While The Rolling Stones are a legendary band whose outlaw reputation has managed to reach the entire world due to their extensive and relentless touring, the band have played countless shows and therefore were bound to come up short on a few ones.
Especially later on in their career, The Rolling Stones became such a massive machine, that the institution of the Stones simply had to maintain a busy schedule of constantly playing just to keep their mammoth pirate ship afloat. With an enforced regime usually comes some serious missteps.
The Stones got their start on the London circuit in the early ’60s just a little after The Beatles began to rise to prominence, a reason why this band of misfits began to started to play around with the Mississipi delta blues. Childhood friends Keith Richards and Mick Jagger would meet again years later when they were in their later teens on a bus. Jagger was carrying a few pieces of vinyl under his arm when Richards spotted him. The two instantly connected over Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Robert Johnson, and Howlin’ Wolf.
The two set out to resuscitate the American blues and bring it to London. They would form the Stones with Brian Jones, and the rest is essentially history. When the Stones began playing in the States, white kids began listening to the blues and gave the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf a career once more, but the only difference was, now their audiences were predominately white kids.
In the mid to late ’60s, the Stones were up there with The Beatles in terms of fan furore, and the two were dominating the UK charts, who then began dabbling in the psychedelic scene. Things changed for The Beatles when they released Rubber Soul and Revolver, while the Stones were always a couple of steps behind with their Aftermath and Between the Buttons. This became painfully obvious when The Stones released Their Satanic Majesties Request to match The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The Beatles would break up by 1970, and the Stones were on their own. This would prove to be a good thing, of course, as they returned to their roots and released Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street, two albums that really set the Stones apart from everyone else as a wholly unique band. But in reality, the studio albums are never going to be what we remember The Rolling Stones for. It is their live performances that truly captured the hearts and minds of their fans, and across their increasingly lengthening career, they’ve always put their best foot forward when approaching the stage.
Throughout their illustrious career, The Stones have officially released ten live albums. Over the years, bootlegged recordings of their live concerts began reappearing, which the Stones began to take back control over and officially release them themselves.
In this list, we decided to take a look at their official live albums and rank them in order of greatness.
Ranking The Rolling Stones live albums from worst to best:
10. Live Licks (2004)
Live Licks is a double-live album released by the Stones in 2004 and was remastered in 2009. Their ninth official live album from their stretch of performances during 2002 and 2003 called the ‘Licks Tour’ in support of their Forty Licks LP, which is a retrospective compilation album in celebration of their 40th anniversary.
There are two versions of the album’s cover artwork. The American version sheds some insight into the nature of their culture as it features a bikini-clad woman riding the Stones tongue, while the British one features one without her bikini top.
Live Licks features a setlist of all their most popular songs, including ‘Honky Tonk Women’, ‘Gimme Shelter’, ‘Start Me Up’, ‘Street Fighting Man’, among many more.
9. Love You Live (1977)
Number nine is another double live album the Stones released, this time in 1977. It is the collection from their ‘Tour of the Americas’ in the US in 1975 and their European tour in 1976. It also includes performances in Toronto, Canada. It’s their third live album and was released in memory of audio engineer Keith Harwood who died in a car accident right before the album’s release.
The album’s reception fared well, reaching number three in the UK charts, and it went gold. Like their studio album, Sticky Fingers, the artwork was designed by American pop artist Andy Warhol.
The setlist consists largely of material from their ’70s albums, including a lot of their classic blues covers, like ‘Little Red Rooster’ and Muddy Waters’ ‘Mannish Boy’. It’s a snapshot of a time gone by.
8. Still Life (1982)
This live album, released in 1982, sees the Stones in rare form and is considered somewhat of a comeback for the blues players. Recorded at various shows throughout North America, the presentation of their biggest hits have somewhat of an ’80s twist to them, from the sounds of their instrumentation to the slight variations in their arrangements of these very familiar songs.
The album cover is a painting by Japanese artist Kazuhide Yamazaki. Commercially speaking, the live record did well in the charts, reaching number four in the UK and number five in the US. It eventually went platinum in North America, although many have criticised it for lacking the natural roughness the Stones were well known for.
The album tracklist is a short one and contains a lot of their well-known ’60s classics. It also includes a cover of ‘Going to a Go-Go’ written by William Robinson, Warren Moore, Robert Rodgers, and Marvin Tarplin.
