5 Best Live Albums
The live album in a rock artist's career is often just a cash-in or a way to fulfill a record contract, but the 5 best live albums far surpass that reputation, and in some cases are among the best work in an artist's catalogue. They offer something different than their studio counterparts, expanding songs or making them louder or more punchy, and can offer the experience of being there when it was recorded, even if the listener wasn't. Here they are, the 5 best live albums in rock and roll history.
- "Live at Leeds" by The Who. "Leeds" followed "Tommy" in the Who's release schedule, showing longtime listeners that they hadn't gone soft with their album concepts and rock operas. The band on "Live at Leeds" is a punishing, proto-metal force, plowing through Who standards like "I Can't Explain," rock and roll covers like the thundering take on "Summertime Blues," and the longer Tommy pieces, as well as some extended, blistering jams. It was the first great live album and remains atop the best live albums in rock and roll to this day.
- "At Folsom Prison" by Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash was already a star when he performed this prison concert, but it was this that made him a legend. Try to think of an artist now that could play in front of convicts and be widely respected both by the authorities and the outlaws. "Folsom" is truly one of the best live albums in rock and roll history.
- "How the West Was Won" by Led Zeppelin. Two California concerts are chronicled on this double-disc set, which shows the primordial beast that Zep were live. From riffy classics to long-winded jams enrapturing with their psychedelic bliss, this is rock and roll as it should be: live, loud, sexy and scary.
- "Live 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert" by Bob Dylan. When Dylan went electric, it shocked many. Few got to hear those first controversial concerts, but they are captured in microcosm in this entry on our list of the best live albums in rock and roll. His contemptuous sneer for the audience would be echoed later on in punk rock, and the loud snarl of his band would never truly be replicated.
- "Alive" by KISS. KISS were never about making great albums, which is why this live set composed of their hits performed in all of their blood and fire spewing glory is the best record in the band's catalogue. Listening to "Strutter," "Rock and Roll All Nite" and "Deuce," one can picture the face paint, Gene Simmons' tongue, and Paul Stanley's smashed guitars. It rounds out the best live albums in rock and roll.