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For many music fans, a live show is one of the best ways to listen to music. Playing a record is great, but it just can't compare to the roar of the crowd, the fantastic improvisations, or the smell of certain illicit substances. But what do you do if the band you want to see live has broken up, or you can't afford to see them, or the concert you want to see was a once-in-a-lifetime event that will never be repeated again? Well, you buy the live album, of course!

Live albums are pretty self-explanatory - they are recorded at a show, normally coming from the soundboard. Some live albums are recorded at just one concert, while others are recorded at several different concerts (sometimes spliced together to make them seem like they came from the same show). Sometimes the songs sound pretty close to how they are on the record, but with some artists, live versions can take on a completely different feel. (For example: the studio version of "Whipping Post" by The Allman Brothers Band is about five minutes long, a pretty standard length for a song from that era. The live version on At the Filmore East? 23 minutes!) Some artists like to spice up their live albums by rearranging the songs, such as playing them unplugged or adding a orchestra.

The quality and importance of live albums varies greatly depending on the artist and genre of music. Many live albums are seen as inessential or just quick cash-ins for the record label, but some, especially in rock and jazz, are seen as just important as their studio albums. Some huge touring bands, like The Grateful Dead and Pearl Jam have many more live albums than studio recordings! Often, classic artists like Bob Dylan and The Who will unearth live albums long after they were actually recorded and release them for fans.

Many fans like to make bootlegs, unofficial live albums recorded at a show without the record company's permission. Artists have had varying opinions on this, with some hating bootlegs to the extent that they try to sue bootleggers and some encouraging bootleggers so much that they will have their own "official bootlegs" on their website for download. Some bands will occasionally take bootlegs and release them officially. Be warned before you give bootlegs a try - because they are not officially released, the sound quality usually varies.

Examples of famous live albums:


  • The Allman Brothers Band: At The Filmore East. Eat A Peach partially counts, as half of it was done in the studio while the other half (mostly the 30-minute epic "Mountain Jam") is live.
  • The Band: Rock of Ages, recorded at a 1971 New Year's Eve show in New York City.
  • The Beatles: The soundtrack to Let It Be was supposed to be this, with the band rehearsing and recording their new songs live. The sniping and tension within the band (as well as the creative funk John Lennon was mired in at this time) led to several songs being dubbed or altered in the studio, most infamously Paul's "The Long and Winding Road". However, despite all the band's problems seven tracks were still laid down live: "I've Got a Feeling", "One After 909" and "I Dig a Pony" from the Apple rooftop performance, and "Get Back", "Two of Us", "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae" from studio performances. The entirety of the Apple rooftop concert, meanwhile, has gone on to become one of the most bootlegged of all the Beatles' material.
    • Most of Please Please Me was this. After the band's second single, "Please Please Me", shot to the top of the UK charts, EMI wanted an album in a hurry. The Beatles and George Martin convened in the studio on February 11, 1963 and over a little less than ten hours recorded ten more songs, which were added to the A and B sides of the first two singles and put out as an album. The original plan was to record the band actually performing at a local club, but sound issues hampered this.
    • The Beatles' only official live concert album released was of their two performances at the Hollywood Bowl (each recorded a year apart). Unfortunately, despite producer George Martin's best efforts, much of the master tapes were deemed unlistenable, and the sound quality was just absymal in general. It is one of the group's few non-"greatest hits" releases to have not received an official rerelease since the original vinyl.
    • The only other official live Beatles album is Live at the BBC, a compilation of The Beatles' live performances (with some chatter) on BBC radio programs. Amusingly enough, since many of the master tapes from these performances had been erased or taped over, Apple had to rely heavily on bootleggers[1] for much of the material on the album, leading to widely varying sound quality from song to song.
    • An unofficial release of The Beatles' performances from their last sojourn to Hamburg was made in 1977, with The Beatles themselves trying and failing to block its release.
    • There's a low-quality bootleg of their final official concert floating around. Unfortunately, it cuts out in the middle of a song.
  • James Brown: Live At The Apollo
  • Johnny Cash: At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin were both recorded at those prisons, and were responsible for putting Johnny back in the limelight in the late 60's.
  • Cheap Trick: At Budokan, which not only put the band on the map in the U.S. but is considered better than any of their studio albums. The versions of "Surrender" and "I Want You To Want Me" are played more often on radio stations than their studio recordings.
  • Daft Punk: Alive 1997, and more importantly, Alive 2007. The latter is the only album from which they've ever won a Grammy, and was received very well. Both albums combine elements of the band's separate songs mixed into new stuff, and are both technically one continuous track.
  • Bob Dylan has The Bootleg Series, a selection of bootleg recordings recorded at varying points in his career.
  • Peter Frampton: Frampton Comes Alive!, which put him on the map in the U.S.
  • Green Day: Bullet in a Bible, and Awesome As Fuck. The latter contains the song "Cigarettes and Valentines", the title track to an album that was recorded but never released due to stolen master tapes.
  • KISS's Alive is a bit of a subversion, as many of the tracks were re-recorded in the studio. Still, it ended up making the band famous and has sold much higher than any of their studio albums.
  • Led Zeppelin had The Song Remains The Same, the soundtrack to the film of the same name.
  • MC5: Kick Out the Jams, unusual in that it was their first album.
  • Metallica: S&M, which adds a symphonic orchestra.
  • Nirvana has two major ones, MTV Unplugged in New York, released in 1994, and Live At Reading released in 2009. There's also the compilation From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, although it's not quite as well-known.
  • The Rolling Stones: Get Your Ya-Ya's Out!, among many others.
  • Bob Seger: Live Bullet, which is the album that basically put the Michigan rocker on the map nationally.
  • Thin Lizzy: Live And Dangerous. Not only is crammed with hits, but although it's heavily tinkered with in the studio, the tinkering is not very noticeable and has been described as "making it closer to what you'd feel there than the real recording would".
  • The Who: Live at Leeds, which features several songs that had not been released on any studio recordings, such as their cover of "Summertime Blues". The deluxe version contains Tommy in its entirety.

Notes

  1. and even had to splice in the solo in "A Hard Day's Night" from the studio version, since it was missing from their source
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