The Top Ten Greatest Double Live Albums

Thin_Lizzy_-_Live_and_Dangerous

Bloated, over-indulgent and long winded. But that’s enough about (insert the name of your least favourite politician here), let’s talk about Double Live albums.

When Noel Gallagher talked about double albums to Rolling Stone Magazine recently he was referring to studio albums, but he still made the colourful point that they tend to go on a bit: “Anybody that comes back with a double album, to me, needs to pry themselves out of their own a–” said Noel “This is not the Seventies, okay? Go and ask Billy Corgan about a double album. Who has the f- time, in 2013, to sit through 45 minutes of a single album? How arrogant are these people to think that you’ve got an hour and a half to listen to a f- record?”

Were they just over-indulgent product for the masses, or were they the purest way to hear your favourite rock band, free of studio constraints and trickery? I grew up listening to live albums – in my teenage years at least. Some, like Deep Purple’s Knebworth show and AC/DC’s Live at the Atlantic Recording Studios I taped off the radio. Others, such as Molly Hatchet’s Double Trouble Live and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Live Alive I bought on the day they were released. Still more (Humble Pie’s Rockin’ The Fillmore – recently re-released over four CDs, and Blue Öyster Cult’s On Your Feet Or On Your Knees) I borrowed from friends.

But in 2013? I thought that the (double) live album was dead. It has come as quite a surprise to me to find myself having bought a couple of double live albums in 2013. I thought double live records had gone the way of those other eighties phenomena such as rah-rah skirts, The Kids From Fame and predatory light entertainers.

The Mystery Jets Live at Royal Festival Hall

On Record Store Day 2013 The Mystery Jets released their Live At The Festival Hall double LP in a lovely gold vinyl limited edition of 500 some of which were even signed by the band. Gold double vinyl? Signed? For twenty quid? You could hardly say no could you? I saw the band live last year – they were excellent and this is a great record, featuring Laura Marling sharing vocals for a couple of songs.

Even so, one swallow does not make a summer and that, I thought, was that.

Then Jack White (who else?) began to release some double live albums – first with The White Stripes with their “Northern Lights” LP and then in his Vault series. There’s an excellent Jack White solo double live album, a 2003 White Stripes double live red and white coloured vinyl album called Nine Miles From The White City, and most recently of all, a Raconteurs double live album in a fetching autumnal gold colour.

Vault 16

When it comes to the greatest live albums, however, you have to delve a little further back in time, to the seventies and eighties. The very best double live albums can define an artist’s career, transcending all their studio work. Has anyone ever listened to a Peter Frampton album that wasn’t “Frampton Comes Alive”? More than once, I mean.

So what are the greatest double live albums? And what makes them great?

Here’s what I look for:

  • Performances better or different to the original studio recordings. Studio recordings done less well are not what we are looking for. That’s what tribute bands are for.
  • Career defining. Are you two albums into your career? You’re not ready. Stick to a single live album to capture that rare explosion of energy that you probably won’t have five albums later after the booze, touring and recreational drugs have taken their toll on your liver and sanity.
  • Gatefold sleeves and luxurious packaging. Please don’t present me with a career spanning album in a white paper sleeve. There are clear “rules” about this. At the very least there should be a lavish gatefold sleeve covered with more pictures than an Operation Yew Tree “most wanted” notice board.
  • A bad pun, usually relating to the word “live”. There’s a protocol and centuries, well – decades, of tradition to observe here. (See “Frampton Comes Alive”, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Live Alive”, Iron Maiden’s “Live After Death” and Kiss “Alive”).
  • Absence of drum solo. Unless its a Rush album, when it’s kind of the whole point of the album.

One thing that has never worried me too much was a bit of “touching up” in the studio afterwards. Exhibit A in this is Judas Priest’s (single) live album “Unleashed In The East” which is a brilliantly brutal and fast paced album, but which some call “Unleashed In The Studio” because it (allegedly) had more work done to it than Joan Rivers’ face. Every track on it stands up to, or surpasses the studio original though.

Exhibit B is The Beatles’ 1965 Live At Shea Stadium film which was secretly overdubbed in its entirety by the Fab Four at CTS studios in 1966 because the Ed Sullivan team which had beautifully shot the event with twelve cameras had failed to pay as much attention to the sound (which was terrible). The Beatles never told a soul they had overdubbed the whole shebang, not least because of union rules and The Beatles’ exclusive contract with EMI. *

So without further ado, here’s my own “Top Ten Double Live Albums” list. (Because the world doesn’t already have enough top ten lists, right….?)

