Happy New Year and welcome back to the working week! It’s been a busy couple of weeks back here in Indiana over the holidays, but I think we’ve survived. Of course, in the post-holidays slowdown, my body is in full revolt, making me feel as though I played a day of basketball after a strong 15-mile run followed by a session of college baseball players taking turns with practice swings into my back and legs. So, yeah, I guess I feel like shit, no other way to put it. It’s during these days that I simply would rather curl up in a ball and die or sleep. And, it’s also one of those days in which I just might kill the next person who suggests that I get up and do something. Fortunately, my wife has not suggested it. I think she does it just to test how far gone I am.
So, today, I have finally retreated to the music room to listen to some music. You’d think on days like today that I would only want to listen to soothing music. But, for some reason, maybe it’s the competitor in me, but I’d rather either rage through with Metallica or turn to disjointed music. Therefore, today is a Talking Heads day. It’s one of those days like when I ran, when you knew from the outset that this was not going to be an easy race but also a battle against my mind and body. And, those, my friends, were your worst enemies. But, those were also the races when success could be even sweeter, though I honestly preferred the easy days when the mind let go, and it was just my body cutting through the air molecules with ease. Unfortunately, those races were rare and usually came at the end of the season when your training was allowing you to give your peak performance.
You know, as a member of that lost couple of years in which some sociologists label you as either a young Baby Boomer (I have NO memories of the major Boomer touchstones!) or an old Gen X-er (I check off more boxes for this generation!), I grew up during a time during which concerts and music were inexpensive. And, I lived through the whole original soft rock thing, the rise and fall and rebranding of disco, the punk and post-punk movements, etc., just a great time to listen to music. Additionally, my generation arguably may have produced the greatest batch of basketball heroes, such as Jordan, Barkley, Mullins, you know, The Dream Team, as well as some damn good athletes in other sports, like Barry Larkin (I am Reds fan!), Wayne Gretzky, John Elway, et al.
But, one thing I noticed while digging through my record collection is that there were a bunch of live albums released during my middle and high school years. I mean, come on! People my age all remember one of their first album purchases being Kiss Alive! or Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive! It seemed as though everyone was releasing live albums in the mid-Seventies, which got me thinking over the past couple of days, “What are my favorite live albums.”
You know, the live album is a mixed bag. First, the performance could actually be cobbled from many recording and not one concert. Additionally, the crowd noise and performances could all be doctored to enhance the experience (the dirty secret of Kiss Alive!). Next, the performance could have just sucked, and the record company demanded a record right away, so they gave us this crappy record (listen to Bob Dylan’s At Budokan). Or, maybe the artist has released so many live albums that you cannot possibly choose one to focus on (Seriously Grateful Dead, Phish and Pearl Jam! One more live album from you guys and I will scream!!!). And then, there are some absolutely terrific artists who have NEVER released a live album (Prince!) or at least not during their prime (R.E.M., but I do have an excellent bootleg from their early days, and John Mellencamp). Finally, some genres are just not conducive to the live setting (like rap, except The Roots and Jay-Z have released some pretty good live material).
Still, when everything does come together, the live album can be transcendent. And, in today’s musical environment, maybe the live album has become a relic of the past when music was still communal experience. The concert has moved away from a place of stretching one’s musicianship to a Vegas-like entertainment experience with clothing and set changes, dancing, multimedia and precision music set not to move the concert goer to another level but to give you a sugar high. So, until Roger Waters finally releases an album version of his triumphant The Wall tour from nearly a decade ago, this is my story and I’m sticking to it.
Here are my 40 favorite live albums. Rip it to shreds, if you must!
40. The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert – Bob Dylan (1998)
39. Live at the Harlem Square Supper Club, 1963 – Sam Cooke (1985)
38. Made in Japan – Deep Purple (1972)
37. No Sleep ’til Hammersmith – Motörhead (1981)
36. Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out: The Rolling Stones in Concert – The Rolling Stones (1970)
35. Live! – Bob Marley & the Wailers (1975)
34. The Shit Has Hit the Fans – The Replacements (1985)
33. Live! At the Apollo – James Brown (1963)
32. Parliament Live/P-Funk Earth Tour – Parliament (1977)
31. The Jacksons Live – The Jacksons (1981)
30. DEV-O Live – Devo (1981)
29. Stand in the Fire – Warren Zevon (1980)
28. Back to the Bars – Todd Rundgren (1978)
27. Live! Blow Your Face Out – The J. Geils Band (1976)
26. Live at Wembley ’86 – Queen (1986)
25. Live at Leeds – The Who (1970)
24. Frampton Comes Alive! – Peter Frampton (1976)
23. Live and Dangerous – Thin Lizzy (1977)
22. Kick Out the Jams – MC5 (1969)
21. At Folsom Prison – Johnny Cash (1968)
20. How the West Was Won – Led Zeppelin (2003)
19. Live Bullet – Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band (1976)
18. Metallic K.O. – The Stooges (1976)
17. One More from the Road – Lynyrd Skynyrd (1976)
16. A Live One – Phish (1997)
15. Waiting for Columbus – Little Feat (1978)
14. If You Want Blood You Got It – AC/DC (1978)
13. It’s Too Late to Stop Now – Van Morrison (1974)
12. Running on Empty – Jackson Browne (1977)
11. The Last Waltz – The Band (1978)
10. Songs in the Attic – Billy Joel (1981). This is NOT a normal live album. Instead, Joel digs through his catalogue to find his true gems that breathe so much better in the live setting. This is one of my dark horse favorites.
9. Live Anthology – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (2009). On the heels of their box-set documentary triumphant, Petty and the other Heartbreakers painstakingly choose their favorite versions of their hits and some tasty covers that cover career up to that point. In retrospect, this was a perfect gift from Tom to his fans.
8. Stop Making Sense – Talking Heads (1984). Personally, I view this album as more of a movie soundtrack that just so happens to be a great concert. Nonetheless, this a terrific document of a band that broke up much too soon.
7. MTV Unplugged in New York – Nirvana (1994). The perfect swansong to the voice of Generation X, this is the best “unplugged” performance of the era.
6. It’s Alive – Ramones (1979). Simply put, the greatest live punk album – ever!
5. Live/1975-85 – Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (1986). This is the only way The Boss and his Jersey shore hoodlums could have done a live album, as a huge box set. It is almost perfect, as I will always complain that it left off my personal favorite “Rosalita.” And, including “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” would have been cool too.
4. Under a Blood Red Sky – U2 (1983). Okay, War put the band in our conscience. Then, the video of their performance at the US Festival compelled us. But, for me, this EP told me this band was special.
3. Alive! – Kiss (1975). The granddaddy of live albums, this album made Kiss rock heroes for Generation X. And, this was the sound of a band with their backs to the wall because if this album had not hit, Gene Simmons may have had to go back to teaching which saved a generation of kids from being scared by their teacher.
2. At Budokan – Cheap Trick (1979). This album put the Rockford, Illinois band on the map. The band owned their material in those days and had one of the more exciting shows as this album documents. Originally, this album was only for their Japanese fans, but import sales were so massive that Epic had to release it. And, the rest, they say, is history.
1. The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads – Talking Heads (1982). Someone please tell me why no one remembers this album? This is not just a live album but a live historical documentation of the evolution of a great band, from their minimalist bubblegum/funk CBGB’s days to their expanded lineup world music funk/rock explorations of their next-to-last tour. This is simply one exciting live album to hear this development.