Credit: Umberto Cofini

The 20 greatest live albums of all time

We’ve become fascinated with the all-hallowed live album, something which these days are too often forgotten and left in the dusty cupboard of the past. To show you the power and majesty a live album held for its listeners, we’ve pulled together our 20 favourite live albums of all time.

We dip into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you a selection of the best live albums of all time, including nods to some of the musical world’s greatest ever acts.

Not just loved and beloved by rock acts, the earliest beginnings of the live albums have their history rooted in Jazz and the foundations of modern music. Since then the animal of live albums has evolved to remove the crackling recording of the smoky club and replaced it with the monstrous energy of a feverish crowd.

Here we take a look back at a selection of our favourite Live albums of all time featuring acts like Iggy Pop, the Ramones, Thin Lizzy and so much more.

Find them below, and further down is a complete playlist.

20 greatest live albums of all time

20. IDLES – A Beautiful Thing: Live at Le Bataclan (2019)

As a tip of the hat as to where live albums could go in the future, we’ve dropped in the incendiary live performance at Le Bataclan from punk saviours IDLES.

This is what live albums are all about: being transported into the sweating, heaving mass of joy that is the audience at a punk show.

49. A Beautiful Thing: IDLES Live at Le Bataclan - IDLES

19. Thin Lizzy – Live and Dangerous (1978)

As a way of being able to work with the legendary producer, Tony Visconti, during a tight time schedule, the massive act Thin Lizzy decided to cut a live album.

While the amount of actual ‘live’ sound in the record is disputed and often thought of as minimal at best, the power of the album certainly is not. It’s still more than capable of turning a room full of dads into a heaving mosh of sweaty bodies. Enjoy.

18. Neil Young – Time Fades Away (1973)

It was a tumultuous time for Neil Young in 1973. Having shot out of the shadow of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young with his number one album Harvest he was also very sullen and sad after the death of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten.

As such the live record is filled with the juxtaposition of life — despite being Young’s least favourite record. “I felt like a product, and I had this band of all-star musicians that couldn’t even look at each other,” Young reflected in a 1987 interview.

Adding: “It was a total joke.”

17. Joni Mitchell – Miles of Aisles (1974)

Joni Mitchell’s first live record arrived at the record shops during the height of her fame. The album is a perfect assimilation of not only Mitchell’s lesser-known songs but of her attitude as an artist. “No one ever said to Van Gogh, ‘Paint a ‘Starry Night’ again, man,'” is about as perfect a phrase as you’re likely to hear. 

Of course, Joni Mitchell’s work in the studio is undoubted, her album Blue remains to this day one of the greatest ever recorded but hearing her live is an overwhelming and incredible experience.

16. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Live/1975-85 (1986)

“I cannot allow myself anything less than to produce the best live LP ever,” once said Bruce Springsteen.

So, high expectations were awaiting the announcement of Springsteen’s first live album. Luckily, The Boss had a brilliant decade of impeccable live tracks to use, and with a core of the record featuring ‘Born in the U.S.A.’, ‘Seeds’, ‘The River’, and finishing with Edwin Starr’s ‘War’, it was never in doubt.

When you add this to the unbridled electric power Springsteen had at his fingertips at the time then you have one of the finest live albums ever made.

15. The Velvet Underground – 1969: Velvet Underground Live With Lou Reed (1974)

A record built out of entirely new material from Reed and the Velvet Underground, 1969 was Reed finding the new spotlight of a new generation. It’s an album founded in subversion and delivered in the effortless style of Reed and his band.

As well as the sounds the record itself is a real joy, more precisely the liner notes. Scrawled by Elliot Murphy, they reflect the album’s place on the mantel of the underbelly achievements.

14. Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Africa ’70 with Ginger Baker – Live! (1971)

This may be one of the lesser-known albums on the list but we suggest you do yourself a favour and get this immediately in your playlists.

After making his name as one of the world’s greatest drummers, Ginger Baker left England for war-torn Nigeria to learn more about rhythm and explore his percussion. “I don’t dance,” he said about hearing his old friend Fela Kuti’s new band Africa 70, “but I just had to dance to Fela’s stuff.”

It would turn into a love affair between Kuti and Baker and deliver one of the most powerful live albums you’re ever likely to hear.

13. Aretha Franklin – Live at Fillmore West (1971)

“Does anybody feel like hearing the blues?” Aretha Franklin asks, introducing ‘Dr. Feelgood’ and of course, the answer is yes. The album that follows is densely packed with reason upon reason of why Franklin is one of the greatest performers of all time.

Aretha Franklin takes the stage of one of the most famous rock venues in America and delivers a frankly incredible performance, earning her title as Lady Soul.

12. Iggy and the Stooges – Metallic K.O. (1976)

In what might possibly be the most punk thing Iggy Pop, the Godfather of Punk, has ever done. Weeks prior to this gig, which features on Side B of the LP, Iggy had spent a lot of time antagonising a biker gang called the Scorpions.

What transpired then is Iggy Pop being pelted with fruit, food, coins, and bottles all while The Stooges deliver a punk set worthy of praise and undoubtedly making one of the most visceral live albums of all time.

