its authors needed to buy themselves some time. When Supertramp released Breakfast In America, their sixth album, in 1979, the London quintet became international, if unlikely, pop stars the world over. With nearly 10-million sales to its credit, and a quadruple platinum disc in the United States, the hit-heavy record spawned a nine-month world tour that precluded the writing of a worthy successor.

Recorded at the Pavillon de Paris on 29th November 1979, one of three nights at the 10,000 capacity venue, Paris proves that a stopgap release can also be a work of art. More than this, it gave its authors the chance to record versions of their earlier songs that would prove superior to their studio equivalents. Filled with longing, confusion, and a sense of rebellion that is not wholly divorced from punk, in the City of Lights Supertramp air songs such as School, Asylum, and A Soapbox Opera in a definitive form.

More than a collection of hits presented with a cast of many thousands, Paris is the finest hour from a band whose supple and quietly defiant music made them an exquisitely English delight.

26. U2: Under A Blood Red Sky (1983)

When U2 arrived at the beautiful Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver, Colorado, on June 5th 1983, they were met with an unforgiving sight. Despite the arrival of summer, so atrocious were the conditions that the two support acts for the open-air show, The Alarm and Divinyls, cancelled their performances, while out front half of what should have been a sold-out crowd decided to stay at home.

Bono performing in Denver - ap
Bono performing in Denver - ap

But a little bad weather was hardly likely to put off the Dubliners. With lightning streaking across the sky, Bono even climbed a lighting rig in order to wave around a white flag during a rendition of The Electric Co. As guitarist The Edge would later confess, in doing so “he scared the shit out of me”.

Released as both a mini-album and a live video, Under A Blood Red Sky features on its cover a picture of Bono onstage at Red Rocks, his silhouette stark against the backdrop of a livid sky. In truth, only two of the record’s eight-tracks were recorded in the Mile High City, a case of never letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

“[The concert] was a benchmark,” bassist Adam Clayton would later say. “We could say now: 'Right, we’ve got to the point where we’re contenders. We’re at the starting gate.’”

25. MC5: Kick Out The Jams (1969)

When the MC5 hit the stage at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit to record their first live album, they did so with everything in place. The musicians were well-drilled and tight; the house was full; the band’s record company, Elektra, had even transported an eight-track mobile recording unit from the West Coast in order to capture their charges’ combustible proto-punk to the highest specifications. What could go wrong?

As guitarist ‘Brother’ Wayne Kramer rifled his way through Ramblin’ Rose, the evening’s first song, his bottom ‘E’ string slipped out of tune. As the show wore on, he noticed other members of the group were making the kinds of mistakes that would have been unthinkable on any other night. Despite his protestations, Elektra refused to finance the recording of a whole new album. Adding insult to frugality, they even botched the LP’s artwork.

Wayne Kramer on stage with MC5 in Michigan, 1969 - getty
Wayne Kramer on stage with MC5 in Michigan, 1969 - getty

Today, Kick Out The Jams is justly remembered as both a great live album and the finest piece of music to which the Motor City 5 put their name. That said, they didn’t hang around for very long. Armed to the teeth, strung-out on heroin, and persons of interest to the FBI, theirs was a union that was never likely to last.

24. Bob Marley and the Wailers: Live! (1975)

On tour in support of the Natty Dread album, Bob Marley and the Wailers arrived in London in the summer of 1975 for a two-night stand at the Lyceum Theatre. So impressed was Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, by what he witnessed during the group’s first show that he made hurried plans to record the second for use as a live album.

Cue the entrance of the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. Nothing less than a lorry stuffed with recording equipment, the ride has been used for the making of live albums by everyone from Dire Straits to Status Quo. Parked on Wellington Street WC2 on the night of  July 18, the reels-on-wheels braved the parking wardens of Westminster to record an LP that would go on to sell a million copies.

Today regarded as a concert classic, Live! features a version of No Woman, No Cry that is rightly considered definitive. Released as the album’s leadoff single, the seven-minute standard became its authors’ first UK top-ten single. Despite writing the song alone, Marley shared its writing credits with his friend Vincent Ford, a reggae artist that also ran a soup kitchen in Trenchtown, Jamaica. The royalty payments he received meant that the project was able to continue.

