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Live Album

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For many music fans, a live show is one of the best ways to listen to music. Playing a record is great, but it just can't compare to the roar of the crowd, the fantastic improvisations, the Audience Participation, the band saying things between songs, or the smell of certain illicit substances. But what do you do if the band you want to see live has broken up, or you can't afford to see them, or you live at the other side of the world, or the concert you want to see was a once-in-a-lifetime event that will never be repeated again? Well, you buy the live album, of course!

Live albums are pretty self-explanatory - they are recorded at a show, normally coming from the soundboard. Some live albums are recorded at just one concert, while others are recorded at several different concerts (sometimes spliced together to make them seem like they came from the same show). Sometimes the songs sound pretty close to how they are on the record, but with some artists, live versions can take on a completely different feel. (For example: the studio version of "Whipping Post" by The Allman Brothers Band is about five minutes long, a pretty standard length for a song from that era. The live version on At Fillmore East? 22 minutes!) Some artists like to spice up their live albums by rearranging the songs, such as playing them unplugged or adding a symphony orchestra.


The quality and importance of live albums varies greatly depending on the artist and genre of music. Many live albums are seen as inessential or just quick cash-ins for the record label. It may even be a Contractual Obligation Project, or in some cases a way for a band to quickly terminate a contract and move elsewhere. Even more if the artist just died and everybody is mourning him, the studios always have some spare unreleased live recordings to take advantage of the moment. But in other cases, especially in rock and jazz, they are seen as just important as their studio albums. Some huge touring bands, like The Grateful Dead and Pearl Jam have many more live albums than studio recordings! Often, classic artists like Bob Dylan and The Who will unearth live albums long after they were actually recorded and release them for fans. Another factor are the edits done after the recording: some artists may edit the songs so much that it basically turns into a standard studio album with crowd roars at the begining and end, while others may prefer to release it mostly untouched, so that it feels as close to the real experience as possible.


Many fans like to make bootlegs, unofficial live albums recorded at a show without the record company's permission. Artists have had varying opinions on this, with some hating bootlegs to the extent that they try to sue bootleggers and some encouraging bootleggers so much that they will have their own "official bootlegs" on their website for download. Some bands will occasionally take bootlegs and release them officially. Be warned before you give bootlegs a try - because they are not officially released, the sound quality usually varies.

Examples of famous live albums:

  • The Allman Brothers Band: At Fillmore East. Eat a Peach partially counts, as half of it was done in the studio while the other half (mostly the 33-minute epic "Mountain Jam") is live.
  • Animal Collective: Hollinndagain, a unusual example in that the album consists entirely of original material that cannot be found on any studio albums — with the exception of "Lablakely Dress" which appears on Danse Manatee. Because of this, some consider it to be the band's third album.
  • The Band: Rock of Ages, recorded at a 1971 New Year's Eve show in New York City. The soundtrack to The Last Waltz is another example.
  • The Beatles: Their album Let It Be, the soundtrack to the concert film Let It Be, was supposed to be this, with the band rehearsing and recording their new songs live. The sniping and tension within the band (as well as the creative funk John Lennon was mired in at this time) led to several songs being dubbed or altered in the studio, most infamously Paul's "The Long and Winding Road". However, despite all the band's problems seven tracks were still laid down live: "I've Got a Feeling", "One After 909" and "I Dig a Pony" from the Apple rooftop performance, and "Get Back", "Two of Us", "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae" from studio performances. The entirety of the Apple rooftop concert, meanwhile, has gone on to become one of the most bootlegged of all the Beatles' material.
    • Most of Please Please Me was this. After the band's second single, "Please Please Me", shot to the top of the UK charts, EMI wanted an album in a hurry. The Beatles and George Martin convened in the studio on February 11, 1963 and over a little less than ten hours recorded ten more songs, which were added to the A and B sides of the first two singles and put out as an album. The original plan was to record the band actually performing at a local club, but sound issues hampered this.
