Guest Column: Danny R. Phillips: Top Six Live Albums

Guest column by Danny R. Phillips

It has been my experience as a music junkie that when I asked people “What would be your favorite live albums?”  I, more often than not, get one of the two following answers:  Frampton Comes Alive or KISS Alive.  I don’t know if I am just talking to the wrong people or if people’s scope of reference is too narrow & these are the accepted go to responses but really, Frampton?

Granted, on some level both of these are indeed good records.  They influenced generations, the first of which embraced disco but influenced them nonetheless.  Neither of these albums would even make my top twenty, let alone the top six.  So now, here upon the page of the great Vocals on Top, it is my self-important ego driven pleasure to share with you my top six favorite live albums in no particular order of importance.


Talking Heads- Stop Making Sense

Recorded as the soundtrack for the Ted Demme concert film of the same name, Sense shows a band at the height of its powers.  Opening with a superior version of “Psycho Killer” from The Heads’ debut Talking Heads ’77 as well as barnburner takes on “Life During Wartime,” “Swamp Music” and the Al Green classic “Take Me to the River,” Stop Making Sense is a master class in how to make weird, artsy music dripping with sincerity and coated in awesomeness.


Neil Young and Crazy Horse- Live Rust

Culled from performances during the 1979 Rust Never Sleeps Tour, Robert Christgua from The Village Voice and appointed Pope of Rock critics gave “Live” an A- rating upon its release and for good reason.  There is no bad moment to be found here; “Powderfinger,” “Tonight’s the Night,” my personal favorite “Cortez the Killer,” “Hey Hey My My (Into the Black).”  The album is nearly flawless.  What keeps it from perfection?  I hate the song “Sedan Delivery.”


Johnny Cash- From Folsom Prison

Does the inclusion of this album on my list really require explaination? There’s “I Got Stripes,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Flushed from the Bathroom of your Heart,” “Long Black Veil” and featured the superb playing of Luther Perkins, the same year Perkins lost his life tragically in a fire.  Cash or his band would never sound as good or alive again.


Nirvana- From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah

I’ve always looked at Nirvana as a band that people either loved or despised, there is rarely an inbetween.  The collection of tracks here that cements that belief for me.  So called “superfans” that love Nirvana but can only name “that Spirit song” need not apply, the records are not polished enough for your trend seeking ears.  Those of us that always dug the band and miss Cobain’s contributions to music already know the great live versions of “Smells like Teen Spirit” with its stepped up-tempo, the aggressive “Negative Creep” from Bleach and the homage to masturbation and Cobain approved band The Meat Puppets “Spank Thru.” 


Jimi Hendrix Experience- Live at Monterey

This performance in 1967 at the Monterey Pop Festival is when Jimi Hendrix became a star.  Introduced by Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, The Experience hit the stage with the scorching “Killing Floor” and doesn’t come up for air until The Troggs’ “Wild Thing” after which Jimi burned his guitar and smashed it into a million pieces.  In between the covers, we get his take on Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” “Foxey Lady,” “Purple Haze” and a wonderful version of The Leaves’ “Hey Joe.”  Yes, the record is somewhat short and padded with covers but if anyone ever asks you, “So why do people think Hendrix was so great?” put on Monterey and tell them, “Shut Up and learn something.”


Husker Du- Land Speed Record

Recorded at a show in 1981 as Husker Du’s debut, Land Speed Record is the birth of a band that blended the aggressiveness of hardcore punk and melodic playing and songwriting of bands like The Byrds and The Who to create an entirely new sound that would be pinched from and venerated in the next generation.  Home to two great songwriters, Bob Mould and Grant Hart, the record is packed with great songs: “Ultracore,” “All Tensed Up,” “Push the Button” and “Data Control” all come on like blueprints.  This is not a record for Green Day punk rockers.  No, Land Speed Record is messy, fast, aggressive, mean and loud enough to melt the amps.  It almost sounds like it was recorded on the fly with the help of good ol’ trucker speed.  It sounds that way because that is exactly what it was.

Honorable mentions: Neil Young Unplugged, The Rolling Stones- Get Yer Ya Yas Out with The Rolling Stones, Various Artists- Busted at Oz, Replacements- Shit Hits The Fans and Black Keys- Live at The Crystal Ballroom.

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