23. Elvis Costello and Steve Nieve: Costello & Nieve (1996)

When Steve John Nason joined Elvis Costello & The Attractions, in 1977, he gave up a place at the Royal College of Music, in London. As part of the now legendary Live Stiffs Tour of the same year, the keyboardist asked Ian Dury, “what is a groupie?” and, by of a reply, was given a nickname that endures to this day.

Recorded in the spring of 1996 at supper clubs and nightspots in five cities throughout the United States, Costello & Nieve is today an out-of-print five-disc curiosity that can only be savoured by listeners with deep pockets. But for anyone willing to pony-up as much as 250-quid for the privilege, to hear Elvis Costello and Steve Nieve as a two-man band is a rewarding experience.

Featuring numerous songs from that year’s All This Useless Beauty album, Costello & The Attractions’ most undervalued release, as well as timeless standards such as Alison, (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes, and Watching The Detectives, today this 27-song set is an unjustly disregarded outing from one of the England’s finest songwriters together with a pianist of world renown.

22. The Who: Quadrophenia Live in London (2014)

Yes, yes, we know. The definitive concert album from The Who is Live At Leeds, the indispensible account of the band laying waste to the University of Leeds Refectory on Valentine’s Day in 1970. A connoisseur might even nominate Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival, recorded in the same year, on which the band let rip in front of an audience of more than half a million people.

But for our purposes here, it is Quadrophenia Live In London that gets the nod. For one, it is the finest collection of the band’s songs; as well as its parent album, in full – rightly considered by Pete Townshend to be his masterpiece – the 23-track set also features knockout versions of Won’t Get Fooled Again, Pinball Wizard, You Better You Bet, and more. For two, despite what you may have been told, here The Who have never sounded better.

Recorded at Wembley Arena, in 2013, this is an album from a band who have no plans to grow old gracefully. Worth the price of admission for definitive versions of The Real Me, I’ve Had Enough, 5:15, and Bell Boy, and more.

21. Metallica and San Francisco Symphony: S&M (1999)

The idea to pair the planet’s premier metal band with one of the finest orchestra’s in the world was the brainchild of Michael Kamen. The conductor first suggested the marriage to the San Franciscans at the 1992 Grammy Awards, but, in true Metallica fashion, didn’t receive an answer for a further seven years. “We’re ready to do it,” drummer Lars Ulrich told him, in 1999. To which Kamen replied, “Do what?”

Recorded over two nights at the Berkeley Community Theatre, the S&M concerts were witnessed by both metalheads and those that had bought tickets to see the San Francisco Symphony. As the classical players usher Metallica onstage with an ethereal rendition of The Ecstasy Of Gold, by Ennio Morricone, the tone for the evening is set; here, the band’s innate grandiosity is granted full rein.

Remarkably realised and fully achieved, the two concerts were staged after only two days’ rehearsal. Onstage, the orchestra performed in sight of a clock, obscured from the audience, that allowed its players to decamp for a mandated 15-minute break every hour and a quarter. Learning of this rule, a member of Metallica’s crew wistfully remarked, “I wish I was in their union.”

20. Kate Bush: Before the Dawn (2016)

The announcement from Kate Bush of a run of concerts at the Hammersmith Apollo, in the autumn of 2014, was the year’s biggest music story. With an antipathy toward live performances that makes Carly Simon look like Dr. Feelgood, the prospect of the English singer’s first appearance on a British stage for almost 30-years meant that every ticket for each of the 22-shows was sold inside of 15-minutes.

Kate Bush on stage for Before The Dawn - rex
Kate Bush on stage for Before The Dawn - rex

A subsequent live album was, of course, an inevitability, both as a souvenir for the 88,000 people who saw the shows, and, crucially, as a bittersweet keepsake for the hundreds of thousands unable to secure a seat. Given the committed nature of the crowd, chances are that Kate Bush could have got away with playing anything at the Apollo – up to and including the defiantly tricky 50 Words For Snow, her most recent studio album – and come away with a standing ovation. As it goes, she met the audience halfway – sort of.

Largely comprised of material from her Aerial LP, from 2005, and 1986’s blockbusting Hounds Of Love, Before The Dawn is a triple-disc set featuring 29 compositions from a woman who marches only to the beat of her own drum. Needless to say, this means the omission of many of her biggest hits – the chances of her playing Wuthering Heights, for example, were about as likely as David Bowie performing The Laughing Gnome – but the universal praise garnered by her two and a half hour set means that Kate Bush fulfilled all of her obligations in this once-in-a-lifetime deal.

