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50 best live albums of all time

  • 50 best live albums of all time

    There's something different about listening to a live album. The between-song banter, the roar of a crowd fueled by an epic guitar solo or a poignant song, and the buzz of energy can’t be captured on albums created in a studio.

    Stacker compiled data on the top live albums of all time according to Best Ever Albums, which ranks albums according to their appearance and performance on 40,000 editorial and data-based charts (e.g., Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Billboard, etc.). The Best Ever Albums score is derived from a formula that weighs how many charts an album has appeared on and how high it was on each of those charts, then awards points accordingly. For a more in-depth methodology, click here. This list represents data as of Sept. 14, 2020.

    Whether it’s Johnny Cash singing about prison life while surrounded by a group of inmates behind prison walls, the Ramones' final album as an original quartet, an extended guitar solo, or an acoustic jam session on one of MTV’s greatest shows (back when MTV was still “music television”), these albums encompass the joy of the live experience.

    They cross genres and eras and feature everything from new wave to swing to country. They represent albums recorded as far back as 1938. Live albums were career-makers that proved bands had what it took to reach the top. They were also raw, messy, and often featured blemishes, because playing live didn’t offer the control of an album recorded in the studio. What it did offer was an honest and multidimensional listening experience, one that allowed fans to see a different side of their favorite artists and bands.

    Maybe you’ve been to some of these concerts and experienced the magic yourself. Maybe you remember the first time you heard one of these albums. To see if your favorite made the list, join Stacker as we take a look at what makes a truly astounding live album.

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  • #50. 'It's Alive' by Ramones

    - Best Ever Albums score: 473
    - Best Ever Albums user rating: 77
    - Rank in year: #57
    - Rank in decade: #575
    - Year: 1979

    Punk-rock band the Ramones’ first live album, “It’s Alive,” drew its name from either the famous line from 1931’s “Frankenstein” or the 1974 horror film of the same name. The two-LP set, featuring fan favorites “Rockaway Beach” and “Teenage Lobotomy,” was recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London on Dec. 31, 1977. The album, the last to feature all four original band members, saw a 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition released in 2019.

  • #49. 'Where The Light Is: John Mayer Live In Los Angeles' by John Mayer

    - Best Ever Albums score: 473
    - Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
    - Rank in year: #49
    - Rank in decade: #595
    - Year: 2008

    Recorded on Dec. 8, 2007, John Mayer’s album is divided into three distinct sets: an acoustic performance, a blues set with the John Mayer Trio, and one featuring Mayer's full band. The multi-Grammy-winning artist performed hits like “Gravity,” “Daughters,” and “Waiting On the World to Change” at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles. The live performance was part of the promotional tour for “Continuum,” Mayer’s third studio album.

  • #48. 'The Concert In Central Park' by Simon & Garfunkel

    - Best Ever Albums score: 535
    - Best Ever Albums user rating: 77
    - Rank in year: #50
    - Rank in decade: #448
    - Year: 1982

    The first live album by Simon & Garfunkel featured the reunited folk duo performing a 1982 free public concert to help in the restoration of New York City's Central Park. The performance drew a massive audience to the park and featured not only the duo’s greatest hits but selections from their solo careers as well.

  • #47. 'I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings' by Radiohead

    - Best Ever Albums score: 551
    - Best Ever Albums user rating: 78
    - Rank in year: #53
    - Rank in decade: #520
    - Year: 2001

    This live Radiohead album featuring only eight tracks received mostly favorable reviews, with an overall score of 76 on Metacritic. It was recorded on the band’s 2000-2001 European and North American tours and features songs from their albums “Kid A” and “Amnesiac.” Some of the best moments on the album come when the band takes chances, like they did when they put a new spin on the normally studio-centric song "Like Spinning Plates," turning it into an eerie piano ballad.

  • #46. 'Seconds Out' by Genesis

    - Best Ever Albums score: 558
    - Best Ever Albums user rating: 76
    - Rank in year: #47
    - Rank in decade: #507
    - Year: 1977

    “Seconds Out,” Genesis’ second live album, was released in October 1977 as a double album and featured drummer-turned-frontman Phil Collins. The album was recorded in Paris in the same year, while the band was on the road promoting the “Wind & Wuthering” album. It was also the last album to feature guitarist Steve Hackett, who left the band in 1977 but who is set to play the album on his Seconds Out + More! World Tour, which was rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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  • #45. 'The Song Remains The Same' by Led Zeppelin

    - Best Ever Albums score: 594
    - Best Ever Albums user rating: 77
    - Rank in year: #45
    - Rank in decade: #485
    - Year: 1976

    Not only was Led Zeppelin's "The Song Remains The Same" a live album, but it was also a concert film of the same name. The English rock band recorded it at Madison Square Garden over three nights in July 1973 during the band's tour for the studio album "Houses Of The Holy." One of the most definitive songs on the album is an almost 30-minute-long version of "Dazed And Confused."

  • #44. 'Nighthawks at the Diner' by Tom Waits

    - Best Ever Albums score: 655
    - Best Ever Albums user rating: 75
    - Rank in year: #44
    - Rank in decade: #459
    - Year: 1975

    The title for Tom Waits’ live album comes from the well-known 1942 Edward Hopper painting “Nighthawks,” which depicts people sitting in a diner. Recorded in four sessions in a Los Angeles studio set up to look like an intimate nightclub, with a small invite-only audience, Waits’ album is as famous for the artist's between-song banter as it is for his solid performance.

  • #43. 'Live/1975-85' by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

    - Best Ever Albums score: 659
    - Best Ever Albums user rating: 81
    - Rank in year: #37
    - Rank in decade: #375
    - Year: 1986

    A compilation of recordings spanning over a decade of Springsteen shows from 1975-1985, the album features 40 songs on five LPs. Writing for Rolling Stone, David Fricke praised the box set’s “raw power, lyric honesty, and spiritual determination.” The album features epic performances of “Born In The U.S.A.," "Seeds," "The River" (prefaced with a poignant story about Springsteen, his father, and the draft), and Edwin Starr's "War."

  • #42. 'Weld' by Neil Young & Crazy Horse

    - Best Ever Albums score: 660
    - Best Ever Albums user rating: 76
    - Rank in year: #33
    - Rank in decade: #454
    - Year: 1991

    Godfather of Grunge Neil Young went on the road with Crazy Horse in 1991 to promote their album “Ragged Glory.” “Weld” was recorded on this tour and featured Young favorites "Like a Hurricane" and "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)." Originally the album was released with “Arc,” a single 35-minute track featuring beginnings and endings of songs with feedback sprinkled throughout.

  • #41. 'The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert' by Benny Goodman

    - Best Ever Albums score: 667
    - Best Ever Albums user rating: 73
    - Rank in year: #1
    - Rank in decade: #55
    - Year: 1950

    Benny Goodman took the Carnegie Hall stage for the first time in 1938. It was an epic concert that marked the first time jazz was performed with a racially integrated band in its hallowed halls. The concert caused quite a stir and included a group of amazing musical guests like Count Basie and Cootie Williams, who joined The King of Swing on stage.

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