UFO StrangersInTheNight AlbumCover

UFO – Strangers In The Night: UFO never sounded better than on this record, which has all their good tunes and which begins with an inimitable “Hello Chicago! Would you please welcome from England: U-F-O!!” The remastered version gives us more tracks and in the actual order they were played on the night, but I like the original LP starting with “Natural Thing”… File under “Career Defining”.

Thin_Lizzy_-_Live_and_Dangerous

Thin Lizzy – Live And Dangerous: This album is one where the live versions are all better than the originals. If you were to buy only one Thin Lizzy record, this is the one.

Iron_Maiden_-_Live_After_Death

Iron Maiden – Live After Death: Heavy rockers almost gave up releasing double live albums after this one (except Iron Maiden, sadly). Aside from a rather too long audience participation bit (which never works on record) during Running Free, Maiden are absolutely in their prime on every track.

AllmanBrothersBandAtFillmoreEast

The Allman Brothers Band – Live at the Fillmore East: Essentially a showcase for some sublime slide and blues guitar playing and an archetype for how a double live album can transcend the studio versions to become a band’s finest hour.

humble_pie_rockin_the_fillmore

Humble Pie – Rockin’ The Filmore: “We go home on Monday but I wanna tell you – we’ve all had a gas this time… It’s really been a gas.” declares Steve Marriott during this early classic, the enjoyment of which depends upon your liking for earnest white-boy blues. Still Peter Frampton’s best live album.

Aerosmith Live Bootleg

Aerosmith – Live Bootleg: This album takes a different approach to many. Instead of capturing one grand stadium performance, it takes songs from various shows – including a small club gig during which the band are playing James Brown covers (Mother Popcorn). With the concept of a “bootleg” recording (including fake coffee stain on the cover and an incorrect track listing) this is a perfect live record of America’s finest. The record still shines – despite the impending implosion of the band.

Deep_Purple_Made_in_Japan

Deep Purple – Made In Japan: Perhaps the Grandaddy of live recordings, from 1972. The band went on musical explorations and improvisations every night, so we get very different versions of the songs to their studio counterparts. A ten minute version of Lazy and a nineteen (yes, 19) minute version of Space Truckin’ is the result. There’s something quite special about seeing a double live album track-listing and realising one song takes up The Whole of Side B…

Kiss_alive_album_cover

Kiss – Alive: Like a few of the bands here, Kiss had released a few patchy studio albums by this point, but had just enough songs to make a really good double live album. Result: A career saving document capturing them at their best. The cover sums it up – they look thin as rakes and hungry for success.

Pince Sign o the Times

Prince – Sign O’ The Times: Only Prince could break all the rules of double live albums and release one with All New Material. And it still be great…

scorpions_world_wide_live

Scorpions – World Wide Live: A band I always felt had too much filler in between the good songs on their studio albums, this double live record acted as a perfect filter.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Queen – Live Killers
  • Rush – Exit Stage Left
  • Van Morrison – It’s Too Late To Stop Now
  • Neil Young – Live Rust
  • Journey – Captured

It would be nice to think that more bands will look to release live LPs. Record Store Day in 2012 saw a single live album from The Vaccines – perhaps there will be more around the corner? I suspect not. Not because live LPs aren’t a great listen – but probably because you can get an even better sense of what the gig was like if you watch a live DVD. Certainly when Led Zeppelin reformed, that live DVD was a must-see (and so much better than their “Song Remains The Same” double live album from the 1970’s).

Have I missed your favourite? Do you miss double live albums? Let me know in the comments below…

Record #261 : UFO – Only You Can Rock Me

* Source: Tony Bramwell – “Magical Mystery Tour: My Life with the Beatles



Categories: Rock Music

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42 replies

  1. As much as I love Sign ‘O’ The Times (it’s my second favourite album of all time), it isn’t really a live album. There’s only one live track on it, and that includes studio overdubs. The concert film is great though.

    Sorry for the pedantry.

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  2. I’m a fan of live albums too. In fact I have posted several articles on faves and what makes them so. But why stop at doubles?
    What about Live Triples: Santana, Yes, ELP, Wings, Phish, Grateful Dead?
    Or even Live Quadruples: Chicago, Wilco?
    It goes on. And on. And on.

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    • I’m in Noel Gallagher’s camp after a while. I think two LPs (as a general rule) ought to be plenty…
      As for 4 LPs – I think that’s for existing fans only. Most of the albums listed here served as an introduction to most of these bands – I might have struggled as a first time listener to get through a triple or quadruple LP!

