Hot Platters: Live Albums That Changed My Life

Live albums were once a staple of most rock acts but could possibly be considered an endangered species nowadays.  Sure, over the years there have been many live albums that were released as a holding action because a band didn't have a studio album of new material ready for public consumption or the band needed to fulfill the last album owed to a label on their contract.  It's also worth noting that some live albums have come to define the careers of certain artists such as The Allman Brothers Band's Live at the Fillmore East album. Little Feat's Waiting for Columbus or Peter Frampton's smash hit live album, Frampton Comes Alive.  I've always enjoyed live recordings and my enjoyment of this facet of the rock genre has never been based on whether or not I was at the actual show when it was recorded.   I think the greatest live albums capture your imagination. 

My criteria for what makes a great live album is very simple: the music has to capture certain moments in my life.  Over the past 40 years or so, whenever the mood would strike, I have found myself listening to a small group of live albums much more than I ever realized because they create a parade of memories that I find extremely enjoyable.  The greatest live albums always seem to go beyond the physical reality of actually being at the show.  Without further adieu, here's a list of live albums that literally changed my life.


Taj Mahal - The Real Thing (1971)

The Real Thing by Taj Mahal, a live show that was recorded at the Fillmore East in 1971, is an old favorite of mine from my college days that still retains its freshness to this very day.  I think what I enjoy the most about The Real Thing is that, much like John Mayall's The Turning Point (recorded at the same venue in 1969), the record seemed to break new ground in the blues genre. Whereas Mayall brought forth an ensemble sans drums to give his music a pared down sound, Taj Mahal concocts a wide ranging mix of blues styles that range from down home Delta style ("Fishin Blues") to jazz/swing ("Ain't Gwine To Whistle Dixie No Mo'") to Chicago style ("You Ain't No Street Walker Honey, But I Sure Do Love The Way You Strut Your Stuff"). The transition between styles is seamless thanks to Taj's excellent 10 piece band which features such luminaries as John Hall (guitar), John Simon (piano) and a four man Tuba section head up by the legendary Howard Johnson. The horns add funky, colorful touches to the material that couldn't be achieved otherwise. If you're a blues fan and haven't had the opportunity to check this one out, do so at your earliest convenience. It's the type of album that grows on you with each spin. 

"Taj Mahal followed up Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home (1969) with another double-LP concert platter whose title pretty much sums up the contents. The Real Thing (1971) is drawn from a mid-February run of shows at the Fillmore East in New York City where he, Spencer Davis, the Chambers Brothers, and Roberta Flack, among others, shared the bill. Mahal is supported by an interesting extended aggregate with a brass section consisting of Joseph Daley (tuba/horn/trombone), Bob Stewart (horn), and a pair of former Charles Mingus band members, Earl McIntyre (horn) and Howard Johnson (horn). While at times they tend to overpower the usually intimate nature of the performances, that is certainly not the case for the majority of the arrangements. The opener, "Fishin' Blues," is a solo with Mahal accompanying himself on banjo. "Ain't Gwine to Whistle Dixie (Any Mo')" is significantly lengthened from the form found on Giant Step (1968) as it stretches nearly nine minutes and allows plenty of room for interaction, offering up a spirited fife interlude from Mahal. In addition to providing an overview from his back catalog, The Real Thing contains a few new compositions. The full ensemble gets a workout on the funky "Sweet Mama Janisse" and the toe-tappin' rural flavor of the instrumental "Tom and Sally Drake" is lightly augmented by a sole tuba -- presumably that of Johnson. Sleepy John Estes' "Diving Duck Blues" arguably submits the most successful incorporation of brass, sporting a driving, full-throttle rhythm and soulful interpretation." (All Music)

TRACK LIST

Disc One / Side One 

Fishin’ Blues 

Ain’t Gwine to Whistle Dixie (Any Mo’) 