    • The Beatles' only official live concert album released was of their two performances at the Hollywood Bowl (each recorded a year apart). Unfortunately, despite producer George Martin's best efforts, much of the master tapes were deemed unlistenable, and the sound quality was just absymal in general. It wasn't re-released until 2016, when a remastered, remixed, and expanded version from newly discovered tapes came out in concert with the documentary Eight Days A Week.
    • The only other official live Beatles album is Live at the BBC, a compilation of The Beatles' live performances (with some chatter) on BBC radio programs. Amusingly enough, since many of the master tapes from these performances had been erased or taped over, Apple had to rely heavily on bootleggersnote  for much of the material on the album, leading to widely varying sound quality from song to song.
    • An unofficial release of The Beatles' performances from their last sojourn to Hamburg was made in 1977, with The Beatles themselves trying and failing to block its release.
    • There's a low-quality bootleg of their final official concert floating around. Unfortunately, it cuts out in the middle of a song.
  • The Blue Öyster Cult have released five live sets. The increasing proficiency of the band note  can be charted across the first three. The original double set On your Feet! Or On your Knees showcases a powerful, energetic, group doing quality hard rock, but who were still a bit unpracticed, loose and uncertain, and needed to tighten things up a little. It suffers from over-long solos, the curse of heavy rock. By the third, Extra Terrestrial Live, they have matured as a live act with a really tight, professional, performance. The one in between, Some Enchanted Evening, is so-so by comparison, and only makes sense in the CD release where it is accompanied by a DVD concert footage video. The band wanted to make a live concert film, but in the event could only release the audio track as a live LP. It was only with the advent of DVD that the original concept could be released.
  • David Bowie's live discography is roughly as sizable as his already extensive studio discography, with live releases especially picking up in frequency after his death; some of them are official versions of releases previously put out by his old managers without permission, others were formerly popular bootlegs. His first two live albums, David Live and Stage, also received expanded releases in the 21st century to address criticisms audiences had with the original releases.
  • James Brown: Live at the Apollo.
  • David Byrne put out four live albums so far during his solo career.
    • Two of them, Live from Austin, Texas and Live at Carnegie Hall, are archival releases respectively taken from the supporting tour for Look into the Eyeball and a one-off performance with Caetano Veloso in 2004.
    • The other two, Everything That Happens Will Happen on This Tour – David Byrne on Tour: Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno and David Byrne's American Utopia On Broadway (Original Cast Recording), were more contemporary releases taken from the supporting tour for Everything That Happens Will Happen Today and the American Utopia Broadway residency, respectively. The latter is functionally an expanded version of the live EP "...The Best Live Show Of All Time" —NME (included with the deluxe edition of American Utopia) and acts as a companion piece to the Spike Lee-directed Concert Film David Byrne's American Utopia. And yes, the album titles are all that long.
  • Captain Beefheart: He only has one: Bongo Fury, in collaboration with Frank Zappa, where Beefheart is basically the supporting act and only has a couple of songs where his vocals are the lead.
  • Johnny Cash: At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin were both recorded at those prisons, and were responsible for putting Johnny back in the limelight in the late '60s.
  • Cheap Trick: At Budokan, which not only put the band on the map in the U.S. but is considered better than any of their studio albums. The versions of "Surrender" and "I Want You To Want Me" are played more often on radio stations than their studio recordings.
  • Joe Cocker: Mad Dogs and Englishmen (1970), which was also made into a Concert Film.
  • Bill Cosby: I Started Out as a Child (1964) is a stand-up comedy album where he first told funny stories about childhood, a theme that he would later elaborate on during other records and would inspire Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.
  • Daft Punk: Alive 1997, and more importantly, Alive 2007. The latter was their first album that they won a Grammy for, and was received very well. Both albums combine elements of the band's separate songs mixed into new stuff, and are both technically one continuous track.
  • Dark Angel has their Live Scars EP.
  • Deep Purple: They have two famous live albums, the first one oddly enough a collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Concerto for Group and Orchestra (1969), the other the rock classic Made in Japan (1973).