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  3. Just upping the volume and the velocity a little, I have to mention Slayer’s ‘Decade of Aggression,’ in which the band manage to make the tracks from ‘Reign in Blood’ sound even more savage. Oh, and the Who’s ‘Live from Leeds’ is rather special.

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  4. Dude our lists are so close to identical that I won’t even bother submitting a list:

    I will say this:
    Some of my favourite live albums are quadruple lives. Sloan — 4 Night at the Palais Royale was a double CD but 4 LP. It’s 100% live, lots of mistakes, and it rules. I also recently got a 2013 quad live Black Crowes LP that I will be reviewing…tomorrow I think?

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  5. Like SImon I would also mention Slayer’s Decade Of Aggression. And instead of Scorpions – World Wide Live it surely should have been Tokyo Tapes. VErything is awesome about that album and when compared to World Wide Live Uli Jon Roth’s guitar plying just destroys Matthias Jabs’ and of course no weak songs from Love At First Sting are featured on it, just all classic killer Scorpions tunes on Tokyo Tapes.

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    • It’s funny you mention Tokyo Tapes. I haven’t played that in nearly 30 years, and I borrowed that one from the library and thought it was terrible – mainly because I didn’t recognise any of the songs! Ever since then I have never listened to any pre-Blackout Scorpions. Perhaps I ought to resolve that one of these days…

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  6. Ah, you see, Live Killers would near the top of mine. And for Rush it would be All The World’s A Stage instead of Exit…, as I believe it a tad overproduced. Me likes it raw. And, when I’m in a gentle mood, have a soft spot for Paris by Supertramp. Nice picks, especially the Prince!

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  7. Oh, and perhaps Seconds Out by Genesis deserves a nod…

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  8. The Grateful Dead’s entire career was a new double live album every night.

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  9. I’m sorry but I’m am going to have to add Black Sabbath “Live Evil” here. Sure, there’s a drum solo but Ronnie James Dio does do well on the Ozzy era songs.

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  10. Excellent list. I can’t argue with any of them. I would add Ted Nugent’s Double Live Gonzo to the discussion though. To my ears, the Nuge has never sounded better than on that double LP.

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  11. Awesome seeing Live Bootleg on here by Aerosmith after receiving Aerosmith Greatest Hits for Xmas back in good ol 81 my first actual Aero purchase was Live Bootleg! So on my list that’s number 1 even over Kiss Alive. Like u said its a great album even with there impending doom.
    By the time I got they were somewhat doomed…..also UFO were big for me and my buddies back in high school as well and unless u could score a copy of Kerrang here in Canada it was hard to find any North American press on them except for like Hit Parader. But for UFO and us I guess being a Canadian UFO fan in the early 80 s it was definitely a case of Let The Music Do The Talking (no pun) since there was zippo press on them…

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  12. In general, I am not a fan of live albums. However, Jethro Tull’s Bursting Out deserves at least an honorable mention. Great songs, probably the best line-up of the band, good mix of old and new songs, witty banter etc.

    What about the live albums by post-Waters Pink Floyd?

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  13. Good post………..although one of the greatest live albums of all time, like AC/DC’s ‘Live At Atlantic Studios’, was a single LP and was originally only issued as a record label radio promo and that’s Starz’s ‘Live At Louisville’ (actually, it might be worth doing a whole new post on record label issued promo live albums as there are great sets from the likes of The Babys, 38 Special, Detective, New England, Prism, Meatloaf, Donnie Iris And The Cruisers, Benny Mardones, Derringer, Molly Hatchet, Danger Danger, Shark Island etc etc)

    My choices would be (in no particular order):

    Kiss ‘Alive!’ and ‘Alive II’
    UFO ‘Strangers In The Night’
    Rush ‘All The World’s A Stage’
    Ted Nugent ‘ Double Live Gonzo’
    The Angels ‘Liveline’
    Wings ‘Wings Over America’ (okay, it was a triple, but…)
    Barclay James Harvest ‘Live’

    I would add Angel’s ‘Live Without A Net’ to the list, but there’s a double live bootleg CD entitled ‘Blowin’ Great Guns’ that contains a better, more representative set – including the over the top intro – albeit a less polished sound.

    The Iron Maiden ‘Live After Death’ album I felt was always let down by the fact that the fourth side was taken from a completely different show – Hammersmith – which really spoilt the atmospherics of the whole package.

