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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. 

The Allman Brothers Band, 'At Fillmore East'
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The Allman Brothers Band, ‘At Fillmore East’ (1971)

Complete with Pabst-clutching roadies on the sleeve, the Allman Brothers' At Fillmore East might be a double-LP from blues-rock central casting were it not for the soaring jams on sides B, C and D. Recorded at Bill Graham's East Village venue in March 1971 and released four months later, it is the last Allman Brothers album under the stewardship of Brother Duane, whose conversational, Coltrane-influenced guitar provides transformative grace on a 23-minute "Whipping Post" and points the way beyond longhaired blues noodles. "It's like what B.B. King did on Live at the Regal, which is just like one big long song, a giant medley," Gregg Allman told band biographer Alan Paul. "He never stopped. He just slammed it." On the flipside is a portrait of an absent road manager Twiggs Lyndon Jr., then incarcerated for stabbing a Buffalo club-owner over unpaid proceeds. Jesse Jarnow

James Brown
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James Brown, ‘Live at the Apollo’ (1963)

King Records founder Syd Nathan declined to jump on James Brown's idea of a live album — they hadn't been established as a profitable venture and he wasn't particularly interested in anything but singles at the time. "Didn't nobody believe us — none of the company executives believed us," recalled hypeman Bobby Byrd. "But see, we were out there. We saw the response as we run our show down." In turn, Brown self-financed the show and was even prepared to self-release it. Though Wednesday was usually Amateur Night inside Harlem's historic Apollo Theater, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business was in his prime. Despite the 27-minute run time, he was a tease: At first, he tries alternating between the locomotive rhythms of his revue, the Famous Flames, and acting cool in formal ballads like "Try Me." The longer he tries to restrain himself, though, the more his voice quivers before he eventually caves, shouting and screaming as he begs and pleads. Christina Lee

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