  • Depeche Mode has three "main" live albums: 101 (a companion piece to the Concert Film of the same name), Songs of Faith and Devotion Live (simply a front-to-back live rendition of Songs of Faith and Devotion), and Live Spirits Soundtrack (a companion piece to the Concert Film Spirits in the Forest). Then there's Recording the Angel and Recording the Universe, an elaborate series of live CDs respectively documenting the supporting tours for Playing the Angel and Sounds of the Universe, and the soundtrack CDs included with various other live DVDs.
  • Bob Dylan has The Bootleg Series, a selection of bootleg recordings recorded at varying points in his career.
  • Fishmans: Otokachi no Wakare 98.12.28 is their most well-known album, and the top-rated live album on RateYourMusic. The show was intended as a farewell show to their bassist. It ended up being their final concert period, as Sato, their singer, passed away three months later.
  • Peter Frampton: Frampton Comes Alive!, which put him on the map in the U.S.
  • Peter Gabriel has five live albums in his discography.
    • The first, Plays Live, documented the supporting tour for Security. Some CD releases truncate it to the one-disc Plays Live Highlights, which officially supplanted the full version in the 2002 remastering campaign; the full double-disc album wouldn't return to print until 2021. Plays Live notably features the only officially-released version of "I Go Swimming", an outtake from Melt (the studio version of which remains unreleased outside of bootlegs).
    • The second, Secret World Live, acted as a companion piece to the Concert Film Secret World. The album features a slightly different tracklist from the latter, swapping out "San Jacinto" for "Red Rain". Both songs would be included on the streaming release of the album and the Blu-ray release of the film.
    • The third, Live Blood, acted as a companion piece to both the Cover Album Scratch My Back and the re-recordings album New Blood. The album features Gabriel performing orchestral renditions of both his own songs and songs by other artists, conducted by Doctor Who orchestrater Ben Foster.
    • The fourth, Back to Front: Live in London, was a companion piece to the Concert Film of the same name. Both the album and film are taken from the Back to Front tour, conducted to celebrate the 25th anniversary of So. The album notably features not only the entirety of So performed in sequence, but also the new piece "Daddy Long Legs".
    • The fifth, Growing Up Live, was taken from the supporting tour for Up but wasn't released until 2019. The album is only available on vinyl and as a digital release.
  • Genesis has had six live albums over the course of their career.
    • The first, simply titled Live, was created in fairly short order (to buy time for the band to finish recording their fifth studio album, Selling England by the Pound) from tapes of the band recorded by King Biscuit Flower Hour (a syndicated radio show based on live concerts). Plans for a double-sided album were nixed fairly early on to ensure teenagers could afford it.
    • Their third live album, Three Sides Live, incorporated a new studio side of non-album songs; when the album was released in Europe (where those songs had been released as singles and EP's), it was instead with a fourth side of older live recordings.
    • The Way We Walk was unusual in that it was a Distinct Double Album split across two separate releases. The first volume, The Shorts, contained performances of their pop rock material, with the longest track being just over seven minutes. The second volume, The Longs, featured Epic Rocking Progressive Rock songs, with only one track being shorter than ten minutes (the 6-minute "Drum Duet").
  • The Grateful Dead, in addition to hundreds of live albums they already have, tweaked the idea for 1968's Anthem of the Sun, which splices several concerts together and jumps back and forth from live to studio.
  • Green Day: Bullet in a Bible, and Awesome as Fuck. The latter contains the song "Cigarettes and Valentines", the title track to an album that was recorded but never released due to stolen master tapes.note 
  • George Harrison's The Concert for Bangladesh was recorded from the 1971 charity concert of the same name. This live album also got the distinction of winning the Grammy Award for Best Album of the Year in 1973.
  • Iron Maiden: Live After Death is considered to be one of the greatest live albums ever made, receiving universal acclaim from music critics and fans alike. It was also on Loudwire's retrospective list for the "Top 10 Best Metal Albums of 1985", holding the distinction of being the ONLY live album to make it on that list. It received perfect scores from Sputnikmusic and Kerrang!, both notably agree that it is possibly the greatest live album to ever have been made, while All Music rewarded four and a half stars commenting that it is easily one of Heavy Metal's best live albums. It has since been certified Platinum by the RIAA.
  • Jimi Hendrix: Band of Gypsys is his most beloved concert album.