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    • Nice list. Is that Starz album better than that P*ss P*rty album they did?
      I guess promo albums might need a bit more digging out – aside from that brilliant AC/DC record (their best live album) I don’t have any of those. The Molly Hatchet one sounds good – their Double Trouble Live was a great record.

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  14. Yes, the Starz album is way better than the ‘P*ss P*rty’ EP.

    There were two Molly Hatchet live promo albums. The first was a five track affair (recorded at a show in Passaic, New Jersey) issued with promo copies of the self-titled debut album while ‘Beatin’ The Odds’ was issued in promo form with a six track live album with Jimmy Farrar on vocals (captured in Lakeland, Florida in 1980).

    There’s also an REO Speedwagon live promo titled ‘Live Again’ released in 1978. It consists of seven tracks on which Bruce Hall made his recording debut. Bizarrely the album was released after the band released their first official live album and before they cut the ‘You Can Tune A Piano..’ studio record.

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  15. “Thin Lizzy – Live And Dangerous: This album is one where the live versions are all better than the originals. If you were to buy only one Thin Lizzy record, this is the one.”

    I’ve heard that often. Perhaps I will. I have just a cheapo “best of” Thin Lizzy. Which studio albums do folks here recommend?

    By the way, does “dangerous” refer to the danger that one might find out that the album is not 100% live, but rather substantially overdubbed?

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  16. I’ve been collecting live bootleg/recordings for many many years now and always found some soundboard recordings surpass many official live releases because they haven’t been tinkered with after the event. Captor of sin bootleg by Slayer is so much better than Decade of Aggression for example IMHO. Every drum beat is crystal clear.
    Having said that I have to say Misfits Evillive. Ted Nugent Intencities in Ten Cities, Frank Zappa’s Live Filmore East and Cheap Trick’s At Budokan albums are excellent (Even though they are single albums)…Now where is my copy of Strangers in the Night?

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  17. For me, back in the day, I would always go for a band’s live album first. The bloated over-indulgent and long winded versions of songs was exactly what I wanted. After hearing the studio versions overplayed on the radio constantly, the different arrangements on the live albums was a great treat. I had just about every one listed here and went on to collect live shows tapes from all my favorites. I miss the drum solos!

    The only album I would definitely add, and it has been mentioned already, is Jethro Tull – Live Bursting Out.

    Great article.

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  18. Thin Lizzy’s Live And Dangerous is a magnificent live album. I don’t think the tracks are necessarily better than the studio versions, but it does have ‘i’m Still In love With You”, which is awesome.

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  19. Dire Straits – Alchemy is also worth having, even though I wished there was Industrial Disease…
    Rainbow – On Stage is an album I really want to get one day
    Mike Oldfield – Exposed isn’t bad but Tubular Bells doesn’t quote reach the original.
    And let’s not forget the most maniac live album ever (not LP though): Metallica – Live Shit: Binge & Purge. Three hours of music on three cd, four hours of footage on three VHS, 70 page booklet full of pictures, faxes, raiders…

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  20. Sorry I’m a bit late to this thread but I’d like to add Whitesnakes’ “Live in The Heart of The City” to the mix. I love David Coverdales’ voice on their version of Bobby “Blue” Blands’ “Aint No Love In the Heart of The City.” Also, I’m not sure its a double album, I only ever owned it on cassette or CD rather than vinyl, but another favourite live album is AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood” My first experience of a crowd chanting “Angus” to “Whole Lotta Rosie.” It still gives me a sense of excitement even now.

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    • Always welcome no matter how late! Yes – I always liked the fact there were two versions of “Come On” on that album. I always liked the idea of starting a gig with a few long power chords.
      AC/DC’s If You Want Blood is indeed a single album, and you are not alone in having that Angus chant ingrained in your brain – it was the first time the chant had ever been recorded. I always liked the Live at the Atlantic Recording Studios live album better, though both are good.

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      • No one has even mentioned ‘Two For The Show’ by Kansas. Greatest live album of all time, unbelievable! If you haven’t heard it, you need to. Supreme musicianship at the time when Steve Walsh was arguably the greatest voice in the rock world, before the drugs truly caught up with him!

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  21. UFO Strangers In The Night, for sure, but also Molly Hatchet Double Trouble Live. Both excellent sound quality for being live- maybe a bit of doctoring in the case of the Molly Hatchet one, but who cares… With both, they are the swan song albums for the respective bands- the songs sound better live and are recorded “heavier” than the studio versions. Both bands basically went gonzos after releasing those albums, which was sad. Drugs for Molly Hatchet- Dave Hlubek cocaine issues; UFO- Schenker departs.

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