Sweet Mama Janisse 

Disc One / Side Two 

Going Up to the Country and Paint My Mailbox Blue 

Big Kneed Gal 

You’re Going to Need Somebody on Your Bond

Disc Two / Side One 

Tom and Sally Drake 

Diving Duck Blues 

John, Ain’t It Hard 

Disc Two / Side Two 

You Ain’t No Street Walker Mama, Honey but I Sure Do Love the Way You Strut Your Stuff

 


Jerry Lee Lewis - Live At The Star Club Hamburg (1964)

To me, this live recording will always represent the defiant spirit of rock & roll.  The album features the inimitable rocker Jerry Lee Lewis performing with The Nashville Teens  that is one of the wildest rock & roll live albums ever made.  This precious rock document was recorded during Jerry Lee's wilderness years which took place after the scandal of his 1958 marriage to his 13 year old cousin Myra.  The result of this scandal forced Lewis to tour non-stop so that he could pay his bills.  Jerry Lee's relentless touring produced the frantic energy that exists on this recording.

"Words cannot describe -- cannot contain -- the performance captured on Live at the Star Club, Hamburg, an album that contains the very essence of rock & roll. When Jerry Lee Lewis performed the concert that became this album in the spring of 1964, his career was at its lowest point. Following his scandalous marriage to his teenage cousin, he was virtually blacklisted in the U.S., and by 1964 it had been six years since he had a real hit single, he was starting his recording career again with a new label, and, to make matters worse, America had fallen in love with the Beatles and the bands that followed in the British Invasion, leaving him exiled from the charts. Ironically, he wound up in the Beatles' old haunt of the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, in the spring of 1964, backed by the Nashville Teens, who still had yet to have a hit with "Tobacco Road" (which would scale the charts later that year). Lewis and the Nashville Teens had been touring throughout the group's native England for about a month, capped off by a stint at the Star Club, where the band played for two weeks, but was only joined by the Killer for one night, which was what was captured on this incendiary recording. Who knows why this was a night where everything exploded for Jerry Lee Lewis? It sounds like all of his rage at not being the accepted king of rock & roll surfaced that night, but that probably wasn't a conscious decision on his part -- maybe the stars were aligned right, or perhaps he just was in a particularly nasty mood. Or maybe this is the way he sounded on an average night in 1964." (All Music)

TRACK LIST

Side One 

Mean Woman Blues 
High School Confidential 
Money (that's what I want) 
Matchbox 
What'd I Say (part 1) 
What'd I Say (part 2) 

Side Two 

Great Balls of Fire 
Good Golly Miss Molly 
Lewis Boogie 
Your Cheating Heart 
Hound Dog 
Long Tall Sally 
Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

 


Van Morrison - It's Too Late To Stop Now (1974)

Recorded in 1973 with his 11-piece band, the Caledonia Soul Orchestra, this double album, which was recorded at The Troubadour (Los Angeles, CA), the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and The Rainbow (London, UK) still stands as one of Van the Man's finest moments. 

From Inside Van Morrison's Legendary It's Too Late To Stop Now Tour (Rolling Stone magazine): "On preceding albums like Saint Dominic’s Preview and Tupelo Honey, Morrison was on a groundbreaking creative roll, blending elements of jazz, folk, Marin County country, R&B and rock & roll. Now came the moment to bring that no-boundaries blend to the stage, and Morrison’s comment to Labes, who excelled at string arrangements, was the first step. Soon enough, Morrison had assembled the Caledonia Soul Orchestra, a 10-piece band incorporating four string players and a horn section (and named after a legendary unreleased jam from 1970’s His Band and the Street Choir). With that band, Morrison would be able to explore nearly every facet of his music onstage, and those exuberant, musically expansive shows, in the U.S. and Europe throughout 1973, would be a pinnacle for Morrison and his creative vision."

