Funny how the passage of time often confers a greatness on live albums that didn't exist when the recordings were made. In fact, years have sometimes passed between the night a seminal concert was taped, and the date on which the tapes were rele
ased. That's true of several of the albums below, each of which ranks among the best in a very large field.The Beatles: At the Hollywood Bowl (1977)
Culled from three mid '60s Hollywood Bowl performances, this live set (which wasn't released until 1977) captured the Fab Four at the height of Beatlemania. With 17,000 screaming fans approximating the roar of a tornado, the Beatles cut through the noise and delivered scorching, amped-up versions of their early radio-pop gems.
James Brown: Live at the Apollo (1963)
This sweat-drenched soul masterpiece is regarded by many as the greatest live album of all time. Recorded in October 1962, at Brown's own expense, the album captured the Godfather of Soul at his most frenzied and passionate. Brown's record company at first balked about issuing a live set, but the album became a blockbuster and remained on the Billboard charts for more than a year.
The Who: Live at Leeds (1970)
How do you follow up a meticulously crafted masterpiece like Tommy
? If you're the Who, you crank the amps to 10 and bash out a live set that forgoes finesse in favor of full-throttle thrills. The original material smokes, but as showcased on their scorching version of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues," the original Who was a fantastic cover band as well.
Kiss: Alive! (1975)
Recorded mostly in Detroit, this double-disc set solidified Kiss's burgeoning reputation as one of rock's most exciting live acts. The exuberant "Strutter" and the party anthem "Rock and Roll All Nite" highlight a fever-pitch ambiance that prevails throughout. Not surprisingly, attendance at Kiss shows soared in the weeks immediately following the album's release.
Led Zeppelin: How the West Was Won (2003)
Culled from two shows staged in California in the summer of 1972, this triple-album set captured Led Zeppelin at the height of its powers. An epic version of "Dazed and Confused" and a 23-minute covers medley (bracketed by "Whole Lotta Love") showcase the group's improvisational skills. The band's chemistry was never more in evidence.
Johnny Cash: At Folsom Prison (1968)
Due to the British rock invasion, Johnny Cash's career had been in the doldrums for years before he released the country milestone in 1968. Backed by a sensational touring band that included Carl Perkins, Cash rips his way through such fitting songs as "25 Minutes to Go," "I Got Stripes," and "Busted." Flanked by 2000 riveted inmates, Cash established an empathy between performer and audience that's never been matched.
Bob Dylan: Live 1966 - The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert (1998)
One of the most widely bootlegged albums in history prior to its official release, this historic document saw Dylan defy his "folkie" followers in order to pursue a fiercely personal vision. All went well during the first half of the show, as Dylan delivered solo-acoustic versions of such gems as "Visions of Johanna" and "Mr. Tambourine Man." But when he broke out his electric guitar, all hell broke loose and the catcalls reigned. Confident and resolute, Dylan forged on with one of his greatest performances on record.
Cheap Trick: At Budokan (1978)
Japanese schoolgirls screamed their hearts out--a la Beatlemania--throughout this breakthrough album by America's most under-appreciated power pop maestros. A supremely melodic guitarist, Rick Nielson provides the fuel for charismatic frontman Robin Zander's anthemic vocal flights. Here lie the definitive versions of "Surrender" and "I Want You to Want Me," alongside an ecstatic reading of "Ain't That a Shame."
Rolling Stones: Get Yer Ya Ya's Out (1969)
Small wonder that when the Stones assembled their Hot Rocks collection in 1971, they spurned the studio recording of "Midnight Rambler" in favor of the more exciting version on this live effort. Released in the midst of a spectacular run that included Beggar's Banquet
, Let It Bleed
, and Sticky Fingers
, Ya Ya's
captured the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band in full flight. Deeply felt covers of Chuck Berry's "Carol" and Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain" paid tribute to the templates for the Stones' blues-rock swagger.
Allman Brothers: At Fillmore East (1971)
Blues, rock, and jazz were never fused more effectively than on this two-album tour de force. Breaking out their best improvisational skills, guitarists Duane Allman and Dickey Betts weave and spark like twins tethered to some telepathic command center. Small wonder that Southern rock exploded in the aftermath of this seminal recording.