Some bands can go into a studio and the producers and sound men can make them sound like music savants. With mixing overdubbing and studio artists an album can come out sounding like a million bucks… and it may actually cost just that to produce. But the true test of a band is their ability to reproduce their quality sound on stage. I have seen Prince time and time again and every time he sounds better than the last, he also holds his artists to the highest of standards. Some bands sound amazing live but the studio can just not capture the energy they exert onto a disc. And finally there is the category that decides it all, the bands that you here on the radio and then rush off to purchase tickets for and it sounds like sick cats howling in the night.
Here is my list of live albums that truly define music.
10. Prince – One Nite Alone… Live!: Sadly Prince just doesn’t release his mastery on disc. No artist can compare to the quality he reproduces nightly on stage. If you ever get a chance to see him, even from the deepest of nose bleeds, you will not regret the experience.
9. Eric Clapton – 24 Nights: Clapton’s hits that he made famous throughout his career solo and with Cream. 24 Nights was a series of performances at the Royal Albert Hall in London that progressively added larger and larger accompanying musicians up to the finally which included accompaniment from the Nation Philharmonic Orchestra.
8. Cheap Trick – Live at Budokan: It’s not often that a song is defined and known by its live version, but it has been know to happen on occasion and “I Want You” is just one of those songs. The band has since release expanded anniversary editions that include 2 discs of the complete show, well worth the money whether you own the original and a necessity if you don’t.
7. T.S.O.L – Live 91: Raw. Dirty. Angry. The first time I heard TSOL was in a dingy movie called “Suburbia” and I felt like they were the only ones that understood me at the time. When you are a teenager with noting but a skateboard no one cares or understands you, but they did. The album is not that great, it’s not that original, but it understands a whole generation of rather be forgotten youth.
6. Slayer – Decade of Aggression: Slayer has released some brutal live shows on DVD but their live concerts have only made it to CD twice in their nearly 30 years in the business. While DoA is an awesome album it would be nice to hear stuff from the past 20 years included in a live CD. If you are not looking for a concert style CD the Soundtrack to the Apocalypse has a great mish-mash of odds and ends of several versions of live tracks.
5. Dokken – The Beast From the East: Easily the best live album to come out of the “Hair-Era” of metal. Dokken sounds much deeper and full live then the studio gives them credit for. This was the last hurrah before the band split with guitarist George Lynch and the band went on solo hiatus for a good part of the 90s before reforming years later to hit the summer circuit.
4. Ozzy Osbourne – Tribute: Speak of the Devil nearly made the list, honest to God. But with speculation that it was a shady deal with the record company and may actually be a studio album with an overdubbed audience I chose to leave it off. Normally I would chalk it up to rumors but since this album is scratched from Ozzy’s catalogue and he publically disowned it there is probably truth to the legend. Nothing really needs to be said about Tribute itself other than “Let the madness…. begin.”
3. Johnny Cash – Live at Folsom: Some would argue San Quintin, I would call them foolish. A brilliant idea far ahead of its time… much like Johnny’s music.
2. Jay Z – Unplugged: Anyone who says rap is not music should give this album a listen. While Jay is still accompanied by some synthetic beats he is backed by a full band giving any critics cause to step back on their complaints. The greatest vocalist to ever spin a beat.
1. Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson – Storytellers: Not only one of the best live albums, but one of the greatest albums ever. Everything a live show should be when the guitars stop. Willie and Johnny share their thoughts and play from the heart. Willie proves he is a far better stringman and John proves to be humble by acknowledging the fact himself. Filled with classics, but not overplayed classics make this a great album any day.