Yes, it’s time for another of my rock lists. For those who’ve not read the previous three (and why the hell not?) here’s how they work.
I choose a subject for the list, have a think about it for a few days and then, in my usual opinionated fashion, I set out my top choices. You read it, then agree wholeheartedly or get angry with me and post comments telling me where I’ve gone wrong. Do we have a deal?
Now this list may be even more subjective than my attempts to rank rock’s vocalists (female and male) and guitarists. It’s difficult to be in any way objective about great albums because at the end of the day it must come down to personal taste. So that’s why you won’t find the likes of U2 or Genesis on this list. Or Nirvana. (Now if I was ever to do a list of the most overrated bands they would be fighting Oasis for the top spot!)
A few ground rules. I’m talking rock music here, so no soul, blues, jazz, etc. No soundtracks, much as I like The Song Remains The Same. And only official live releases, no bootlegs. Or else I could have a couple of dozen Springsteen shows at the top of the list.
Pretty much every rock band there has even been has released at least one live album, so there are plenty to choose from. I’m not going to note the 100 or so I long listed, but instead I’m going to go straight to my top 10.
10. Eric Clapton – Unplugged. I had a bit of an internal debate about whether this counted as a “real” live album, or a session. But in the end the quality of the playing led me to include it. Clapton displays some wonderful acoustic guitar technique on a mix of old blues songs and reworked versions of the moving Tears in Heaven and the timeless classic Layla.
9. The Jam – Dig The New Breed. A collection of live tracks over a period of five years rather than a single concert, this is The Jam at their electric best. Paul Weller was the first songwriter I really got into in a big way and this album includes some of his best work. The high spot for me is Going Underground, recorded at the Glasgow Apollo in 1982 – because I was there.
8. Johnny Cash at Fulsom Prison. Once more my heart overrules my head and Cash is included in a rock list. Recording an album in a prison was as strange a notion in 1968 as it might be now, but when Cash set his mind to something, it usually happened. Receiving critical acclaim, this album relaunched Cash’s career and stands the test of time well. The opening Fulsom Prison Blues and the macabre 25 Minutes To Go are the highlights.
7. Deep Purple – Made in Japan. The classic Mark 2 version of Deep Purple recorded live over three nights in 1972. Originally released as a double album, this captures all of the majesty and power of Deep Purple. Gillan’s vocals on Child In Time are incredible and Blackmore shines on Space Truckin’. Add in the definitive live version of Smoke On The Water and you have a classic.
6. Bruce Springsteen – Live 1975 – 1985. No one will be surprised to see a Bruce album on my list. This five album box set contains 40 tracks recorded over a decade and captures the essence of the best live band in rock music. From the opening Thunder Road through an epic Because The Night and a tender Racing In The Street to the closing cover of Tom Waites’ Jersey Girl this is simply a tremendous collection of live music.
5. Jimi Hendrix – Live at Monterey. It lasted only 45 minutes and contained only 10 songs but Jimi Hendrix set at the 1967 Monterey Festival set him on the road to stardom. With his mix of feedback and distortion, soaring solos and powerful riffs, Hendrix exploded into American musical consciousness. Featuring great versions of Hey Joe and Purple Haze, as well as an incendiary Wild Thing, this simply rocks.
4. The Allman Brothers – Live at Fillmore East. Recorded at the famous NYC venue in 1971 this has been called the greatest southern rock album of all time. The set opens with a great cover of Blind Willie McTell’s Statesboro Blues showcasing Duane Allman’s brilliant slide guitar work. Whipping Post is an epic rock jam, and the tremendous In Memory of Elizabeth Reed steals the show.
3. Thin Lizzy – Live & Dangerous. An epic double album released in 1978 and capturing one of the very best live rock bands at the top of their musical powers. This is one that just has to be played loud. Classics such as Jailbreak and Rosalie are included as are a stunning version of Emerald and Still In Love With You featuring a tremendous guitar solo from Brian Robertson. It just never gets old.
2. Neil Young – Live Rust. Recorded in 1978 in San Francisco, this 1979 release includes several of the best known songs from Young’s long career. There are great versions of After the Gold Rush and The Needle And The Damage Done as well as Powderfinger (written for Lynyrd Skynyrd) and Like A Hurricane. Young shows both his tender side on the acoustic numbers and his harder side on the electric tracks.
1. The Who – Live At Leeds. Released in 1970 in a now famous plain brown cover, this is The Who at their finest. Tremendous versions of Summertime Blues and Substitute give a real feeling of the power of the band. And the epic 14 minute version of My Generation, which includes several snippets from Tommy, is worth the price of the album on its own. A true classic which still sounds fresh forty years on.
So there you have it. I’m sure fans of quite a few bands will feel that their favourites deserve a place on this list. But, as I said at the beginning, it’s largely subjective and this is my take on the subject.
I look forward to your comments!