The 20 best live albums

5 September 2023, 18:00

Morrissey and The Smiths' only live album (to date)... Rank
Morrissey and The Smiths' only live album (to date)... Rank. Picture: Alamy Stock Photo

We love a live album - here are some of the very best gigs caught on vinyl.

  1. The Who - Live At Leeds

    The Who's first live album still remains their most famous yet, and a plaque at the University of Leeds commemorates the date it was recorded at the Refectory on 14 February 1970, calling it "the most celebrated live album of its generation". Pretty loud.

    My Generation (Live at Leeds version) - The Who

  2. U2 - Under A Blood Red Sky

    The Irish band’s 1983 release features three shows from their War Tour in Boston, Germany and their famous show at Colorado's Red Rocks ampitheatre. The recording - which features a powerful performance of Sunday Bloody Sunday - cemented their status as a huge live act and put them in the big league.

    U2 - Sunday Bloody Sunday

  3. The Rolling Stones - Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!

    Released in 1970, this official Stones album was seen as a response to the famous bootleg, Liv'r Than You'll Ever Be and charts their acclaimed return to the stage in the US after a few years on hiatus. Best bit: the lengthy take on Midnight Rambler. "Charlie's good tonight, innee?" says Mick - and he’s right.

    Midnight Rambler (Live From Madison Square Garden, New York/1969)

  4. Queen - Live Killers (1978)

    Choose the 1986 Live At Wembley if you want a full career retrospective, but for pure theatrical Queen (rather than crowd pleasing singalong Queen), this 1978 collection recorded on the 1978 Jazz tour is a great document of how accomplished the band were. The quartet run on, do the "fast" version of We Will Rock You and it's non-stop anthems - with a breather for the wonderful Love Of My Life.

    Queen Live Killers 01 We Will Rock You (fast)

  5. Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense

    Accompanied by Jonathan "Silence Of The Lambs" Demme's concert film, this classic kicks off with a David Byrne solo version of Psycho Killer, then just gets better and better, The album featured on the Billboard 200 for over two years and rightly so.

    Talking Heads Psycho Killer Stop Making Sense

  6. Oasis - Familiar To Millions

    Recorded on 21 July 2000 at Wembley Stadium, Familiar To Millions was the first live album from Oasis, and included huge performances of Champagne Supernova, Wonderwall and Don't Look Back In Anger. An immense sound.

    Oasis - Supersonic Live Wembley 2000 (Familiar To Millions)

  7. The Smiths - Rank

    Released a year after the legendary Mancunian band called it a day, this is a testament to their versatility on stage. Recorded at London’s Kilburn Ballroom on the Queen Is Dead tour, this LP opens with the title track, complete with Morrissey ad-libs and Johnny Marr and Mike Joyce going crazy. There’s a sweet medley of Rusholme Ruffians and the soundalike Elvis song His Latest Flame, expert renditions of Ask, Panic and The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and a rare outing for the instrumental Draize Train.

    The Smiths, 14, Bigmouth Strikes Again, Rank

  8. Arctic Monkeys - Live At The Royal Albert Hall (2020)

    Alex Turner and his team give the Tranquility Base album a live outing at the RAH, which skips between the longe lizard chic of the band's later material and the storming indie bangers of their earlier work. The fan favourite 505 is all present and correct.

    Arctic Monkeys - Arabella (Live At The Royal Albert Hall)

  9. The Cure - Show (1993)

    Robert Smith issued this double album recorded in Michigan on the 1992 Wish alongside a concert film and while the collection avoids some of the deeper cuts you can expect from a typical Cure show (try the accompanying Paris album for that), Show has the pop moments nestled next to the anthemic gloom very nicely. In Between Days, for example, segues perfectly into the angst-ridden From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea. Show gets a picture disc reissue on vinyl for 2023's Record Store Day.

    The Cure Tape/Open (Show 1993) (HD Remastered)

  10. Nirvana - MTV Unplugged In New York

    Kurt Cobain's suicide in 1994 sent this recording into the stratosphere. His performance of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World flashed around the world soon after his death, making this an essential purchase for mourning fans.