TRACK LIST

Disc One / Side One 

Ain't Nothing You Can Do 
Warm Love 
Into The Mystic 
These Dreams of You 
I Believe To My Soul 

Disc One / Side Two 

I've Been Working 
Help Me 
Wild Children 
Domino 
I Just Wanna To Make Love To You 

Disc Two / Side One 

Bring It On Home To Me 
St. Dominic's Preview 
Take Your Hand Out of My Pocket 
Listen To The Lion 

Disc Two / Side Two 

Here Comes The Night 
Gloria 
Caravan 
Cypress Ave

 


Little Feat - Waiting For Columbus (1978)

Waiting for Columbus, Little Feat's first live album, was the album every Little Feat fan had been waiting for.  The album, which captured the band's essential swampy New Orleans vibe and seemed to validate just how good this band had been over the years, turned out to be the most popular album in the band's storied history.

Recorded over seven shows the band did in 1977 (August 1 thru 4 at the Rainbow Theater in London and August 8 thru 10 at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C.), the band's tasty grooves were  enhanced by the presence of the Tower of Power horn section.  Waiting For Columbus which saw de facto leader, Lowell George, restored to his role as the band's producer. The album does an excellent job of capturing the onstage improvisational interplay that characterized many of Little Feat's best concerts. George, in particular, brings a renewed sense of energy to his singing and playing.  I really like how the album opens with the members of Little Feat singing "Join The Band" in their dressing room which dissolves into crowd noise and then the percussion based beginning of "Fat Man in the Bathtub".  My favorite track off this album is "Spanish Moon".  The live version is miles ahead of the studio version that appeared on the band's 3rd album release, Feat Don't Fail Me Now.

TRACK LIST

Disc One / Side One 

Join The Band 

Fat Man in the Bathtub 

All That You Dream 

Oh Atlanta 

Old Folks Boogie 

Disc One / Side Two 

Time Loves A Hero 

Day Or Night 

Mercenary Territory 

Spanish Moon 

Disc Two / Side One 

Dixie Chicken 

Tripe Faced Boogie 

Rocket In My Pocket 

Disc Two / Side Two 

Willin' 

Don't Bogart That Joint 

Apoitical Blues 

Sailin' Shoes 

Feats Don't Fail Me Now


Ray Charles - Live At Newport 1958

Ray Charles has always been essential listening for me.  Along with his studio catalog, this particular live album really captures the drive and energy of a Ray Charles show early on in his career.  The raucous album opener "Night Time is the Right Time" grabs the listener right away.  An added bonus is some of the major players who were in Charles' band at the time; such as David "Fathead" Newman (Tenor Sax), Edgar Willis (bass) and The Raelettes (vocal group). 

"The Newport Jazz Festival had begun in 1954, and while already well-known and well-loved by jazz fans, the yearly event caused significant tension in Newport: this unfamiliar new black music attracted not only black audiences to white Newport, but also white college kids who descended on the town and had an easygoing, hedonistic bent that made many uncomfortable. This tension could often propel the performers to greater heights, and several performances from the festival’s early years are now legendary. Ray Charles’ At Newport album is one such document." (It's All About Ray blog)

 


Sam Cooke: Live at The Harlem Square Club 1963 (1985)

I vividly remember the first time I heard this album.  It was 1985 and I was in a record store somewhere in New Orleans.  As I was browsing through the album bins, the clerk behind the counter put on this new Sam Cooke album.  The music captured my imagination immediately and I stood there listening to the entire first side of the album as if in a trance.  I then purchased the album and brought it back home with me to Long Island whereupon it's been a steady listen over the past several decades. 

"Initially recorded on January 12, 1963 to be released as a live album entitled One Night Stand, the concert at Miami's Harlem Square Club was not released until 1985. RCA Victor, at the time, viewed the album as too gritty and raw and possibly damaging to his pop image, and quietly kept the recordings in their archive.  In 1962, RCA Victor decided it was time for Cooke to record a live album, and a warm January night at the Harlem Square Club in Miami was picked to record. Cooke's band, which was led by the late great King Curtis, featured such tasty players as Cornell Dupree (guitar) and Albert "June" Gardener (drums).  The entire band brings a crisp energy to this recording. 

