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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Live Albums of All Time

Selections include ‘The Last Waltz,’ ‘Live Bullet’ and ‘Live at Leeds’

the who

The Who perform onstage circa 1973.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

These days, live albums are often just a means to cash in one last time on a highly successful tour. Back in the Seventies, however, a live album was a great way to create a superstar. Acts as diverse as Cheap Trick, Kiss and Peter Frampton were all stuck at one level in their career before a monster live album forever changed their lives. Sure, sometimes they were doctored a bit in the studio, but few people cared. Songs like "I Want You To Want Me" and "Show Me the Way" popped on a concert stage in a way they never could have in a sterile recording studio. Last week, we asked our readers to vote on their favorite live albums of all time. Click through to see the results. 

Warner Brothers Records

6. Deep Purple – ‘Made In Japan’

The classic Ian Gillan-led lineup of Deep Purple (dubbed Deep Purple Mark II by the fans) had only been on the road for three years when they hit Japan in 1972. It was a very fruitful time for the band. They had three incredible albums under their belts (In Rock, Fireball and Machine Head), and their live show was absolutely stunning. They had no intention of making a live album, but they were talked into releasing material taped in Osaka and Tokyo for a Japanese-only live album. Their label loved it and released it worldwide. These are the definitive versions of "Highway Star," "Child in Time" and other Deep Purple classics. They've done countless shows since in countless permutations, but they've never sounded quite this perfect. 

Mercury Records

5. Kiss – ‘Alive!’

To really understand the power of Kiss, you have to see them live. They built their reputation on the road, breathing fire, spitting blood and hovering above the audience on wires. Nobody had ever seen anything like it. (Unless, that is, they'd seen Alice Cooper a few years earlier.) Their songs were also light years better onstage than on record, so they made the smart decision to tape a bunch of gigs in mid-1975. In typical Kiss fashion, they hedged their bets by doctoring the tapes in the studio afterwards. Today, nobody is quite sure what parts of Alive! were actually taped live. It hardly matters. The album was a monster success. It flew off the shelves and instantly made them one of the biggest bands in the world. Kiss gets a lot of shit these days. Much of it is deserved, but it's hard to deny that songs like "Cold Gin," "Deuce" and "Black Diamond" are classics. They've never sounded better than they did on Alive!

Decca

4. The Rolling Stones – ‘Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!’

The Rolling Stones had been off the road for two long years before their 1969 American tour in support of Beggar's Banquet. During that time Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had been arrested on trumped-up drug charges, Their Satanic Majesties Request had failed to deliver, Brian Jones had left the group (and later died) and Mick Taylor became their new guitarist. They also recorded some of the finest music of their long career.

The tour was a long time coming, and up until Altamont it had been a complete triumph. They packed large venues all across the country and in many ways laid the groundwork for all arena tours that followed. This was also the time when bootlegs started popping up in record stores, most notable Live'r Than You'll Ever Be, which was taken from a 1969 Stones show in Oakland. The obvious move was to release their own live album from the tour. Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! was taken from shows in Baltimore and New York, though some of the vocals were touched up later in the studio. The Stones have released many live albums since this one, but none have sounded quite as vital. 

A&M/PolyGram Records

3. Peter Frampton – ‘Frampton Comes Alive!’

Wayne's World 2 is a rather flawed movie, but it does have the definitive take on Frampton Comes Alive! "Everybody has Frampton Comes Alive," Wayne said when going through some old vinyl. "If you lived in the suburbs, you were issued it. It came in the mail with free samples of Tide." In 1976 the live album – taped on Frampton's 1975 summer tour – spent 97 weeks on the Billboard charts, selling millions of copies. The former Humble Pie frontman had some minor solo success before the release of the double live album, but nobody saw the explosion of Frampton Comes Alive! coming. Singles "Show Me the Way," "Baby, I Love Your Way" and the 14-minute "Do You Feel Like We Do" went into super heavy rotation on radio. He was loved by teenage girls, and their older brothers. He owned the year 1976 like nobody else in rock, but by the time he dropped I'm In You the following year the madness had subsided. Ten years later he found himself playing guitar in David Bowie's backing band. 

the allman brothers band

Capricorn

2. The Allman Brothers – ‘Live at the Filmore East’

Seven months before Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident, the Allman Brothers Band played a two-night stand at New York's Fillmore East. The resulting live album captured the original lineup of the band at their absolute peak. "Whipping Post" lasts 23 minutes, while "Mountain Jam" goes well past half an hour – but in both cases the energy never lets up for an instant. Producer Tom Dowd is responsible for the glorious sound and clean mix of the LP. It's impossible to even tell that some songs were shortened, and in some cases he even combined two takes of the same song into one. Last year the group (now down to just two original members) played the whole set at the Beacon Theater in honor of the LP's 40th anniversary. 

the who

Polydor Records

1. The Who – ‘Live at Leeds’

In late 1969, Pete Townshend made one of the dumbest decisions of his life. The Who had been contemplating a live album to chronicle their Tommy world tour. Thirty-eight shows were recorded in pristine sound quality, but Pete didn't feel like going through all of them to find the best one. Instead, he decided to tape two upcoming shows at Leeds and Hull in England. He ordered sound engineer Bob Pridden to burn all 38 shows from 1969. "It was a dumb decision commercially and historically," Townshend writes in his memoir, Who I Am. "Bob faithfully destroyed them in a bonfire in his garden."

Thankfully, the shows at Hull and Leeds were recorded and preserved. The bass didn't get properly recorded at the beginning of the Hull show, so the Leeds show was released. At the time, the group felt that Tommy had overshadowed all their other work. Live at Leeds didn't have a single cut from the rock opera, even though they played the bulk of it at the show. Instead, it featured covers like Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues," Johnny Kidd's "Shakin' All Over" and Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues." Side two began with a 14-minute "My Generation." This was the Who at their absolute peak as a live band. 

In 1995, they released more songs from the show on CD, and then in 2001 they wisely put the whole thing out. 

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