It's hard to know what would have happened to the careers of Kiss, Peter Frampton, Bob Seger and Cheap Trick had they not released killer live albums back in the 1970s. None of those acts had quite managed to capture the magic of their stage shows in the recording studio, and they were all facing oblivion until a single live album transformed their lives forever. The Seventies was the era of the live album, a time when it was practically mandatory for rock bands to release at least one great concert recording. It was also a time when bootlegs were flooding the market and artists felt the need to compete. We asked our readers to vote on their favorite live albums of the 1970s. Click through to see the results.
An American Paul McCartney tour might not be a huge deal in 2014, but back in 1976 it was practically earth-shattering. It had been 10 years since he'd played a single show in America. He'd released a staggering amount of amazing music in that time — with the Beatles, Wings and in his solo career — and audiences were hungry to hear the songs live. The Wings Over America tour was a huge hit, packing arenas all across the nation. The excitement was captured on a killer live album released that December. Macca has released tons of live albums since, but he's never topped it.
The Who were arguably the greatest live band of the 1960s, but they never released a single live album during that entire decade. (Their 1968 compilation album was deceptively titled Magic Bus: The Who on Tour, but none of the songs were live.) Their 1969 disc Tommy turned the band into superstars and they supported the LP with marathon concerts where they played the bulk of the album in addition to tons of covers and older originals. They wanted to capture the energy on a live album, though when Pete Townshend heard the initial recordings he demanded that the tapes be burned. (It remains unclear just how many tapes, if any, were actually thrown into a fire.) They decided to try again when they hit the road in mid-February of 1970. Their shows at Hull and Leeds were taped, but John Entwistle's bass parts failed to record during the first couple of songs at the Hull show. That left them with Leeds, and the rest is history.
Former Humble Pie guitarist Peter Frampton had a decent following before his 1976 live album Frampton Comes Alive! hit shelves, but in his wildest dreams he couldn't have imagined what the record would do to his career. Live renditions of his songs "Baby I Love Your Way" and "Show Me the Way" exploded at radio and Frampton Comes Alive! began selling as quickly as the record company could churn them out. It spent ten weeks at the top of the album charts and teenage girls began decorating their rooms with Peter Frampton posters. The mania was short-lived, though he continues to be a live draw to this day. He even played Frampton Comes Alive straight through a couple of years ago.
Kiss earned a loyal audience in the first three years of their career by constant touring. Anybody that saw their bombastic stage show instantly converted into a fan. The problem was the songs sounded relatively flat on record and they couldn't get much traction at radio or in stores. The obvious solution was a live album. The group taped a bunch of shows on their 1975 tour, though they later went back into the studio and overdubbed most everything but the drums. The finished product still managed to convey the primal power of a Kiss concert and the album was a huge hit. It brought the band into arenas and it hasn't looked back since.
Cheap Trick's first three albums are absolute classics, but for whatever reason they failed to catch on in America. "I Want You to Want Me" didn't even crack the Hot 100 and "Surrender" stalled out at Number 62. The good people of Japan had a different reaction to Cheap Trick, and when they came there in April of 1978 to play Tokyo's Budokan they were treated like gods. A live album from the show was only meant to come out in Japan, but when it received a strong reaction they released it in America. "I Want You Want Me" worked better with 12,000 screaming Japanese fans, and a live version of the song reached Number Seven. It helped Live At Budokan sell millions of records, finally breaking the band big in America.
Led Zeppelin were, without any question, one of the greatest live bands of all time. That was clear when they first began gigging as the New Yardbirds in 1968 and it was clear when they reunited in 2007 for a one-off show. They basically owned the 1970s, playing to enormous crowds everywhere they went and leaving audiences stunned. So it's pretty shocking that it never occurred to them to assemble a proper live album during their heyday. The closest they came was the soundtrack to their 1976 concert/fantasy movie The Song Remains The Same. It was taped at Madison Square Garden in 1973 at the tail end of an extremely long tour. The shows were good by most standards, but the band was worn out and definitely not playing at their best. Still, a weak Zeppelin concert is still pretty amazing and the album sold by the ton. In 2003, Jimmy Page finally sorted through old Zeppelin live tapes and assembled How the West Was Won. It's much better than The Song Remains the Same.
Rush toured like absolute maniacs from the moment that Neil Peart joined the band in 1974 through their 1976 odyssey in support of 2112. It built them a huge loyal audience that persists to this day. They taped a stand at Toronto's Massey Hall in June of 1976, finally let people that hadn't seen Rush understand what all the fuss was about. Unlike many of their peers at the time, they didn't monkey around with anything in the studio. "It was raw and totally live ," Geddy Lee told Rolling Stone in 2013. "It really bugged us for years that we didn't fix anything." Many Rush fans have a different take, loving the warts-and-all sound of All the World's a Stage.
There aren't a lot of casual Deep Purple fans. People are either vaguely aware there's a band called Deep Purple that wrote "Smoke on the Water," or they have a statue of Ritchie Blackmore in their backyard and they light candles at the base of it every day praying he'll come to his senses and return to rock & roll. Many people in the latter category live in Russia, Japan, England or Germany, explaining why they rarely tour America and have yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To the faithful, their 1973 live album Made in Japan remains one of the finest collections of songs ever put down on tape. Like many live albums of the 1970s, it was partially taped at Tokyo's Budokan. Classics like "Highway Star" and "Child in Time" rock much harder than their studio counterparts. It really is the ultimate document of the classic lineup at their peak.
Just seven months before Duane Allman tragically died in a motorcycle accident, the Allman Brothers Band played a triumphant three-night stand at New York's Fillmore East. Thankfully, tapes were rolling and they captured a blazing hot set, culminating with a twenty-three minute rendition of "Whipping Post." The group has released the shows on many releases over the years, most notably the 1971 LP At Fillmore East. It remains the definite portrait of the Allman Brothers in their first (and best) incarnation.
Bob Seger had incredible early success in his career with "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man," a garage-rock classic that reached Number Seven on the Hot 100 in 1968. Things took a sharp downwards turn after that, even as he continued to release new music and tour the country at a punishing pace. Many years he barely eked out enough money to keep himself on the road, though the endless one nighters turned him into an incredible live act. Much like Kiss that same year, he played Detroit's Cobo Hall in 1975 and taped the shows for a concert album. Live Bullet hit in April of 1976 and became an instant hit, finally turning him from a regional act into a national rock star. He's never looked back.