19. Bill Withers: Live at Carnegie Hall (1973)

Following the death last month of Bill Withers, eulogizers were quick to emphasize a body of work that amounted to much more than hit singles such as Lean On Me, Ain’t No Sunshine, and Lovely Day. Listeners in search of this bounty could, of course, head in the direction of any one of the 10 compilation albums released under the singer’s name. Instead, they could do themselves a solid and lend an ear to Live At Carnegie Hall.

Less than a year before he graced one of the finest concert venues in the world - as the old joke has it, How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice - Bill Withers was a full-time grunt at a factory that made parts for aircrafts. But on a rainy night in the autumn of 1972, he appeared to the manor born on a stage that has held the talents of Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Simon and Garfunkel, and many more.

Literate and expansive, Live At Carnegie Hall contains both pop hits and jams that occupy almost the entire side of an LP record. Boasting the otherworldly talents of drummer James Gadson and pianist Ray Jackson, it also features one of the finest backing bands of its era.

Writing in the Village Voice, the esteemed essayist Robert Christgau described Bill Withers as “[singing] for a black nouveau middle class that didn’t yet understand how precarious its status was… but here he’s turned on to be singing to his people – black folks who can afford Carnegie Hall.”

18. Grateful Dead: Europe ’72 (1972)

Over the course of a career that spanned four decades, the Grateful Dead performed more than 2350 concerts. Of these, an astonishing 2200 were committed to tape, either professionally or else by dedicated fans – ‘Deadheads’ to their friends - that would follow the Californians on tour for months on end, and to whom the band gave license to bootleg shows, often directly from the sound desk.

On the West Coast of America, the ‘Dead were the living embodiment of a peacenik ideal that saw the group perform innumerable free concerts for various worthy causes. Quite what audiences in the Old World made of this sun-kissed utopianism is hard to tell; on Europe ’72, the sextet’s second live album, the sound of audiences at venues such as the Lyceum Theatre, in London, and the Paris L’Olympia are almost entirely absent from the mix. Tune in, turn on, drop out, indeed.

Originally released as a 17-track triple LP, in 2011 Deadheads were given the opportunity to listen to every song recorded on every date of the Grateful Dead’s 1972 spring tour of Europe. Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings comprises – and this is not a typo – 73 CDs featuring enough to songs to see listeners through a lockdown that lasts from now until – checks watch – the end of time.

17. Wilco: Kicking Television: Live in Chicago (2005)

Fifteen years back, Jeff Tweedy, the singer with Wilco, described his band’s only live album in terms that today have become almost unbearably poignant. “A rock concert,” he said, “is kicking television. If you’re out of the house and with a bunch of people enjoying something together, that’s kicking television to me. I don’t think very many people, myself included in, will ever kick television cold turkey, but I certainly think more people should be aware of what it’s doing to them.”

Wilco - wireimage
Wilco - wireimage

With audiences from Auckland to Aberdeen suddenly reduced to experiencing live music in two dimensions, on television or on the screen of a computer, the thought of a communal concert has become as appealing as the prospect of a cold one in an age of prohibition. So for anyone keen to hear an album that ably replicates a good night out in the company of a great band, this stands with the best.

Recorded over four nights at the Vic Theater, in the spring of 2005, Kicking Television: Live In Chicago is the sound of Wilco at their peak. Straddling the dividing line between alternative-edge and mainstream rock, one reviewer wrote of the 23-song set that “not since Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 has there been a live double album in which intimacy and expansiveness, guitar mess and piano reflection commingle this sweetly.”

16. The Band: The Last Waltz (1978)

By 1978, the live double album was the status symbol du jour of any rock band worth their sodium. But for The Band, even these spacious surroundings weren’t enough to accommodate their needs. When it came to releasing an account of their ‘final’ concert, from the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco,

It was still a bit of a pinch. On the evening of November 25th 1976, the group’s set ran for just shy of four hours and 20-minutes. But if such a lengthy duration seems to provide the answer to the question "Why did punk happen?", it’s worth noting that joining The Band onstage that Thanksgiving night were Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Dr. John, and more. At times inspired, sometimes jaded, it is a collection that reeks of hard liquor and cocaine.

As well as this, The Last Waltz is gloriously excessive. The accompanying concert film, directed by Martin Scorcese, even provided an inspiration for This Is Spinal Tap in director Rob Reiner’s decision to cast himself as the inquisitive super-fan Martin ‘Marty’ Di Bergi.

