With few exceptions, rock’s best live albums were recorded in the pre-MTV days as a cheap way to give fans a taste of what they missed if they couldn’t get tickets or were busy puking up Boone’s Farm wine in the arena toilets. Thanks to the discs below, you can still visit those days with the help of a little imagination. This time, though, skip the screw-top wine.
10 Iggy and the Stooges, Metallic KO
Metallic KO captures Iggy Pop doing battle with an entire biker gang at one of the Stooges’ final gigs in Detroit. Having baited the gang on a local radio program, Iggy spends the show unsuccessfully dodging bottles, M-80s and shovels—until he’s finally knocked unconscious. But not before he dedicates “Cock in My Pocket” to his mom. Nice.
09 Humble Pie, Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore
A few years before he rocked our world with Frampton Comes Alive!, Peter Frampton was making a huge noise with Humble Pie. Fronted by former Small Faces guitarist Steve Marriott, Humble Pie turned in this raging slab of classic hard rock, featuring the group’s blazing versions of “Four Day Creep,” “I Don't Need No Doctor” and the Ray Charles hit “Hallelujah I Love Her So.”
08 Jeff Buckley, Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition)
Columbia introduced Jeff Buckley to the world with an EP culled from these intimate live sets, performed at a tiny club in New York where the late Buckley held a residency. Buckley blows through his early originals, as well as an eclectic clutch of cover tunes, armed with only a budget Telecaster and a serious Robert Plant fixation.
07 Led Zeppelin, How the West Was Won
The Song Remains the Same might include Robert Plant’s immortal ad-lib “Does anyone remember laughter?” but even the band admit the album sucks. For a taste of Zep’s live glory, delve instead into this three-disc set, which includes a dazzling hour-long version of “Whole Lotta Love.”
06 Cheap Trick, At Budokan
The quartet from Rockford, Illinois, blaze through their power-pop gems here, with Lennon-voiced dreamboat Robin Zander pausing to inform the audience, “I want YOU to want ME!” Fans the world ’round were quick to RSVP “Yes.”
05 The Rolling Stones, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!
Ya-Ya’s catches the Stones in their late-Sixties prime, with Brian Jones’ replacement Mick Taylor sounding in especially fine form and Mick Jagger teasing the crowd about his trouser malfunction.
04 The Allman Brothers, At Fillmore East
The Allman Brothers’ third release, At Fillmore East was their first live album, and it ably introduced the Georgia country-rockers to a wide audience. This is also the record that established their reputation as one of the greatest live bands in rock. Duane Allman’s slide work is the main treat here, but it’s also wonderful to hear him and coguitarist Dickey Betts at their peak, playing off one another and performing haunting dual-guitar lines on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” that still make the hairs on your neck stand up more than 40 years later.
03 Kiss, Alive!
The day after Kiss hit town, in the Seventies, study halls buzzed with play-by-plays of the band’s circus-like performance: Gene’s fire-breathing, Ace’s smoking guitar, Paul’s chest hair … You really had to be there, man. But if you were too sheltered to catch the “hottest band in the land,” this live album was as close as you could get to the real thing without singeing your eyebrows.
02 Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison
At Folsom Prison in the late Sixties, the Man in Black turned the toughest of crowds into, well, a captive audience. Cash, in his prime and backed by a fiery band featuring rockabilly legend Carl Perkins, reaches out to 2000 inmates with an amazingly empathetic set list. Yet as terrific as it all sounds, this is one gig you can be glad you skipped.
01 Peter Frampton, Frampton Comes Alive!
This sales juggernaut introduced scads of listeners to Frampton and his so-called talking guitar, with which he asked us, “Do you feel like I do?” And rock fans did … at least until Frampton’s ill-advised follow-up: a portrayal of Billy Shears (alongside the Bee Gees) in a film adaptation of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.