I know I’ve written about live albums before – several times, and I always will, I love live albums! – but I thought I’d give you a list of the ten live albums that I consider the most important. That is to say important to me, these lists are a chance for me to remind myself (and tell you) about the albums that have meant something, the discoveries – in that sense they’re the important ones. Not always the best…what is best anyway? Some of these albums aren’t even albums I like all that much anymore, they’ve been replaced by other live albums I’ve gone on to hear. But these found me at the right time, or I found them…usually it was the former, sometimes the latter.
I’ve looked at important metal, electronica, country, hip-hop and reggae albums (click on those links to see my lists for each genre). But now I’m going to go across all genres to discuss the live-concert recordings that have meant the most to me; the ones that I return to – and that turned my world upside down (in that great way that music does) when I first heard them. And every time after.
No order here, not a ranked top ten – just ten as I remember them. Here goes…
This album reminds me of the great conversations I’ve had in music stores, that club-house environment, getting to know the staff; them getting to know you. Sharing ideas and learning from each other. This recommendation came to me, many moons ago now, and I was already a fan of Bill Withers but this one made me a fan of James Gadson. And musicians who haven’t already heard this will want to check it out – it’s a bible, I believe, for teaching the good word in regards to dynamic control; great musicians playing for the song and with each other rather than attempting to show off their chops whenever the chance arrives. Also Bill is in fine voice and what a wonderful collection of songs.
I’ve already told you all the very special story about this album – and how I was given a copy of the LP – but I have to include this album in this list. It’s become one of my all-time favourites, one of my most-played albums and I’ll say again, I also love Live At The Regal, absolutely, but this is the one that did it for me. First. I still get shivers when I hear B.B. King nail that line, “I gave you seven children/and now you wanna give them back”. Amazing, every time.
When I was ten years old I told my parents I wanted to play the drums. My mum told me to follow her down to the room at the end of the house where the old record-player was used. The party room. The Pool Room. She pulled out her copy of this album and dropped the needle. In between taking the record from the sleeve and the needle laying into the groove (and just before Buddy Rich would really lay into the groove) she told me that I should listen to this album. It might inspire me, she thought. I sat there, stunned. In silence, while Buddy blazed over the horns and cracked jokes between songs. I still have that copy of the album – bought in 1967. It still plays. I still play it. Often. And I still think about that moment every time – that first listen. I don’t just think about it – I can see it. I can picture myself with the sleeve, it’s trembling slightly in my hands as Buddy drives those horns in line. I can’t ever forget it. And I don’t (ever) want to.
I know it’s a compilation album – and I generally take every opportunity available to remind you lot that I think Queen is one of the world’s most overrated bands – but I can’t not have this on the list. You see this album is one of the ones that got me into live albums. My mum used to play this record – loudly – all the time. And I loved the crowd-interaction moments. Again, I’ve still got the copy that my parents purchased in the 1980s. I don’t play it very often at all these days – but I’m sure it is, in a sense, the most important live album I ever heard.
I didn’t think there could be decent live hip-hop. And then I heard this. And then I bought the Jay-Z Unplugged album (because of the common element). And I’ve bought every album by The Roots since. And all the ones before this. And I’ll always go and see them. Any time I can. I’ve been lucky to see them three times, twice in Wellington and then there was the time we saw them, scalped tickets at the last minute, in San Francisco a few years back. A most remarkable band.
This is the album that got me into Erykah Badu. I wasn’t all that fussed with Baduizm until after I heard this album and had become a fan. Some people don’t like live albums – there are plenty of awful ones too. But I still listen to this a lot. It’s one of those live records where you really feel like you’re part of the journey while it’s happening/as it’s happening.
I have a love/hate thing with The Doors but I have always loved this recording – it plays to their excesses and absurdities I guess. One whole side of the double-album given over to Jim Morrison’s poetry-cycle, The Celebration of the Lizard. You can almost feel the three musicians on stage cringing as they vamp along, providing perfect punctuation for the am-dram stoner folly. Great live albums create a great mood and I feel it with this one, every time, right from the build-up; the prolonged chatter and chanting before that Bo Diddley-beat comes to take us away.
There were some killer Wynton Marsalis albums (Black Codes, particularly) but there was a lot to wade through and all the cool kids from jazz school hated him. This seven-CD box-set was a baptism-by-fire. I made it out the other end, a fan. I don’t like everything he’s ever done – and I never will (there’s too much for a start). But I do think he’s unfairly dismissed by people that haven’t done enough listening. And I think he’s a) been a great ambassador for jazz in an age and era where it’s smelled funny a lot longer than it’s wriggled and writhed and b) like most things (and many people) he’s mellowed with age. I don’t know when I last listened to this – but I’m off now to dive in once again. And I’m grateful this box-set arrived when it did, assisting my plunge.
Erm, well, Young Man Blues. That about covers it.
“Everybody in the world has Frampton Comes Alive. If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide”. And you know who said that? Yes, Wayne Campbell. I know it’s deeply uncool to like Frampton Comes Alive but I am supremely unbothered by that. Also, since when has that been the aim of this blog? Or the aim of engagement with music? Hanging around talking about music isn’t a cool thing to do – it’s just a thing to do. It’s what we do. And if that’s starting to sound defensive, it’s not meant to. This album is my childhood, a huge part of it anyway. My folks had this album – again I still have their copy. And there was a time when I thought Peter Frampton was just it. And I loved the whole band on this record. I used to crank it up really loud and play along on the drums to Doobie Wah and Lines On My Face and Something’s Happening and Show Me The Way and I’ll Give You Money and his version of Jumpin’ Jack Flash and, yes, Do You Feel Like We Do? And I know this record inside out, to this day. And I love it. I love it in a way I don’t even need to listen to it anymore (which is a relief – for my wife, my son, my friends and neighbours…). I love it for what it did to me – and for me. It set me off on this path. It got me so enthused with music as to want to study it, to savour it, to revel in it. To wrap myself up in it – form my own studies around it.
Now I know you’ll tell me I should have picked Johnny Cash’s Live At Folson Prison and/or San Quentin (and I do really love those albums) or, gulp, Ben Harper’s Live From Mars or any number of Dave Matthews Band bootlegs. But that’s not true. I should not have picked those. I picked the ten above because they’re the ones I remember as being the most important to me/for me. I would never pick Ben Harper or Dave Matthews, ew. But, on another day, I might mention Donny Hathaway’s Live – which in fact, I’ve done already, here. And that beautiful Keith Jarrett Koln Concert. Which I’ve mentioned a bunch of times, and will come back to again sometime, another day. Right now those are my picks above – the ten live albums that opened the door. And kept the door open – but shut everything else out.
There are, absolutely, loads more. And we’ll do this again some other time. Right now I look forward to you listing your ten favourite/important live albums – your memories will probably trigger more memories and more great live albums for me. And maybe some of my memories here have got you started. Maybe not. At any rate, share your favourites – the live albums that you deem important in (and to) your life.