The Harlem Square Club was a small downtown nightspot in Miami's historically African American neighborhood of Overtown, and was packed with the singer's most devoted fans from his days singing gospel.  RCA found the results too loud, raw and raucous — not the Cooke the label was trying to break as an international pop star — and shelved the recordings for over two decades.  In 1985, executive Gregg Geller discovered the tapes and quickly issued Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 that year.  'Sam was what we've come to call a crossover artist: He crossed over from gospel to pop, which was controversial enough in its day. But once he became a pop artist, he had a certain mainstream image to protect,' Geller said in 2013.  'The fact is, when he was out on the road, he was playing to a predominantly, almost exclusively black audience. And he was doing a different kind of show — a much more down-home, down-to-earth, gut-bucket kind of show than what he would do for his pop audience.'"  (Wikipedia)

TRACK LIST

SIde One 

Feel It 
Chain Gang 
Cupid 
Medley: It's Alright / For Sentimental Reasons 
Twistin The Night Away 

Side Two 

Somebody Have Mercy 
Bring It On Home To Me 
Nothing Can Change This Love 
Having A Party

 


Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense (1984)

The only time I ever caught the Talking Heads live was at Queens College (Flushing, NY) in 1979.  Back then I was overwhelmed by their unique approach to songwriting and live performance.  During the time I saw the Talking Heads live, one could sense that this band was moving towards a whole new direction. Stop Making Sense was recorded as the soundtrack for a live concert film which was directed by Jonathan Demme. 

Due to the fact that the band was aware of a film being made led them to work with Demme to give the film a conceptual nuance; starting with the opening song featuring David Byrne performing a solo version of Psycho Killer with just an acoustic guitar and a percussive boombox.  As the film continued, players would drift onstage to become part of the magic.  It's safe to say, that Stop Making Sense was the best live album that was released in the 1980's and it still stands the test of time. 

TRACK LIST

Side One 

Psycho Killer 

Swamp 

Slippery People 

Burning Down The House 

Girlfriend is Better 

Side Two 

Once in a Lifetime 

What a Day That Was 

Life During Wartime 

Take Me To The River

It should be noted that many of the conceptual elements in the Stop Making Sense project were once again used recently in Byrne's American Utopia which eventually became a wonderful film made by director Spike Lee.

 


King Curtis – Live at the Fillmore West (1971)

Live At The Fillmore West was part of a concert that was headlined by Aretha Franklin.  Curtis and his excellent combo provided backing for Franklin's part of the show.  The folks at Atco Records had the foresight to record the opening set by the King Curtis group.  The band Curtis was working with at this time was top notch and featured the following players: Bernard Purdie (Drums), Cornell Dupree (Guitar), Billy Preston (Organ), Jerry Jemmott (Bass), Pancho Morales (Congas) and Truman Thomas (Electric Piano).  Also on hand was the one & only Memphis Horns brass section:  Jack Hale (Trombone), Roger Hopps (Trumpet), Wayne Jackson (Lead Trumpet), Andrew Love (Tenor Saxophone) and Jimmy Mitchell (Baritone Saxophone).  Curtis, to my mind, was one of the greatest rock sax players ever; his playing could be melodic and sweet and then he could give you a taste of some down & dirty roadhouse blues.  I really love the groove of this whole album.  I always find that listening to this particular live album to be very relaxing.

"On Memphis Soul Stew, the opening track Live At Fillmore West, King Curtis introduces the band. When it comes time for Cornell Dupree’s introduction, the saxophonist says something about four level tablespoons of boiling Memphis guitar. Dupree responds by playing a simple run, nothing fancy, just octaves, sevenths and thirds. It’s a professional distillation of Memphis guitar, and as such sets the tone for this live recording from San Francisco in March 1971.