  • Jean-Michel Jarre:
    • His most well-known live album has to be his first, the platinum double-album The Concerts in China. It's remarkable for sounding the least of all his live releases like the studio albums. At his first concert in Paris in 1979, he piled up his entire studio on stage. Obviously, this was out of question when he flew to freshly post-Mao China, accompanied by other musicians for the first time. Also, these must have been his only performances in the 20th century without backing tracks.
    • The other live albums from The '80s, In Concert Houston-Lyon and Jarre Live, not only sound quite close to the studio recording plus a few live additions, but they're also painfully shortened — not only do they not contain all pieces of music from the concerts (In Concert Houston-Lyon even tried to cover two shows), but most pieces are cut in length. Besides, especially the Lyon footage is more studio overdub than actual live recordings. There was a Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition album box named The Laser Years which was sought-after just for one album, Cities in Concert Houston-Lyon with the same tracklist as In Concert Houston-Lyon, but uncut. When Jarre had his albums remastered in 24 bit in The '90s, In Concert was fully replaced by Cities in Concert; Jarre Live, however, was only renamed Destination Docklands.
    • Hong Kong averts Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Only "Fishing Junks at Sunset" (or the second half which is all that survived remastering and reducing the album from two CDs to only one) was actually recorded in Hong Kong — during the dress rehearsal. Everything else was taken from recordings of the 1993 Europe In Concert tour which is the most obvious if you happen to own the Europe In Concert — Barcelona VHS tape. That said, Jarre originally wanted to release a live album of another 1994 concert he planned to play in Düsseldorf. But after that concert was cancelled a few days before it would have happened, he had to release something else as a live album.
    • Many of Jarre's shows have never seen an official live release; for example, the record-breaking 1990 mega-show Paris La Défense only got a VHS release cut from two hours down to one hour and twelve minutes. And after Hong Kong, only one more live CD was released as part of the Jarre In China DVD box. Needless to say that bootleg recordings of Jarre's concerts have been around since The '80s, often taped from live radio transmissions like the full two-hour Paris La Défense bootleg from Europe 2. Meanwhile, Jarre has encouraged his fans to record and bootleg his concerts, probably to not have to go through the hassle of releasing live double albums or the fans' anger after releasing another shortened live album.
  • Jay-Z and Linkin Park: Collision Course, supposedly the first entry in the "MTV Mashups" concert series but no further entries ever materialized. note 
  • Elton John has released four live albums. His most famous one was Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 1987, which was recorded in the last concert of his Tour De Force concert series in Australia. It's most well-known for him playing piano with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra while weating a Mozart-style pompadour wig. The live version of "Candle in the Wind" from this concert series finally became a hit in the United States.
  • Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka: Despite its name, Brian Jones merely produced it and does not actually appear anywhere on the album. It's really live album for the Master Musicians of Jajouka, a Moroccan folk group, but the recordings were shortened somewhat because the actual length of these chants can stretch out to several hours.
  • Joy Division had a considerable number of live albums released posthumously. The first live release, the second disc of the 1981 compilation Still, is notable for featuring Joy Division's only live performance of "Ceremony" while simultaneously lopping off the first half of the song and leaving most of Ian Curtis' vocals inaudible due to an engineering error at the show. Other concert recordings from the band's brief lifetime were included as bonus discs in collector's edition reissues as well as in standalone releases.
  • King Crimson released a large number of live albums throughout their lifetime, especially after they shifted focus to the touring circuit in 2003. Their first, 1972's Earthbound, particularly stands out for the fact that it was sourced from a cassette tape left in the rain in the back of a pickup truck. The album's consequent lo-fi sound quality meant that it wasn't released on CD until 2002, and it almost wasn't released at all back in the day.
  • KISS's Alive is a bit of a subversion, as many of the tracks were re-recorded or overdubbed in the studio to fix sound issues and flubbed notes. Still, it ended up making the band famous and has sold much higher than any of their studio albums. Indeed, much like with Frampton Comes Alive! by Peter Frampton, the album was pretty much what broke the band into the mainstream.