But when 30-song set flies – as it does on Coyote, featuring Joni Mitchell, and the Neil Diamond led Dry Your Eyes - it does so at great altitude. Explaining The Band’s decision to hang up their flight cases in such a gloriously expansive fashion, guitarist Robbie Robertson put it simply. “[Touring is] a goddamn impossible way of life,” he said, “no question about it.”

15. Led Zeppelin: How The West Was Won (2003)

When Led Zeppelin announced a concert at London’s 02 Arena, in 2007, to commemorate the life of Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, such was the demand to see the band that 17-million people applied for one of 20,000 tickets. A subsequent world tour, for which the musicians were reportedly offered a billion dollars, collapsed after singer Robert Plant decided that he didn’t much fancy adding to his fortune simply for the sake of nostalgia.

For anyone aggrieved at being robbed of the opportunity to pay 250-quid to watch an aged band, a listen to How The West Was Won frames Zeppelin in their prime. Recorded at the ‘Fabulous’ Forum and the Long Beach Arena, in Los Angeles, the three-disc set contains all the features for which their teenage audience went nuts – up to and including a drum solo that lasts for more than a quarter of an hour.

How The West Was Won also recalls the age of true craziness, a time when bands could act like lunatics without ending up in court, or on the Sex Offenders Register. It’s not for nothing that in 1972, the Hyatt Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, Led Zeppelin’s digs when in LA, was known as ‘the Riot House’.

14. Joni Mitchell: Miles of Ailes (1974)

Miles Of Aisles, the first concert album from Joni Mitchell, contains a moment that neatly encapsulates the singer’s thorny relationship with her own success. Reliably resistant to playing her own hit singles, onstage at the Universal Amphitheater, in Los Angeles, she tells her audience, “No one ever said to Van Gogh, ‘Paint a Starry Night again, man.”

Joni Mitchell in 1974 - getty
Joni Mitchell in 1974 - getty

“I never wanted to turn into a human jukebox,” she told Rolling Stone, in 1991. “I haven’t used up all my ideas yet. But I’m working in a pop field, and whether they’re going to allow an older woman to do that is open to question. It requires a loyal, interested audience who believes in my talent.”

Recorded at dates in California in the spring and summer of 1974, at the height of Joni Mitchell’s popularity, Miles Of Aisles features 18-songs, not one of which is a dud. Sensitively produced and featuring a sensational band, it is the work of a songwriter in the midst of a purple-patch so resplendent that its shade is nothing short of regal.

13. Nirvana: Unplugged In New York (1994)

Nirvana changed the received wisdom that the more popular a band became, the happier its members would be. Propelled into the mainstream by the explosive brilliance of Nevermind, their second album, released in 1991, the Seattleites changed the face of rock music overnight. In a flash, hair metal was dead and punkish recalcitrance was in. The only problem was that front man Kurt Cobain didn’t much care for the platinum lifestyle his talent had earned him.

A fascinating tussle ensued. Recorded in one take at Sony Studios, Unplugged In New York features just one of Nevermind’s smash-hits – a resplendent version of Come As You Are – and only one single from its successor, the deeply conflicted In Utero. Despite this reticence, space is found for no fewer than three songs by the underground post-punk rockers the Meat Puppets, as well as a searing version of Where Did You Sleep Last Night by the bluesman Lead Belly.

Fragile and deeply resonant, Unplugged In New York is today remembered as the last account of Nirvana as a functioning rock band. It wouldn’t last. By the time of its release in the autumn of 1994, the band were no more following the suicide of Kurt Cobain in April of that year.

12. Simon & Garfunkel: Old Friends: Live on Stage (2004)

The last time the famously quarrelsome partnership of Paul Simon & Arthur Garfunkel appeared onstage in New York City - at Shea Stadium in the summer of 1983 - the two men were in a state of disarray. Despite a blockbusting two-year world tour, the pair’s much-delayed comeback album, Think Too Much, was about to bite the dust in an acrimonious fashion as Simon opted instead to repurpose his songs for use as a solo album (Hearts And Bones, from 1983).

Simon and Garfunkel - getty
Simon and Garfunkel - getty

And that, it seemed, was that. But a union that had first emerged in the 1950s under the apposite name of Tom & Jerry shocked surely even themselves with a final tour of Europe and North America in 2003 and 2004. The New Yorkers even took the Everly Brothers out with them, perhaps to prove that when it comes to falling out with your band mate Artie and Paul were mere beginners.