Along with a group of superb musicians that includes Dupree, drummer Bernard Purdie, organist Billy Preston, and bassist Jerry Jemmott, Curtis plays the hits of the day — Jerry Jeff Walker’s Mr. Bojangles, Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love... As a gesture toward what these musicians perceived as the hippie audience, they tackle Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale...As rock history sheds its aura of sublimity and dispenses with the old divisions between what used to be called art and the so-called commercial calculation of an artist such as King Curtis, we can take a record like Live At Fillmore West straight." (No Depression magazine)

 

TRACK LIST

Side One 

Memphis Soul Stew 

Whiter Shade of Pale 

Whole Lotta Love 

I Stand Accused 

Side Two 

Changes 

Ode To Billie Joe 

Mr. Bojangles 

Signed Sealed Delivered, I'm Your 

Soul Serenade

 


Rolling Stones – Get Yer Yas Yas Out (1970)

In 1967, after dipping their toes into the late 60's psychedelic pop culture with the release of the Their Satanic Majesties Request album, the Stones entered a fallow period.  It was only after recording the brilliant Jimmy Miller produced albums, Beggar's Banquet and Let It Bleed, were they able to turn things around with an exciting return to their blues roots.  At the time, much like the Beatles, the Stones had forsaken doing live shows but with the return to their true musical identity, launching a tour of the USA seemed like an obvious move the band had to make in order to restore their reputation in the rock world. Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out was an affirmation of the band's original energy from the early sixties as displayed on the two Chuck Berry songs on the album; "Oh Carol" and "Little Queenie".  It was also good to see the band experimenting with songs like "Midnight Rambler" which was transformed into a highlight of the concerts  with the use of blood red spotlights and Jagger's diabolic showmanship. 

"There are better live albums available, but there isn't a better one by the Rolling Stones, who've had a thorny history of concert LPs – from their first, 1966's Got Live If You Want It!, where the band was nearly drowned out by the audience, to the various '70s, '80s and '90s records that served as layovers between the increasingly long gaps between studio albums. Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! captures the menace, the arrogance and the excitement of the Rolling Stones at their peak. Hitting the road for the first time without Brian Jones, who had died in July, and with Mick Taylor, the band sounded raw, rough and ready to rock. On Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!, the jagged guitars stab rather than pierce, the rhythm section is tight but bulldozing and Mick Jagger is cocky and at times tentative. Reportedly, some overdubs, mostly done by Jagger, were recorded at the start of the new year." (ultimateclassicrock.com)

TRACK LIST

Side One 

Jumping Jack Flash 

Carol 

Stray Cat Blues 

Love in Vain 

Midnight Rambler

Side Two 

Sympathy For The Devil 

Live With Me 

Little Queenie 

Honky Tonk Women 

Street Fighting Man

 


John Mayall - Turning Point (1969)

Recorded at Bill Graham's Fillmore East in July 1969, this record caused quite a splash with the FM radio crowd which, by '69, had redefined the record charts--- for the hip crowd, albums were iin, singles were out.  For me, I was amazed at the fullness of a band that was playing blues without a drummer.  Yes, that's right... in this era of heavy blues a la Cream and 10 Years After, Mayall (along with folks like The Band) helped rock music return to a no frills, down-to-earth sound and probably the major reason Mayall was able to pull that off here was because of the band's commitment to creating a rhythmic landscape without the use of traditional rock & roll drums; the songs stood apart from the "heavy" sounds that were currently popular.  Much of the album finds Mayall and company finding inventive new ways to add the "feel" of drums without actually having a stickman present --- most notable example being the use of mouth percussion & tapping on the back of an acoustic guitar on "Room To Move". 

This record will take you places.  The groove starts with the drug law commentary "The Laws Must Change" and continues on with the straight-no-chaser blues of "I'm Gonna Fight For You J.B." (a song about noted bluesman J.B. Lenoir), a little further along it moves into the dreamy "California", and finally touches down with the uptempo "Room To Move"--- while I would say this album is definitely a product of its time, it still retains its freshness and each listening enhances this record's ability to catch your attention at any given time you put it on.

TRACK LIST

SIde One 

The Laws Must Change 

Saw Mill Gulch Road 

I'm Gonna Fight For You J.B. 