  • Led Zeppelin had The Song Remains the Same, the soundtrack to the film of the same name. They also have BBC Sessions, the first disc of which is session recordings and the second is a live concert given on air. How the West Was Won is made up of concert recordings from 1972, but wasn't released until 2003. Led Zeppelin DVD is essentially a video live album, and contains footage from higher-quality bootlegs where the original concert recordings were either lost or unusable. Celebration Day gives a similar treatment to their 2007 reunion show.
    • No Quarter: Page and Plant Unledded is a live album, albeit without John Paul Jones.
    • Robert Plant has yet to release an official live album of his solo work, but bootleg recordings made it in as bonus tracks on re-releases of the albums on which they originally appeared, and he released an official bootleg available to download on his website in 2012.
  • John Lennon: His first live performance as a solo artist can be found on Side 1 of Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions (1969), but it's basically a recording of Yoko wailing minutes long, while John provides guitar feedback. Apart from that you can't hear the audience at all. note . Lennon's first live album is Live Peace in Toronto 1969 (1969) and the second half of Some Time in New York City (1972) is also live, featuring a heavily edited live performance with Frank Zappa. Zappa would later release an unedited version of this concert as Playground Psychotics in 1993.
  • Bob Marley: Bob Marley & The Wailers released two live albums during Bob's lifetime, Live! (1975) and "Babylon By Bus" (1978). Live! in particular is widely regarded as one of the finest concert albums ever released, as it captures the magic of Bob's concerts like none of his other albums have ever managed to surpass.
  • MC5: Kick Out the Jams, unusual in that it was their first album.
  • John McLaughlin's The Boston Record is completely live.
  • Metallica: S&M, which adds a symphonic orchestra.
  • Monty Python: Monty Python Live at Drury Lane is their second live album.
  • Nirvana has two major ones, MTV Unplugged in New York, released in 1994 and full of acoustic renditions of some of their work as well as cover songs, and Live At Reading released in 2009. There's also the compilation From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, although it's not quite as well-known.
  • Mike Oldfield only had one official live albumnote , that being 1979's Exposed. The album features his most recent work— "Incantations" and the non-album disco single "Guilty"— as well as his most famous work, Tubular Bells. It features a full orchestra and choir.
  • Pink Floyd has five, released during and after their lifetime:
    • The first disc of Ummagumma, which showcased the band in its early psychedelic period.
    • Delicate Sound of Thunder, made after Roger Waters's acrimonious split from the band and taken from the supporting tour for A Momentary Lapse of Reason.
    • Pulse, taken from the supporting tour for The Division Bell featuring a full performance of The Dark Side of the Moon.
    • Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980–81, a collection of recordings from The Wall's tour released in 2000.
    • Live at Knebworth 1990, first released as part of The Later Years 1987-2019 in 2019 before seeing a standalone release in 2021, and taken from the same tour as Delicate Sound of Thunder.
  • Rush has had several live releases going back to 1976, with their first live release All the World's a Stage. They would release a live album every few years, one of their most notable coming after a six-year hiatus as a result of drummer Neil Peart's personal tragedies. Rush in Rio was released in 2003, featuring their well-received performance in Rio de Janiero, Brazil the previous year.
  • Elvis Presley Has had many official live releases both during and after his death. Among them: his 1968 comeback special, "In Person" which is from Elvis' first Las Vegas engagement in 1969; "On Stage" which features extra tracks from his early Vegas years; "An Afternoon at the Garden" and "As Recorded Live at Madison Square Garden" from 1972; his famous global satellite show "Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii" from 1973; "As Recorded live On Stage in Memphis" from 1974 and "Elvis in Concert" from his last concert tour in 1977. And that's not even counting the multitude of bootleg albums released by "Follow that Dream" records which to date has released dozens of bootleg and soundboard recordings of Elvis shows. The most notorious concert album in his career is Having Fun with Elvis on Stage, a 35 minute collection of nothing but Elvis cracking jokes with the audience without any music or context.
  • Queen: the most famous one is Live Killers, situated near the middle of their career and produced by the band themselves. Live Magic is special because some of the recordings were made at Freddie Mercury's last concerts ever, but the editing is heavy-handed with many songs having verses removed. In this century, several new live albums of varying quality made from 1970s or 1980s recordings have appeared.