Recorded at Madison Square Garden, Old Friends: Live On Stage is nothing less than music of the very highest quality. How else to explain a set list that can turn loose Old Friends, A Hazy Shade Of Winter, I Am A Rock, and America as the night’s opening four songs? Best of all, the night’s roster of timeless songs are presented in a thoughtful and inventive manner.

11. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75 (2006)

When Bruce Springsteen arrived in the United Kingdom, in 1975, to perform two shows at the Hammersmith Odeon, he discovered that his record company, CBS, had arranged for the venue’s marquee to announce ‘FINALLY! LONDON IS READY FOR BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN!’ Inside, a poster had been deposited on each of the Odeon’s 3,300 seats announcing ‘The Boss’ as the latest sensation in rock’n’roll.

Horrified, Springsteen spent the minutes before the opening of the doors running through the aisles removing every poster on which he could lay his hands. Rattled and uptight, he then delivered a set that he believed was overwrought and ill at ease. Come the end of the night he retreated to his hotel in a disconsolate mood in order to dine alone on the pallid British equivalent of an American cheeseburger.

But what Bruce Springsteen regarded as an inferior showing was viewed by those that saw it as a defining moment. By the time the concert album was released, some 31-years later, his and the world-beating E Street Band’s bow at the Hammersmith Odeon had come to be rightly regarded as one of their finest hours.

The band, he remembered in 2015, entered “the stage armed with a set list that I still dare any young band to match… [on] an evening that introduced us to our English fans and began the long and lovely 40-year relationship we’ve had with them.”

10. Thin Lizzy: Live and Dangerous (1978)

And so we arrive at the inevitable question regarding live albums: just how live are they, really? The answer, of course, varies - from the galling inauthenticity of Unleashed In The East, by Judas Priest – nickname: Unleashed In The Studio – to the entirely unvarnished NYC 1978 by the Ramones. And when it comes to Live And Dangerous, even the principal players can’t agree.

Thin Lizzy
Thin Lizzy

What is beyond doubt is that the lavishly regarded 17-track double album features plenty of overdubs. Producer Tony Visconti estimated that 75% of its material was recorded in a studio. Pish-posh, retorted Brian Robertson, the group’s combustible guitarist. “We are a very loud band, me being loudest of all of us,” he told Guitar Player magazine. “So how are you going to replace my guitar when it’s so loud that it’s going to bleed all over the bloody drum kit?”

One thing that is certain is the credibility of the music contained within. How else to explain Phil Lynott – a 27-year old singer of colour, from Dublin – telling his audience that he’s just a cowboy listening to a coyote howl, and him being believed without reservation by everyone who hears him?

9. Bob Dylan:  The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert  (1998)

It’s not every day that one gets to hear the most famous heckle in all of rock’n’roll. As the 24-year old Bob Dylan readied himself to play Like A Rolling Stone, a voice from the audience – apparently aggrieved at the singer’s decision to ‘go electric’ for the show’s second half - can be heard to shout “Judas!” Visibly irked, Dylan replies, “I don’t believe you,” and then, “You’re a liar”. He turns to the musicians onstage and says, “Play it fuckin’ loud”.

As anyone with even a passing interest in Bob Dylan will know, this now legendary exchange actually took place at the Free Trade Hall, in Manchester. So famous has it become, in fact, that the DJ Andy Kershaw later identified the previously unknown voice as belonging to a 15-year old Mancunian named John Cordwell. Cordwell claimed that his heckle was inspired by Dylan playing electric music through a terrible PA system – “it was not like it was on the record,” he said, “it was a wall of mush” – rather than a response to the singer’s apparent disavowal of folk.

All of which means that …The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert… is no more authentic than an album recorded at the Sunderland Empire emerging under the title Live At The Hollywood Bowl. Apart from that, this 15-song set is an indispensible document of one of the most vital voices in modern music framed at the most crucial stage of his endless development.

8. AC/DC: If You Want Blood You've Got It (1978)

It seems incredible to remember that by the time AC/DC got round to releasing their first live double-album - AC/DC Live, from 1992 - the band were about to celebrate their 20th birthday. But as every serious constituent of the Australian rockers knows, the group had made their point in full some 14-years earlier with the unrelenting and sweat-soaked single-disc release If You Want Blood You’ve Got It.

