• Rob Butterfield


Updated: Aug 1, 2019

The joys of a (not so) perfect performance.

I do love a good live album on vinyl, especially from around that 70’s era; they seem to harbour a certain excitement that is all too often missing from many of todays clinically produced offerings. I guess it’s something to do with the comparative lack of technology (by modern standards anyway) that was available to both performers and recording engineers at the time. They can often be ‘not so perfect’ and that is their charm, I think.

Inspired by a recent post from a friend on a well-known social media channel I had a rifle through my ever-growing vinyl collection to seek out what live offerings I had. Surprisingly I had many more than I thought (maybe this vinyl junkie thing is becoming a problem… see my earlier post Put The Needle On The Record) and compiling a list of my 10 favourite live albums became a rather daunting challenge.

In true Upstarts and Oligarchs style I thought, for what it’s worth, I’d share the list with you so here it is - my Top 10 Live Albums.

801 Live

This album also features in my Top 10 Albums blog post. It’s a simply sublime offering from what turned out to be a fairly short-lived ‘project’ by Brian Eno and friends after Roxy Music had temporarily disbanded. This album has been a firm favourite of mine since I was first introduced to it by a friend’s brother shortly after its 1976 release. I was hooked then and still am now.

The Smiths – Rank

Not much I can say about this album other than it’s bloody brilliant. It was a close contender for one of my all-time Top 10 albums. I bought this around the time of its release date in September 1988 and is, to my mind, a shining example of the band at the very top of their game recorded live at The National Ballroom, Kilburn, in October 1986.

Slade Alive

Live, Slade could rock as hard as any band and this classic 1972 album is living proof of that. Suitably devoid of any of their more commercial hit singles it’s a testament to the rocking roots of this band.

Simon and Garfunkel – The Concert in Central Park

I’ve only really got into Simon and Garfunkel in recent years due in the most part to my renewed obsession with vinyl and collecting all of those classic albums I once saw in record stores as a kid. So, imagine my joy when I came across this wonderful live album (complete with booklet!). Recorded live at a free benefit concert in Central Park, New York City, on September 19th 1981 this is a fantastic memoir of a short-lived reunion of Paul and Art. The concert was attended by over 500,000 people and the set included, as you’d expect, many of their famous hits. Just beautiful.

Pete Townshend’s Deep End Live

My daughter picked this up for me in New York whilst out there celebrating her 21st birthday in 2009. I recently re-discovered this album and it’s had many plays. It’s a classic slice of Townshend and is effectively the soundtrack from the Atlantic released video ‘Pete Townshend’s Deep End. The Brixton, England Concert’. The album was released by popular demand after the release of the video.

Nat King Cole at The Sands

There is no denying my love for the dulcet tones and effortless cool of Nat King Cole. My vinyl collection of his releases is ever-increasing and this charity shop find came as a welcome addition to my collection. The album, released in 1966 on Capitol Records (I have an original pressing), is the only release of Nat live and captures his magnificent performance in the early hours at The Sands in Las Vegas on January 14th 1960. It is pure class.

Iggy Pop – TV Eye 1977 Live

She got a TV Eye on me, she got a TV Eye… I love this Iggy era. Deep in collaboration with David Bowie, Iggy produced some of his best material in The Idiot and Lust for Life albums and this album captures that era perfectly (along with a couple of Stooges classics). There’s also a guest appearance from Bowie on keys for the four tracks recorded at the March 1977 Cleveland and Chicago gigs. The remaining four tracks were recorded in Kansas during October 1977.

Humble Pie – Performance Rockin’ the Fillmore

This is a very recent addition to my collection, within the last few months actually, but it had been on my want list for a very long time and easily earns it’s place in my Top 10 Live Albums. What is there to say? It’s Marriot, Frampton, Ridley and Shirley rockin’ out at this now legendary May (28/29) 1971 concert.

Free Live

I’m fortunate enough to have many original Free albums – a lucky purchase from a friend a few years back – released during the relatively short time they were together as a band. Free Live was hurriedly released after their initial break-up in 1971 before they got back together the following year. This album is classic Free; All Right Now, I’m a Mover, Fire and Water, The Hunter, Mr Big… all the classics you’d expect to hear. It’s pure rock and blues at it’s very best.

The Crusaders – Scratch

You gotta have a little jazz funk in your life and if you want it with extra helpings of style then check out this album. Recorded live at The Roxy in West Hollywood this album is packed full of solid grooves and amazing solos from the assembled musicians, not to mention the inspiring rendition of Lennon and McCartney’s Eleanor Rigby. Some reviews criticise the album for it’s 70’s production values but for me, it’s just perfect – the way live music should be.

So, there you have it, my Top 10 Live Albums. I hasten to add the list represents only the live albums that are in my vinyl collection – Marc Bolan and T.Rex Live 1977 and Deep Purple Made in Japan are currently on my vinyl want list and they may very well have reached the top 10 had they been in my possession, but in all honesty I’d struggle to take anything out.

There is also a notable absence of some of the ‘classic’ live albums that I own which have been omitted on the basis that I tend not to play them much, or haven’t played them that recently, those being Frampton Comes Alive (a classic for sure), The Song Remains The Same by Led Zeppelin and some marvellous offerings from Colosseum and Grand Funk Railroad. Some of you may also be surprised to see T.Rex in Concert missing from the list too. Whilst I play it on occasion and there are some nice little bits on it, I personally find it pretty poorly put together and the sound quality falling a little short of the ‘not so perfect’.

Thin Lizzy Live and Dangerous could have also been in there but on reading Tony Visconti’s book Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy and finding out that almost everything was overdubbed after the event, it kind of lost it’s appeal to me. It’s still a great album but perhaps not as ‘live and dangerous’ as the title suggests.

So, there you have it, my current (and I’ve deliberately added the word ‘current’) Top 10 Live Albums. It’s in no way meant to be a definitive list of the best live albums ever, we all have different tastes and choices and I’m sure you will all have very different views. And who knows, in the future I’ll probably pick up some other live vinyl gems that change everything. That’s the beauty of music, especially when it’s captured live!

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