    • One of the most memorable Queen live albums is Live at Wembley '86, recorded from their second of two shows at Wembley Stadium in July 1986. A re-release titled Live at Wembley Stadium (which was released along with a DVD of the show) also featured tracks from the previous night's show as well as a performance of the Hungarian folksong "Tavaszi Szél Vizet Áraszt" at a later show in Budapest, Hungary.
  • The Rolling Stones: Get Your Ya Yas Out!, among many others.
  • Bob Seger: Live Bullet, which basically put him on the map nationally.
  • Thin Lizzy: Live And Dangerous. Not only is crammed with hits, but although it's heavily tinkered with in the studio, the tinkering is not very noticeable and has been described as "making it closer to what you'd feel there than the real recording would".
  • Sarah Vaughan: Her Live in Japan (1973) album is so acclaimed that it has been inducted in the National Recording Registry.
  • Sid Vicious' only album is Sid Sings, a hastily cobbled together compilation of mostly live recordings and one studio track. The record was released in the wake of his death and it really shows. The audio quality is lo-fi.
  • Talking Heads had two live albums released in their lifetime, both in the early '80s (after which they stopped playing live). The first was The Name of This Band is Talking Heads, a Distinct Double Album documenting recordings from early tours on disc one and the then-recent Remain in Light tour on disc two. The second was Stop Making Sense, an edited live recording from the band's final live shows, documented in the film of the same name. Both albums received expanded releases years later, with the latter including the full film soundtrack.
  • Tears for Fears:
    • Secret World Live in Paris, taken from the supporting tour for their reunion album Everybody Loves a Happy Ending. The album also features three studio tracks: the outtake "Floating Down the River", the radio edit of the Title Track, and the previously-released Curt Smith solo cut "What Are We Fighting For?".
    • Live at Massey Hall was a 2021 Record Store Day exclusive, documenting a show from the supporting tour for Songs from the Big Chair.
  • Tom Waits: Nighthawks at the Diner (1975) is notable for three things: 1) it was his first live album 2) it appeared after his first two studio albums, yet was all new material 3) it was a double album. The album is praised for the wonderful jazz nightclub atmosphere and Waits' amusing delivery and interludes.
  • The Who: Live at Leeds, which features several songs that had not been released on any studio recordings, such as their cover of "Summertime Blues". The deluxe version contains Tommy in its entirety.
  • The Yardbirds: Released Five Live Yardbirds in 1964, which was a revolutionary live album at the time.
    • Other notable live albums by the band include Live Yardbirds: Featuring Jimmy Page and the collaboration album with Sonny Boy Williamson II.
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra had two live albums during their initial run: Public Pressure, compiling recordings from the band's 1979 world tour, and After Service, taken from the supporting shows for 1983's Service. Both albums received expanded two-CD releases in the early '90s (as Faker Holic and Complete Service, respectively) to cash in on the band's reunion, whose supporting tour was itself documented in Technodon Live. Ironically, the expanded versions are now out of print, with the original versions supplanting them. The band released a much greater amount of live albums afterwards from both archival shows and newer reunion performances.
  • Frank Zappa had a glut of these during his lifetime, many of which include exclusive material and studio overdubs. The non-posthumous live discography is as follows: Fillmore East, June 1971 (1971), Just Another Band from L.A. (1972), Roxy & Elsewhere (1973), Bongo Fury (1975), Zappa in New York (1977), Sheik Yerbouti (1979), Tinseltown Rebellion (1981), Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar (1981), Does Humor Belong in Music? (1986), Guitar (1988), Broadway the Hard Way (1988), Make a Jazz Noise Here (1991), The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life (1991) and of course the You Cant Do That On Stage Anymore series, where the most interesting live concert moments from various decades are compiled together. The Yellow Shark (1993), Zappa's last release before his death later that year, is a live orchestral performance.
  • A Very Special Christmas Live From Washington, D.C. (1999), the fourth album in the Very Special Christmas album series. It features Mary J. Blige, Run–D.M.C., Eric Clapton, Tracy Chapman and more.