Recorded at the Glasgow Apollo on the Powerage tour – the LP of choice for the self-respecting AC/DC connoisseur – the 10-song set sees its authors at a crossroads. The following year, the band would enlist the services of producer Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange and record the somewhat more polished Highway To Hell, the release that first broke them in the United States. After that, following the death of singer Bon Scott, AC/DC made the hit-heavy Back In Black, with vocalist Brian Johnson, and duly sold 30-million albums.

With a front cover that boasts an image of lead guitarist Angus Young skewered by his Gibson SG – the black sleeve shows him prone on the stage, its neck protruding from his back – If You Want Blood… is the last outing from a unit who at the time were the rawest and most feral bar band in the world.

7. Aretha Frankin: Amazing Grace (1972)

Despite having established herself as a peerless interpreter of various musical styles, Aretha Franklin made her bones with the sound of gospel. She learned the trade from her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin, and at the feet of Clara Ward, a gospel artist who enjoyed great success in the forties and fifties with songs such as Packin’ Up, and who, in 1964, was judged by the FBI to have taken part in an orgy with no less a figure than Martin Luther King Jr.

Aretha Franking recording Amazing Grace
Aretha Franking recording Amazing Grace

Recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, in Los Angeles, Amazing Grace is Franklin’s wildly successful return to the music of her youth. Her fourth live album in just seven years, such was the Queen of Soul’s mastery of all she surveyed that even a double live album of gospel-standards found its way into the homes of more than two million Americans, more than four times the number that bought its predecessor, Aretha Live At The Filmore.

Featuring electric reinterpretations of standards such as Amazing Grace and What A Friend We Have In Jesus, Franklin’s performance was filmed by Sydney Pollack for release as a concert film. But the director’s decision not to use to clapperboards meant that the music could not be synched with the reels of film. Advancements in technology meant the picture was finally granted a cinema release some <<46-years>> later.

6. Ramones: It's Alive (1979)

Given the genre’s unvarnished style, it’s something of a surprise that punk rock has produced so few decent live albums. But where the Sex Pistols and The Clash faltered, the Ramones arrived as conquerors. What’s more, they did so on British soil.

Recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London’s Finsbury Park, on New Year’s Eve 1977 – part of a four-night stand that saw the New Yorkers play to just shy of 12,000 people – ‘da bruddas’ approach was simple: play the songs from their first three studio albums at great speed and with barely a pause. Because of this, It’s Alive finds space for almost every track from Ramones, Leave Home, and Rocket To Russia.

As songs such as Rockaway Beach, Sheena Is A Punk Rocker, and Blitzkrieg Bop smash forth like a combination of punches, in North London the audience at the Rainbow ripped the seats on which they declined to be seated and threw them onto the stage. Even the business of recording overdubs required accelerants. In order to keep pace with his own playing, bassist Dee Dee Ramone reportedly needed an epic serving of strong black coffee.

5. Johnny Cash: At Folsom Prison (1968)

Recorded at a Big House near Sacramento, California, At Folsom Prison features one of the most famous moments in all of live music. Singing Folsom Prison Blues, the album’s opening track, Johnny Cash announces that “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” at which point the audience of inmates bursts into a round of wild applause.

Johnny Cash at Folsom - hulton
Johnny Cash at Folsom - hulton

The only problem with this incident is that it never actually happened. The crowd at the Folsom State Prison on January 13th 1968 hollered like rowdies throughout much of the Man in Black’s performance, but fell silent during sections that dealt with criminal matters for fear of reprisals from their captors. It was producer Bob Johnston who married the line with a wave of applause, an intervention the singer believed made him sound like a thug.

By 1968, Johnny Cash had played concerts at numerous penitentiaries throughout the United States. With his career on the wane as a result of an addiction to drugs, the newly cleaned-up country star hoped that At Folsom Prison, his first concert album, would help restore his flagging fortunes. It worked; to date, 16-song set has sold more than three million copies in the United States alone.

4. Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense (1984)

Stop Making Sense begins with David Byrne walking to the stage of the Pantages Theatre, in Los Angeles, with a boom-box and an acoustic guitar. “Hi,” he says, “I’ve got a tape I want to play you”. Unadorned and brightly lit, he plays Psycho Killer to an electronic beat. He’s joined by bassist Tina Weymouth for a two-person run through Heaven that sees drummer Chris Frantz wheeled on from the wings in time to play Thank You For Sending Me An Angel, the night’s third song. As the night proceeds, so too do the number of musicians on the stage.

