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10 classic live albums you need in your record collection

From The Grateful Dead to Erykah Badu. 

Image source: 
Rui Kinoshita

To create a cohesive, inspired body of work within the studio with the possibility of cuts, do-overs and everything else that comes with that environment is one thing, but to craft a great live album is a completely different art form.

To transfer the energy and intangible elements that make live performances so mesmerising onto an audio recording is no easy feat and can often come off sounding lacklustre or two-dimensional, but when done correctly a live album can capture a moment in time and transport you there at the push of a button.

Here's a selection of some of the best live albums of all time which, if they aren’t already in your record collection, you should hunt down immediately.

Made In Japan - Deep Purple

Recorded during Deep Purple’s first tour of Japan in August 1972 across three nights in Tokyo and Osaka, Made In Japan captures the sheer force that is Deep Purple. Consisting of seven tracks in total, upwards of six minutes apiece, the double album features memorable improvisational moments such as the tremendous duet-meets-duel on ‘Strange Kind of Woman’ in which frontman Ian Gillan vocally mimics and tries to one-up the guitar melody. Coming hot on the tails of their previous release Machine Head, the tracklist largely revolves around that record with ‘Smoke on the Water’, ‘Highway Star’, ‘Lazy’ and ‘Space Truckin’’, all making the cut, the performance of the latter sprawling across 20 minutes.

Live - Erykah Badu 

Neo-soul luminary Erykah Badu's performative prowess is at its peak with her aptly titled album, Live. From the first opening groove of 'Rimshot' through to the 12-minute extended cut of 'Next Lifetime', the record paints a portrait of an artist at the top of her game -- unafraid to take risks. 

Miles of Aisles - Joni Mitchel 

Joni Mitchel was drastically underrated during her peak, but Miles of Aisles portrays firsthand her unmatchable talent. From the heartbreaking rendition of 'Blue' and the giddy joy of 'A Case of You' to the closing performance of 'Love or Money', Miles of Aisles proves intoxicating throughout. 

MTV Unplugged - Nirvana 

Live albums don't come any more classic than this. And for good reason too. MTV Unplugged in New York showcases Nirvana and their most intimate and unsheaths the songwriting talent of Kurt Cobain. 

How The West Was Won - Led Zeppelin

The thunderous, behemoth sound which earnt Led Zeppelin their legendary status was, if anything, hindered in the studio. Only truly coming to fruition in a live setting, the combination of Jimmy Page’s blistering guitar riffs, John Bonham’s booming force, Robert Plant’s immense vocal range, and John Paul Jones’ rhythmic prowess were made for the stage. Recorded across two sets in California in 1976, How The West Was Won was only released in 2002, though bootleg copies had been making the rounds for some time before that. Containing the band’s infamous 20-minute ‘Whole Lotta Love’ medley as well as hits like ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘Dazed and Confused’ and ‘Stairway To Heaven’, How The West Was Won is a shining example of the band’s abilities. This year marks the album’s 15th anniversary which will bring with it a reissue in March.

It’s Too Late To Stop Now ­­­- Van Morrison

Recorded in 1974, Van Morrison’s classic live album It’s Too Late To Stop Now is not only a display of Morrison’s tremendous catalogue of hits -- including ‘Gloria’, ‘Domino’, ‘Caravan’ and ‘Into The Mystic’ -- but also showcases his ability to charm a crowd. Backed by the 11-piece Caledonia Soul Orchestra, the album is a spectacle of keys, brass and Morrison’s incredible vocal work. Recorded at London’s Rainbow Theatre, Santa Monica Civic Centre and the Troubadour in West Hollywood, the album captures the singer at his vocal peak. Volumes II, III and IV of the album, as well as a live DVD of the performance, were later released in June 2016 complete with a slew of live recordings that didn’t make the cut for the original album.

Live/Dead - The Grateful Dead

A testament to The Grateful Dead’s cult-like following of ‘Deadheads’, dedicated to trailing the band across the country, Live/Dead is an excellent display of the band’s entrancing performances. Recorded in 1969 across a number of shows from their American tour, the album came before the band began using their live shows to experiment with stretching the limits of their sound, for which they later became notorious, yet it showcases the band at the height of the cosmic jazz-rock revolution they fuelled. The Grateful Dead’s live career was undoubtedly more popular than their studio albums, which lead to the outfit releasing several live albums in their time, though Live/Dead remains the most highly-acclaimed of the lot.

