There was perhaps no better era for live rock and roll than the 70s. Bands were filling arenas with their fans and our souls with their music. The idea of narrowing down a list of the 20 best live albums from such a dynamic decade was formidable.
Live recordings from the 70s also set a precedent that remains to this day. Because fans and bands alike craved the perfection of the studio recordings in a live format, many bands got carried away with dubbing over perceived or real flaws. This is tragic, as it is the real, raw, performances which are so magical. That said, many of the most noted live albums of all time, several of which are on this list, were as much studio as live by the time all was said and done.
While there were many incredible live efforts released during the ‘70s, the following are the ones that stand the test of time and repeated listening. This list was created with the input of fans and readers, and while the final ranking is mine, they chose the top 20. For “live” album lovers, these are the essentials.
1. UFO – “Strangers In The Night” (1979): One of the most underrated and overlooked rock bands of all time created their masterpiece with this record. Guitar legend Slash hails this as his favorite live album, as do I. This record captures guitarist Michael Schenker in his raw state. There are no guitar overdubs on this record. This is pure UFO in their prime. The 1999 re-issue includes two tracks originally removed from the album.
2. Kiss – “Alive!” (1975): People can say what they want about the glam-rock legends, but Kiss was “the live band” of the 1970s. After three mostly unheard of studio albums, Kiss took a shot at recording a live record, a bet that parlayed them into super stardom. While the album is said to be overdubbed to hell and back, one cannot dismiss the power and impact this record had on rock and roll. It remains a classic rock staple to this day.
3. Foghat – “Live” (1977): The shortest live album on the list, yet still one of the best. Only six tracks are included here, but they make an impact. In a recent interview, drummer Roger Earl indicated “Live” was originally slated to be a double album, but the record label nixed it. Tragic and short-sighted. This record fully captures the energy of rock’s great hard rock, boogie and blues legends. “Are you ready to take a slow ride?”
4. Cheap Trick – “At Budokan” (1978/79): These Illinois rockers made Budokan “the place” to record live albums. Originally recorded as a tribute solely for their Japanese fans it would soon find love on American shores, ultimately becoming the band’s best-selling album of all time. This is the record that launched one of rock’s most enduring and beloved bands. The full concert would eventually be released in 1998 as At Budokan: The Complete Concert”.
5. Deep Purple – “Made In Japan” (1972/73): Purple has released numerous live efforts over the course of its 40 odd year career, but none has ever captured the band so perfectly as this album. Recorded over three nights between Tokyo and Osaka in the summer of ’72, “Made in Japan” magnifies and crystallizes all that is genius about Deep Purple.
6. Thin Lizzy – “Live and Dangerous” (1978): One of the albums on this list with the overdub asterisk it remains one of the most beloved live hard rock albums of all time. Phil Lynott and company give fans more than their money’s worth on every soulful and rocking track. Simply put, it’s a live masterpiece. Even a young Huey Lewis (then of Clover) makes a guest harmonica appearance on “Baby Drives Me Crazy”.
7. AC/DC – “If You Want Blood You’ve Got It” (1978): It remains as the sole official live document of the Bon Scott era. Released shortly before the landmark “Highway To Hell” album, this live beast represents all of the band’s first five studio efforts. The album is a non-stop rollicking romp of rock and roll revelry. Say that five times fast. Bon Scott could have. There isn’t a bad track in the bunch, and it’s a travesty that the video version was never released even though it was in fact filmed.
8. Queen – “Live Killers” (1979): While even the band admits they might have mixed the album better, this stands as a showcase for Queen’s larger than life persona. The set pulls tracks from all of the band’s then released albums, offering up hits and rare album tracks to the delight of all.
9. The Who – “Live at Leeds” (1970): As raw as it gets, this is The Who at its most primal. Taken from the band’s tour in support of the ’69 album, “Tommy”, this includes the non-Tommy tracks, only three of which were Who originals. The album bristles with energy and sweat, and sadly like so many live albums of that era, the label only gave fans a taste. The full concert was re-released years later. They performed a brilliant cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”.
10. Lynyrd Skynyrd – “One More From the Road” (1976): Recorded and released one year before the tragic plane crash that tore the band apart, this marks the only live testament to the band’s classic era. Tracks from the band’s first four records are represented here, and give fans a taste of the band’s bluesy Southern traditions. This is raw and real, just like the band themselves.
11. Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Live Rust (1979): This album is more beloved in hindsight then it was at the time. Stripped of the industry politics of the era, “Live Rust” captures Young at his folksy best, as well as his edgy hard rock side with Crazy Horse.
12. Peter Frampton – “Frampton Comes Alive!” (1976): This album was ubiquitous in 1976. One could not get away from Frampton for the next two years. It was the best-selling album of ’76, and remains one of the all-time best selling live albums ever released. Frampton had released four studio albums prior to this which had gone relatively unnoticed. This marked the lone highlight of his career.
13. Rolling Stones – “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!” (1970): While live bootleg recordings have always captured the band at their best, this stands as the best official live recording of the Stone’s legendary career. The album is worth owning if only for their magnificent rendering of “Midnight Rambler”.
14. Rush – “All the World’s a Stage” (1976): While this would not be the band’s best live album (that would come a few years later with “Exit… Stage Left”) it gives fans their first live taste of the Canadian trio’s mammoth talents. It takes material from the band’s first four albums, including the seminal, “2112” and gives us a glimpse of why they remain one of the best live bands of all time.
15. Rainbow – “On Stage” (1977): I discovered Ronnie James Dio with this album. I’d never heard the band, but I was intrigued by the massive power-sucking rainbow across the stage on the cover of the album. One listen to “Kill the King” and “Man On the Silver Mountain” and my life was changed.
16. Band of Gypsys – “Band of Gypsys” (1970): Recorded over New Years, this Jimi Hendrix post-Experience project with Buddy Miles and Billy Cox gave us this lone gift. Recorded at the Fillmore East it is the only live album Hendrix authorized before his death, and as brilliant as it is, was done to finish a contractual obligation. But here, captured from four performances over two nights, are some of Jimi’s finest moments.
17. The Band – “The Last Waltz” (1978): The farewell from The Band, this album would serve as the soundtrack to the movie of the same name. Three records, five sides of which contained live performances recorded November 25, 1976 at Winterland Arena in San Francisco. Guests including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond and Van Morrison all make appearances.
18. Aerosmith – “Live! Bootleg” (1978): The Beantown boys kept it simple on their debut live affair. Minimal, if any overdubs, and packaging meant to mimic the low-end bootleg albums of the day. The recordings were culled from their 77/78 tour, with the exception of two rare tracks from ’73.
19. Blue Öyster Cult – “On Your Feet or On Your Knees” (1975): While casual B.O.C. fans may prefer their second live album, “Some Enchanted Evening”, which contains their most noted hits, this album is the band’s live masterpiece. It pulls three songs from each of the their first three studio efforts as well as covers of The Yardbirds’ “I Ain’t Got You” and Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.”
20. Led Zeppelin – “The Song Remains the Same” (1976): Culled from a three night stand at Madison Square Garden in 1973, this showcases the band at its most grandiose. One could argue they are almost too full of themselves, buying into their own God-like status at the time. Still, this captures Led Zeppelin at the peak of their popularity when they could do as they pleased, and they did. At times brilliant and equally tedious, it is still a most own live affair.
Which albums were left off this list that you feel were deserving of recognition? Sound off below?
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Rustyn Rose is a veteran music journalist who owns and operates Metalholic Magazine and Metalholic Radio.