Made famous by Jonathan Demme’s accompanying concert film, it is the coolest entrance in the history of rock’n’roll. But even viewers unfamiliar with the director’s million-dollar movie will be aware of its most iconic scene, in which Byrne dons his ‘Big Suit’ in order to dance and sing through Girlfriend Is Better.

Even without the artful visuals, the second live album from New York’s Talking Heads is a peach. Recorded over four nights, and featuring a range of styles that spans acoustic balladry to punkish funk, it is the sound of one of America’s truly great bands at the height of their powers.

3. James Brown: Live at the Apollo (1963)

Syd Nathan, the founder of King Records, wasn’t at all sold on James Brown’s idea of releasing a live album. Faced with the refusal by his label to fund his enterprise, the singer was instead forced to self-finance the recording of his performance at the Apollo Theater, in Harlem, on October 24th 1962. “Didn’t nobody believe us,” said backing vocalist Bobby Byrd. “None of the company executives believe us. But see, we were out there; we saw the response as we run our show down.”

Despite an introduction from MC Fats Gonder that described James Brown as “the hardest working man in show business” – in 2009, Bruce Springsteen would be introduced at the same venue as “the hardest working white man in show business” – in 1962 the Godfather of Soul had played live just 14 times. Listeners searching for clues as to the sensational precision of the musical delivery in Harlem could do worse than look to the singer’s habit of levying a fine on any musician that made a mistake.

An album of astounding suppleness and power, Live At The Apollo proved a remarkable commercial success. Ignited by R&B DJs who would often play the album in its entirety, the eight-song, 31-minute set would become its author’s first US top-five hit. Forty-one years after its release, the LP was chosen by the Library of Congress to be inducted into the US National Recording Registry.

2. Jerry Lee Lewis: Live at the Star Club, Hamburg (1964)

While on tour in Europe, in 1972, Jerry Lee Lewis opened the door of his hotel room to a knock from two representatives of Phillips Records, the label on which Live At The Star Club, Hamburg was released. The executives proffered a cheque for $34,000, which “was a pretty good chunk of money back then”. But The Killer believed this sum to be less than the money owed to him, and declined to allow the pair to even enter his room.

“They wasn’t livin’ up to the bargain,” he said.

Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis

In 1964, Jerry Lee was in keen need of a hit record. It had been six years since the singer had been expelled from Europe after news of his marriage to Myra Gale Brown, his 13-year old second cousin, had been broken by the British press, unleashing a scandal that dogged him around the world. In an ideal world, Live At The Star Club, Hamburg would have done trick, if only the album had secured a release in the United States.

A hellcat of a record, it is today recognised as one of the finest live LPs of the last 70-years. Recorded just eight days before The Beatles began their residency at the West German club, the unrelenting 13-song  set is nothing less than the sound of rock’n’roll’s original enfant terrible at his incandescent best. “Oh man,” he would later say, “that was a scorching record.”

1. Motorhead: No Sleep Till Hammersmith (1981)

There is a moment on No Sleep Til Hammersmith when a member of the audience can be heard to say “I can’t hear you”. Given the circumstances, this revelation will surprise no one. Onstage at Newcastle City Hall, on 30th March 1981, Motorhead had just pummeled their way through Overkill, their most unforgiving song; chances are, no one in the hall would be hearing anything before Bonfire Night.

If the purpose of a live album is to represent its authors in all their unvarnished glory, this one does the job better than any. Recorded by the classic line-up of bassist and vocalist Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, guitarist ‘Fast Eddie’ Clarke, and drummer ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor, Motorhead’s first concert release sees the musicians smash their way through livewire standards such as Bomber, No Class, and Stay Clean like men who had warrants out for their arrest. Given the trio’s predilection for drugs and damage, it’s possible they did.

Relentless, sloppy, lawless, and So Very Loud, the album’s most striking moment isn’t even supplied by the band themselves. No Sleep Til Hammersmith opens with Ace Of Spades – in 1981, already a classic  - the culmination of which draws a roar from the audience that can only be described as animalistic. It is, as Lemmy would say, righteous stuff, a masterpiece of a record that would earn Motorhead their first, and only, number one album.

What is the best live concert that you've ever attended? Let us know in the comments section below.