7. No Security (1998)
Released in 1998, No Security is a gem in this list as its tracklist features a lot of the obscure songs they don’t often play live. Their fifth track, ‘Memory Hotel’ from their 1976 album Black and Blue, is a beautiful rendition and features a special guest in Dave Mathews.
Their decision to choose obscure songs for their setlist is a conscious one, as they didn’t want to start repeating a formula over and over again. Other guest performers that make an appearance are Taj Mahal and the saxophone player Joshua Redman.
Despite the obscurities, there are some classic Stones moments on the record, songs like ‘The Last Time’ and ‘Sister Morphine’ particularly shine.
6. Flashpoint (1991)
The next live album after their 1982, Still Life, came nearly a decade later. Flashpoint would be the last album that longtime bass player, Bill Wyman would perform on. The live album for the tour they did in support of their new album at the time, Steel Wheels, released in 1989.
The tracklisting for Flashpoint features their typical hits, along with a few of their new ones at the time from their Steel Wheels album.
One interesting point, that differentiates it from the rest on our list, is Flashpoint was recorded using a technique called binaural recording, a three-dimensional way of recording sound that makes the listener think the audience is behind the listener. It makes for one of the most holistic live record experiences and confirms it as a classic.
5. Got Live If You Want It (1966)
The Stones’ first live album, this record perfectly captures the live energy of The Rolling Stones during the ’60s. The original stuff, whatever it may be, is always better. There is so much raw energy contained in this album that it almost spills out on to every surface surrounding your speakers.
While the sound quality isn’t the greatest on this record, it makes it all that more convincing that it’s been pulled from the depths of swinging ’60s depravity. It, therefore, provides a little insight into what it may have been like while attending a Stones concert during this period.
The album’s release follows their brilliant album Aftermath. The album is a series of various concerts during their extensive touring in this period.
4. Shine a Light (2008)
Shine a Light is the live concert soundtrack to the film about the Stones of the same name, directed by the incredible Martin Scorsese. Although he is known for his gangster-orientated films, often working with the likes of Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro, he is no stranger to the world of rock ‘n’ roll. After all, he also did The Last Waltz, a film on The Band and, more recently, The Rolling Thunder Revue for Bob Dylan.
The live album is a collection of live performances from two 2006 live performances and features songs from their 2005 album A Bigger Bang.
Shine a Light also features guest performers, Jack White, Christina Aguilera, and Buddy Guy. It’s a killer live concert and an even better documentary.
3. Stripped (1995)
Stripped was released in 1995 and contained six live tracks and eight studio recordings, which could make it a debatable entry on our list, but we think there’s enough live prowess here to confirm its place. The live recordings include a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, which served as the album’s leading single.
Totally Stripped, an extended edition of this live album, including a documentary about the making of the original album, came out later on. Some of the songs on the original tracklisting are acoustic reworkings of Stones songs.
The album, otherwise, contains a lot of covers, paying tribute to Willie Dixon, and Robert Johnson.
2. The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1996)
This gem of an anomaly was recorded in the late ’60s but didn’t see the light of day until it was finally released in 1996. In an attempt to find a unique way to promote their new album at the time, Beggar’s Banquet, released in 1968; Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane concocted the idea to create a televised live concert featuring the Stones and all their friends to perform, complete with a circus theme.
John Lennon, The Who, Taj Mahal, Eric Clapton, Marianne Faithfull were all among the guests to perform on the show. The Who would outplay everybody that day; this coupled with Brian Jones’ death the following July, The Stones decided to hold onto the project and never release until the 1990s.
The live album, while it does feature performances from other acts and therefore is not purely a Rolling Stones live album, it does, however, feature a lot of Stones songs; the whole album is brilliant and captures certain magic that was going on during the ’60s.
1. Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert (1970)
Released in 1970, this is the best live Rolling Stones album, hands down.
It was recorded in 1969, just before they released their Let it Bleed record. It is the first live album to reach number one in the UK, and the record shows the Stones in their absolute prime.
The album is a collection of concerts from their 1969 American tour when they toured with Tina Turner, Terry Reid, and B.B King and sometimes with special appearances from Chuck Berry. The Rolling Stones proved to be the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band alive on this album.
The album’s cover is a photograph taken by David Bailey, and it features the drummer, Charlie Watts, and a donkey with guitars and bass drums hanging from the neck of the donkey’s neck. Initially, the band wanted to get an elephant but had to settle with the donkey. There must have been some good drugs going around at the time.