11. Ramones – It’s Alive (1979)

Recorded on New Year’s Eve in 1977, this record remains one of the Ramones best ever LPs. Amphetamine quick and delivered with all the gusto of the L-Train, the 28 songs are blasted through in record time. Making it faster than ever to remember the ferocity of punk.

“I think our peak, our greatest moment, is that New Year’s Eve show of 1977 into 1978. I think that’s our greatest moment as a band,” said the gorup’s principal songwriter, Johnny Ramone

10. Duke Ellington – Ellington at Newport (1956)

After four band members missed their original slot, Duke Ellington and his band had to return late at night to perform at Newport. It would be a set that would change music forever, elevating Be-Bop into the heart of America and seeing Ellington on the cover of Time magazine.

This album is a lesson in how to perform live and how to move with the crowd. One thing that Ellington did perhaps better than all his contemporaries was change pace and mood as he saw the night needed. This album is proof.

9. Grateful Dead – Live/Dead (1969)

The Grateful Dead were a little bit cynical in their recording of Live/Dead $180,000 in debt to Warner Bros. they needed to repay the studio with some quick wins. “We were after a serious, long composition, musically and then a recording of it,” said Jerry Garcia and they delivered it.

Not only did they repay the debts but The Grateful Dead, a band famed for their mercurial live shows, do not disappoint and deliver an album you can take to the bank.

8. Jimi Hendrix – Jimi Plays Monterey (1986)

There arguably isn’t a set in rock and roll history that had more impact than Jimi Hendrix and The Experience at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Nine tracks to totally enrapture you and remind you of why Hendrix was such an important figure in music.

This isn’t just a great album but it’s a piece of documented history, one that sees the greatest guitarist of all time perhaps reach his pinnacle.

7. The Rolling Stones – Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, The Rolling Stones in Concert (1970)

“It’s about as un-tampered with as possible,” Keith Richards said of the band’s live album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, The Rolling Stones in Concert and it’s hard to argue. The record, emboldened by the recruitment of blues guitarist Mick Taylor and their own live power and prowess, is The Rolling Stones at their best.

Bassist Bill Wyman said of the record: “The Stones were a better live band then any other band at that time…. Me and Charlie were really always on the ball, always straight, always together and had it down. If we had our shit together we got it right.”

6. James Brown – Live at the Apollo (1963)

Wednesday night at Harlem’s Apollo was traditionally amateur night. That was until the hardest working man in music decided to self-finance one of the most iconic shows in music history. Brown, convinced of his ability to deliver and then sell a fantastic live album, took the audience by the scruff of the neck and brought to them 27-minutes of the best entertainment they will ever know.

Here, we listen to one of the best Brown records ever released and the briefest window into what a night with James Brown could be. Judging by this record it would’ve been special to say the least.

5. Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense (1984)

Forget ‘live albums’ Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense is one of our favourite records of all time. Full Stop. No questions asked.

Beginning the record with the lonely figure of David Byrne and an acoustic guitar, the show begins to swell and swirl as more and more instruments and musical avenues appear. The record ends with a mass groove permeating the airwaves and becoming a sixties-inspired hypno-ray designed to get everyone dancing.

Byrne says of the album and its accompanying film, saying it “tells the story of the band, and it gets more dramatic and physical as it builds up. It’s like 60 Minutes on acid.”

4. Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York (1994)

This is one of the most famous live albums in the world and is built upon the juxtaposition of Nirvana — a band so synonymous with ragged distortion and unbridled passion — being stripped-back and left naked to see.

The band are pure emotions on this record and while the album may have taken on its own life following Kurt Cobain’s death, the music is a reflection of Nirvana’s core — behind all the bluster.

3. MC5 – Kick Out the Jams (1969)

While so many other bands were trying to choke their way to the top of the charts at the end of the sixties were band were determined to turn Flower Power into a full-blown revolution. MC5, the garage band to end all garage bands, deliver one of the most jaw-droppingly brilliant records rock has ever seen.

Motor City 5 were the architects of it all, of grunge, of punk, of heavy metal— these guys were the start of it all and this is the moment they lit the match for America.

2. The Who – Live At Leeds (1970)

Spending much of 1969 and 1970 on the road playing their rock opera Tommy at the centre of their shows and they had developed a keen style of powerful live performance. Live At Leeds has very little of all that nonsense.

Recorded at Leeds University on Valentine’s Day the live album has three Who songs and three cover songs to make it the ultimate bootleg record. Over time more and more songs have been added to the album for a full-fat rendition of The Who in 1970.

1. Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison (1968)

For us, there is no better live album than Johnny Cash’s 1968 masterpiece At Folsom Prison. The record is built on two foundation stones which we find irresistible. Firstly, Johnny Cash’s expert country rock which transcends genre to become the beating heart of his audience. Secondly is that very, unhinged, unlocked and untethered audience who make this record what it is.

It would not only be a shot in the arm for Cash’s ailing career but it would become a piece of musical history as a testament to the authenticity of Johnny cash’s lyrics, music and personality. Cash was always the real deal and this album proved it. In buckets.

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