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50 Greatest Live Albums of All Time

Rolling Stone ranks the 50 best live albums ever, from Jimi Hendrix at Monterey to Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop Festival.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

It’s impossible to capture the frenzy of a live show on record, but it’s not for lack of trying. Here are 50 of the best attempts from Jimi’s historic Monterey Pop guitar incineration to less than 200 people crammed into Abbey Road for Fela Kuti and Ginger Baker; from Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison to Cheap Trick at Budokan. We tried to avoid albums that are mostly overdubs (see Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps) or completely fake (the nonetheless essential Cheap Thrills from Big Brother and the Holding Company) and focused on groundbreaking moments, career-making albums and epic jams. 

Aretha Franklin
35

Aretha Franklin, ‘Live at Fillmore West’ (1971)

"Does anybody feel like hearing the blues?" Aretha Franklin asks, introducing "Dr. Feelgood." She actually had to ask: At the time, San Francisco venue Fillmore West was more famous for bringing rock acts like Jefferson Airplane. Earlier in her set, she even covered Simon and Garfunkel to some chatter. But by then, the crowd answered with a resounding yes — and Franklin's reply is well worth hearing. In "Dr. Feelgood," she throws her head back in an ecstasy that sounds both sexual and religious. And for a reprise of "Spirit in the Dark," Ray Charles appears, even though he wasn't set to perform. He was only there to watch. "If you listen to the record, you can tell I don't know it," he told Rolling Stone in 1973. Christina Lee

Bob Marley and the Wailers, 'Live!'
34

Bob Marley and the Wailers, ‘Live!’ (1975)

Bob Marley and the Wailers' 1975 Natty Dread tour began in America, where some 15,000 fans watched the reggae band perform in Central Park. By the time they crossed the Atlantic, the verdict was in: After two sold-out shows at London's Lyceum, a Melody Maker cover story pronounced Bob "possibly the greatest superstar to visit these shores since the days when Dylan conquered the concert halls of Britain." Neither of these gigs were intended to be recorded, but when Island Records founder Chris Blackwell witnessed the madness of the first, he made sure that the Rolling Stones' mobile studio was parked outside the venue for the second. The result was a song collection of pointed lyrics, political chants and funk grooves enlivened by new guitarist Al Anderson. The seven-minute "No Woman, No Cry" reached the U.K. Top 10 and remains the definitive version of the classic song, eventually appearing as track two of the 15-times-platinum Legend set. Even the mic feedback that echoes over the first verse has become imbued with emotion. Nick Murray

Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Africa '70 with Ginger Baker, 'Live!'
33

Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Africa ’70 with Ginger Baker, ‘Live!’ (1971)

Though already celebrated as one of rock's greatest drummers from a three-year run in Cream and Blind Faith, Ginger Baker's curiosity brought him from England to war-embattled Nigeria to learn more about rhythm. "I don't dance," he said about hearing his old friend Fela Kuti's new band Africa 70, "but I just had to dance to Fela's stuff." This intimate collaboration was actually recorded in Abbey Road studio instead of a traditional rock venue, but was electric nonetheless. Said Baker in his autobigraphy, "an audience of 150 crammed into a large studio…with colored spotlights dancing about the walls to give it the feel of a proper live gig." Baker and Afrobeat bricklayer Tony Allen handle the grooves, and one of the world's funkiest bands gets a little free-rock pummel. Christopher R. Weingarten

Deep Purple, 'Made in Japan'
32

Deep Purple, ‘Made in Japan’ (1972)

In just seven cuts, Deep Purple deliver four sides of excitement and indulgence. From Ian Paice's dizzying drum solo during "The Mule" to Jon Lord's winking organ vamp at the start of "Lazy," from the trick ending of the 20-minute "Space Truckin'" to Ian Gillan and Ritchie Blackmore's voice-and-guitar duel during "Strange Kind of Women," the metal progenitors plunder (and arguably establish) a near-complete arsenal of onstage tricks and tropes. Cheaply made, wildly popular and frequently reissued, Made in Japan was captured during three nights in Osaka and Tokyo. The set feels ever casual, as if the band is performing less for the crowd or the tape machine and more for the sheer enjoyment of stretching these tunes out like playdates. "We were all so unconcerned about the whole thing that nobody was actually aware of being recorded," Lord later confirmed in Dave Thompson's Smoke on the Water. "There was no diminution of the interplay, spontaneity and feeling that we usually got onstage." Grayson Haver Currin

Keith Jarrett, 'The Köln Concert'
31

Keith Jarrett, ‘The Köln Concert’ (1975)