So Hard To Share 

Side Two 

California 

Thoughts About Roxanne 

Room To Move


Ramones - It's Alive (1977)

It's Alive is a double album that was recorded at the Rainbow Theater in Londdon on December 31, 1977.  It was the first Ramones live album that was ever released.  I remember seeing the Ramones at CBGB's the same year this came out and when I bought a copy this album I thought it was a true document of where the band was at that time.  The more I listened to this double album set, the more I realized that it was a raw glimpse of where rock & roll was headed.  I think as time goes on, the Ramones will continue to be one of the most valid examples of what embodies the true spirit of rock & roll.

"In a 1996 retrospective review, Robert Christgau of The Village Voice wrote: 'Redundant when it was dropped on the punk-besotted U.K. in 1979, this concert is precious history now—seems so impossibly light and quick it makes you suspect they didn't fully sustain their live pace into their forties after all.'" (Wikipedia)

TRACK LIST

Disc One / Side One 

Rockaway Beach 

Teenage Lobotomy 

Blitzkrieg Bop 

I Wanna Be Well 

Glad To See You Go 

Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment 

You're Gonna Kill That Girl 

Disc One / Side Two 

I Don't Care 

Sheena is a Punk Rocker 

Havana Affair 

Commando 

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow 

Surfin' Bird 

Cretin Hop 

Disc Two / Side One 

Listen To My Heart 

California Sun 

I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You 

Pinhead 

Do You Wanna Dance 

Chainsaw 

Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World 

Disc Two / Side Two 

Now I Wanna Be A Good Boy 

Judy is a Punk 

Suzy is a Headbanger 

Let's Dance 

Oh, Oh, I Love Her So 

Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue 

We're A Happy Family

 


Bo Diddley - Spring Weekend 1959 (1960)

Gadzooks!  I saved the best live album for last!  This Bo Diddley album is a live show that was recorded at a frat party at Cornell University in the Spring of 1959.  It's probably the most primal live album I've ever heard.  I picked it up in a record store back in 2010.  As I walked into the store the album was blasting away at full volume.  The counter person told me what was playing and for a moment, I actually thought that I was at a Frat Party circa 1959!  The album is definitely a bootleg of some sort that some enterprising Bo fan must have unleashed upon the world.  The earthiness of the distorted sound, the drunken crowd and Bo's slightly out-of-tune guitar all adds up to putting you right there in that Frat house.  It's Spring Weekend 1959; the beer is ice cold, the girls are cute and rock & roll is a state of mind!

"I never knew the existence of this LP. I never found it on my way and probably if i did, i wouldn't have the money to make it mine. It supposed to be a "private pressing", whatever this shit means but i tell you guys, this is a hot smokin' piece of rock n' roll! It has a surprisingly good fidelity for the time it was recorded (rough to the bone!) and the Originator here just kills! I didn't found on the net more things about it. I just made an order n' i can't wait this big fat piece of plastic to come in my hands. It has only six songs, but the band is at FULL POWER and Bo's vocals came out so distorted and raw like i never heard him before! This was at frat party on Cornell University and i can imagine hearing it, what a blast these lucky bastards at the audience had!" (White Trash Soul blog)

 

I came across a comment on the WFMU Ichiban blog: "When Bo played a gig at Philadelphia's Penn's Landing, I slipped back to his trailer and actually showed him the LP. Upon seeing it, Bo became immediately enraged (not the reaction I anticipated), saying "What's this? What's this? I didn't authorize this!" For a few moments, it seemed likely he was going to rip it to shreds in front of me! Fortunately, he cooled down and finally signed the thing for me. Although Bo did not authorize it, the record stands as an important document of his early years and probably got no farther than the confines of the university."

 

TRACK LIST

Side One 

Hey Bo Diddley 

Four Minutes of Bo 

I'm A Man 

Side Two 

Cha Cha Bo 

Yankee Doodle 

Bo Diddley Says Goodnight

 


 

Speaking of Live Albums...

LIVE @ THE MUSIC BOX 1978

 

LIVE @ THE RIGHT TRACK INN 1981

 

LIVE @ THE RIGHT TRACK INN 1983

 


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