    Nirvana - The Man Who Sold The World (MTV Unplugged)

  11. LCD Soundsystem - The Long Goodbye Live Album

    The album, which charts LCD Soundsystem's last gig at Madison Square Garden accompanied their documentary film Shut Up And Play The Hits: The Very Loud Ending Of LCD Soundsystem. And then they got back together. Doh!

    LCD Soundsystem - Someone Great (Shut Up and Play the Hits)

  12. Muse - HAARP (Live at Wembley)

    Muse's HAARP album documents the first sold-out show at the then all-new Wembley Stadium in 2007. HAARP stands for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, a US government-funded ionospheric research program in Gakona, Alaska. What do you mean you’ve never heard of it? The band dressed their shows at Wembley to imitate the HAARP, suiting Matt Bellamy's interests in UFOs and and conspiracy theories.

    Muse - Knights Of Cydonia: Live At Wembley Stadium 2007

  13. The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Live At Monterey

    The legendary rock guitarist plays the event that kick started the rock festival as we know it. Jimi smashes through the classics - Hey Joe, Foxy Lady, Purple Haze, Wild Thing - and sets his guitar on fire, literally, A ridiculously brilliant example of musicianship and showmanship.

    Hey Joe- Jimmy Hendrix en Monterrey 1967.

  14. Joy Division - Preston 28 February 1980

    Either the best live album ever recorded… or the worst. Tony Wilson loved this live bootleg so much, he gave it an official release. A recording of bad night at a crappy Northern club where technical problems almost threaten to sink the whole gig, but once the amps are fixed, the band absolutely nail it. Interesting as a fly-on-the-wall document of one of Britain’s most enigmatic bands, and worth it for all the Ian Curtis chat.

    Shadowplay - Joy Division live in Preston, 1980

  15. David Bowie - Stage

    Our man had a previous live album out in the early 70s (the wimpily-titled David Live), but this catches him in the classic, cool period of the Isolar World Tour of 1978. Originally available on fluorescent yellow vinyl, the two LP set kicks off with some hits, moves to the icy sounds of Station To Station on side 2, gets moody on Side 3 with some Low instrumentals and showcases the then-new “Heroes” album on side 4. So cool.

    David Bowie - Station To Station (Stage)

  16. Motörhead - No Sleep Til Hammersmith

    Ironically, the loudest band in the world aren’t featured in action from the famous London venues (Hammersmith Odeon, innit), but Leeds. Newcastle and a couple more shows on their Spring 1981 tour. It’s a monster of a record, and testament to Lemmy’s unstoppable rock machine. It starts with Ace Of Spades. Of course it does.

    Motörhead - Ace of Spades (No Sleep 'til Hammersmith)

  17. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Arc/Weld (1991)

    Issued barely a month after Nirvana released Nevermind, here comes the Godfather of Grunge to show them all how it's done with a collection of live tracks from the Ragged Glory tour. Young reckoned he permanently damaged his hearing mixing this recording, and if you've got the limited 3-CD edition which includes Arc - a collage of feedback from the gigs - you'll understand why.

    Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Hey Hey, My My ( Into the Black ) live 1991 HD

  18. Led Zeppelin - The Song Remains The Same (1976)

    Connoisseurs may prefer the 2003 How The West Was Won collection, but this double collection came out during the band's lifetime complete with a silly film that included "fantasy" sequences. The band's jamming on Dazed And Confused takes up a WHOLE SIDE of vinyl, showing Zep in their prime.

    Led Zeppelin - Rock and Roll (Madison Square Garden 1973)

  19. Thin Lizzy - Live And Dangerous (1978)

    Phil Lynott and co recorded live in in London, Philadelphia and Toronto between '76 and '77. Starts with Jailbreak, ends with The Rocker, stops off at The Boys Are Back In Town somewhere near the start of side 3. Incredible cover, too.

    Thin Lizzy - Dancing In The Moonlight (Live And Dangerous)

  20. Siouxsie & The Banshees - Nocturne (1983)

    Recording a double live album at the Royal Albert Hall wasn't a very "punk" thing to do, but the Banshees put the distance between the ascension to gothic rock pioneers and their 100 Club roots with this lavish recording. With The Cure's Robert Smith temporarily installed on guitar, the song selection dips into their recent, darker collections Juju and A Kiss In The Dreamhouse.

    Siouxsie And The Banshees (with Robert Smith) - Spellbound (Live at Royal Albert Hall1 - 1983)