Circumstances were inauspicious when pianist Keith Jarrett and ECM Records owner-producer Manfred Eicher rolled into Cologne, Germany, in January of 1975. Jarrett hadn't slept the night before and was in pain. Worse, the Bösendorfer piano they'd requested had been replaced by an inferior model which, according to Jarrett, "sounded like a very poor imitation of a harpsichord or a piano with tacks in it." Yet the hour-long solo concert he performed around midnight at the city's opera house, wearing a brace and nearly falling asleep at his instrument, was a deeply entrancing meditation on rhythm, whose double-vinyl recording became both the best-selling solo jazz and solo piano albums in history. Jarrett's extemporized fantasia drifts seamlessly from idea to idea, sometimes settling into a two-chord vamp for minutes at a time. More relaxed than most of his other solo recordings, it boasts a full complement of Jarrett's whooping, sighing and foot-stomping affectations while still offering a ravishing introduction to the art of improvisation. Richard Gehr

Iggy and the Stooges, 'Metallic K.O.'
30

Iggy and the Stooges, ‘Metallic K.O.’ (1976)

Side B of the first Stooges live album is, purportedly, one of the gnarliest rock shows ever recorded. For weeks before the February 1974 gig, Stooges frontman Iggy Pop had gleefully engaged in public beef with a motorcycle gang called the Scorpions. They showed up in droves, along with all kinds of objects with which to pelt the band — fruits and vegetables, bottles, yard tools. That hardly bothered Iggy, though — his band was hungry, close to broke, and at the end of their rope. Sloppy on purpose, discordant and gut-churningly raw, the entire set-list is a big screw-you, down to the song selection. The non-album tracks "Rich Bitch" and "Cock in My Pocket" lead into the most gleefully, barely competent cover of "Louie Louie." Here's how little the band fretted about charming at this point. In his book Gimme Danger: The Story of Iggy Pop, Joe Ambrose reports this bit of Pop stage patter from the night: "Hands up, who hates the Stooges? We don't hate you. We don't even care." Arielle Castillo

Frank Zappa and the Mothers, 'Roxy & Elsewhere'
29

Frank Zappa and the Mothers, ‘Roxy & Elsewhere’ (1974)

Though many of his phases have great live albums to complement them, Roxy & Elsewhere is the apotheosis of mid-Seventies Zappa, oozing proof of his ability to recruit a first-rate ensemble (keyboardist George Duke, percussionist Ruth Underwood and, um, guitarist Frank Zappa), to follow through with unorthodox methods (he seamlessly collates recordings from Hollywood with ones from "elsewhere," occasionally editing them together into one song) and to pull off the frenzied arrangements of the Apostrophe(') days. The group performs at the quirky outer limits: The instrumental "Echidna's Arf (Of You)" has unpredictable light-speed whirrs of xylophone and synth and the 16-minute jazz-prog-rock sandwich "Be-Bop Tango" includes an explanation of how to dance to Duke's sung polyrhythm ("You're still too adagio," Zappa jokes). Meanwhile, the Nixon sendup "Son of Orange County" ("I just can't believe you are such a fool") contains one of Zappa's most soulful guitar solos. Zappa included this Zen-like note on the first CD release: "Sometimes you can be surprised that 'The universe works whether or not you understand it.'" Kory Grow

The Ramones
28

Ramones, ‘It’s Alive’ (1979)

This amphetamine-paced double-LP served as a Ramones career retrospective, smack at their peak, and shows the Queens crew almost stumbling across hardcore around the same time California was inventing it. Over four nights in 1977 at London's Rainbow Theater, the punk pioneers blasted through 28 songs from their first three albums. (Thanks to their tidily short length, they squeezed in nearly all of 'em.) The final LP version came mostly from the last night, charged with an energy so electric that fans are said to have ripped seats from the floor and thrown them at the stage in enthusiasm. It's no surprise, as the entire record pulses with American punk's promise, a spittle-spewing Joey Ramone barely pausing between "Pinhead," "Do You Wanna Dance?" and "Chain Saw." He even barely pauses long enough to get out all the lyrics, the band buzzing away behind him like they're in a machine shop. During post-production, the speed was something with which even the band itself struggled to keep up. In his book, Hey Ho, Let's Go: The Story of the Ramones, Everett True writes that Dee Dee needed extra fuel to record bass overdubs: an extra-heavy helping of black coffee. Arielle Castillo

Bill Withers, 'Live at Carnegie Hall'
27

Bill Withers, ‘Live at Carnegie Hall’ (1973)

This rainy Friday night in October 1972 was less than a year and a half after Bill Withers' commercial breakthrough allowed him to quit a day job in an aircraft parts factory, but the rising soul star holds the stage at one of the world's most prestigious venues like a seasoned pro. Withers reminisces about his grandma's church ("At the funeral they used to have tie the caskets down!") and describes the dating scene (he's encountered many "ladies who are not too prone to trust anybody") as coolly as if he's entertaining guests in his own living room. His band, propelled by drummer James Gadson and led by pianist Ray Jackson, roughs up "Use Me" to accentuate its carnality and plays&#