Before The Flood - Bob Dylan & The Band

Bob Dylan has no shortage of live albums to choose from, though Before The Flood is unanimously recognised as standing well ahead of the pack. Although it’s widely argued that Dylan’s live vocals are pale in comparison to his studio recordings, Before The Flood quashes this notion as he manages to inject an element of raw emotion that shines throughout. Rising and falling through upbeat, energetic tempos and moody, subdued melodies, the album weaves through tracks including ‘Just Like A Woman’, ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’, ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ and ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’. The Band complement Dylan beautifully and are an integral ingredient in creating the magic that is Before The Flood.

Pulse – Pink Floyd

Recorded in 1994 in London’s Earl’s Court and released the following year, Pulse is the second of two live albums Pink Floyd released during their career. With a whopping running time of almost two and a half hours, containing a performance of The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, the album is a saga in itself. Much of the magic of Pink Floyd’s studio recordings lies in the details, something which can all too easily be lost in a live setting, though the tracks are meticulously done justice and the atmosphere of the performance is palpable. Although Pulse came later in Pink Floyd’s career, the performance is simply impeccable. 

Live at Woodstock - Jimi Hendrix

Take a legendary performer such as Jimi Hendrix and one of music’s most iconic events, Woodstock, and you’ve got the recipe for something special. Recorded at Woodstock Festival in 1969, one of Hendrix’s most famous live performances, Live At Woodstock is made up of hits like ‘Foxy Lady’, ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ and ‘Purple Haze’ as well as a two minute introduction and a four-minute interlude simply titled ‘Woodstock Improvisation’, resulting in an effort which renders Hendrix’s god-like reputation fitting. The almost two-hour long set was also caught on film which was released in 1999, the same year as the album, commemorating a legendary moment in the late icon’s career.  

Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out - The Rolling Stones

The most critically acclaimed of The Rolling Stones’ live albums, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out exemplifies the band’s hypnotic live presence across 27 tracks. A searing display of why the band remain one of rock’s most legendary acts, The Rolling Stones deliver ‘Carol’, ‘Under My Thumb’, ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and ‘Prodigal Son’ over a number of performances at New York’s renowned Maddison Square Gardens in 1969. The album also contains covers of Chuck Berry’s ‘Little Queenie’ and Robert Johnson’s ‘Love In Vain’ that further showcase exactly why The Rolling Stones were repeatedly introduced onto one of the world’s most acclaimed stages as ‘the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world’.

Cohen Live – Leonard Cohen

Another artist whose music is best enjoyed stripped back and in its rawest state is Leonard Cohen and of his broad collection of live releases, Cohen Live is certainly the top contender. Recorded across 1988’s I’m Your Man tour and 1993’s The Future tour, Cohen Live exhibits the man’s timeless talent flawlessly. Featuring Cohen’s unparalleled vocals accompanied by hauntingly beautiful harmonies across a re-imagined rendition of his anthemic track ‘Hallelujah’ and a range of career-spanning tracks including ‘Suzanne’, ‘I’m Your Man’ and ‘If It Be Your Will’, Cohen Live is as well-rounded a look at Cohen’s vast career as a 13 track album can be. 

Live Rust - Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Recorded during the Rust Never Sleeps tour of 1978, Live Rust is a seamless demonstration of the dream pairing that is Neil Young and American band Crazy Horse. Entering a new stage in his career, Young ensured the Rust Never Sleeps tour was an all-encompassing effort of theatrical proportions memorializing the time that precluded it. Neatly divided into acoustic and electric components, Young displays his immense range on guitar, keys and harmonica while Crazy Horse work their magic. Containing a number of his earlier tracks as well as a collection of hits from Rust Never Sleeps such as a double whammy of ‘My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)’ and ‘My My, Hey Hey (Into The Black)’ the performance is a mixed bag of high energy rock and introspective, sensitive moments.