- Artist: Various
- Title: My Favorite 70s Live Albums
- Released: 1970-1979
- Format: Vinyl, CD, FLAC, Streaming
- Genre: Rock/Pop/Alternative
- Beverage of Choice: Bud Lite in a 24 ounce plastic cup
It’s my opinion and assessment that all music is best experienced as a live performance, whether by the original artist or a cover band or just some kids playing in the garage. The immediacy, dynamic range, power and emotional resonance of music is usually diluted once it’s captured to a tape or disc of some kind. So it’s really difficult (and I have some experience here, having worked for radio stations and church as a sound engineer) to set up and accurately lay down the sounds coming from a variety of instruments and vocalists in real-time. You generally get one shot at it if you’re wanting to record a particular show and ‘fixing it in the mix’ means introducing additional and therefore artificial elements to the music.
These constraints inevitably mean that that there are not many great live albums; either the production values detract from the music and performances can sound flat, distant and uninteresting (unless you’re a total raving fan of that particular artist and then, of course, nothing sounds bad) or the performances are lacking merit. When a live album is good though, it’s amazing, and can transport the listener right into the mix and you become part of the crowd, connected and excited to be there.
These are the albums I reach for to get that ‘live fix’; generally on vinyl for the additional ambience but I have worn out many of these through constant play! Again, no particular order or ranking implied as each of these albums means something more than just the music to me. Some may even be ‘rated’ as below average by the experts and critics; music is so subjective to time, place, mood and preference that every listener gets to decide what they think is ‘good’ – so agree or disagree, all points of view are valid.
Alice Cooper – The Alice Cooper Show (1977) – Alice Cooper’s live performances in the 70’s are legendary for excess, drama, schlock horror and his idiosyncratic style (way, way ahead of his time). One thing Mr. Vincent Furnier knows for sure is how to pick musicians for his band. Steve Hunter blows the ceiling off the Aladdin hotel on guitar (“Is it My Body”) and the rest of the band rocks hard. It helped to have Bob Ezrin produce the album so that, even though the dynamic range is somewhat flat, the stereo imaging and clarity are excellent. Crank it up on headphones!
Humble Pie – Performance, Rockin’ the Fillmore (1971) – Despite being, essentially, a covers album, the way Humble Pie played other artist’s material really made it their own. Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton play off each other in a way that represents the underlying tensions in the band that would lead to Frampton heading off on his own and recording another well known if somewhat overplayed live album a few years later (“Comes Alive”). Great boogie and guitar jams on this one – check out “Stone Cold Fever”.
Rainbow – On Stage (1977) – I’ve already written an in-depth review of this, one of my favorite albums ever – you can read it here.
Deep Purple – Made in Japan (1972) – Instantly familiar to a generation of old rockers like me, this album represents the ‘best’ lineup Deep Purple ever had and, of course, substitute Ronnie James Dio for Ian Gillan and you pretty much have Rainbow a few years down the track. Incredible talent, great engineering from the legendary Martin Birch (who single-handedly created the British heavy rock sound) and music that has stood the test of time, what’s not to love?
Thin Lizzy – Live and Dangerous (1978)- The twin guitar attack of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson are highlighted on this phenomenal album. Sadly this was Robertson’s last recording with the group and he was sorely missed on later efforts. An example of a live album ‘touched up’ in the studio (although exactly what Tony Visconti did to enhance the recordings is a mystery), the dynamic range and power of the music is amazingly well-rendered. Includes the best version of one of my favorite songs from the 70s , “Dancing in the Moonlight”, with a saxophone show-stopper from John Earle. RIP Phil Lynott, we miss you!
UFO – Strangers in the Night – (1978) – I recently purchased a new remastered vinyl copy as my original was worn out from over 40 years of play. A sorely underrated band and album; UFO is up there with the best hard rock bands of all time and what a year this was with the release of this album AND “Live and Dangerous” AND “Double Live Gonzo!” Sadly this was Michael Schenker’s last ‘classic’ recording with the great lineup of Phil Mogg, Paul Raymond, Pete Way and Andy Parker. The band would never sound this tight and heavy again. “Doctor Doctor”, “Lights Out” and “Too Hot to Handle” blow the roof off.
Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains the Same (1976) – I’ve seen critics dismiss this album as ‘disappointing’, ‘stodgy’, ‘overblown’ and even ‘boring’. Only to prove a point that critics can blow it sometimes; this is the music that, at 13 years old, expanded my mind, opened my ears and connected my soul to what I will always hold up as the gold standard for rock and roll. Sure, the 10+ minute drum solo on “Moby Dick” doesn’t need repeated playing and Jimmy plays thousands of notes more than he probably needs to – that’s not the point here. This is an historical document for the mid-70s – nobody then or since does it better. If you’ve ever seen the movie (this is really a soundtrack album) you’ll know what I mean and, if you haven’t, drop whatever you are doing, go directly to whatever streaming app you can find it playing on and watch it now!
Kiss – Alive! (1975) – “You wanted the best and you got it!” My best mate growing up, John, moved from England to South Africa and into my 4th grade classroom bearing this album and turned me on to what would be a lifetime love of monster plod music. I finally got to see Kiss live in Toronto in 2019 and, surprisingly, the band and music hadn’t aged a day since this, the first great live album I ever heard was released. If you think Kiss was/is a joke, go listen to this album and the level of passion, professionalism and sheer good times the band puts into a show – it’s always been about the fans (rise Kiss army!)
Ted Nugent – Double Live Gonzo (1978) – Another critically underrated artist (who never helped himself with outrageously dumb public interviews) this is another example of how vibrant the rock music scene was in the 70’s. Sadly, living in South Africa, I missed all of it but made up some ground when I moved to the USA in 1997, at least with the bands and artists that were still around at that point! Nugent is an amazing guitarist with his own unique stranglehold on the Gibson Byrdland that he played on this album; the band is super tight and no after-the-fact studio enhancements on this one – all live, all good and larger than life. Dig into “Hibernation” or “Stranglehold” for an understanding of Nugent’s particular brand of electric guitar wizardry.
Queen – Live Killers (1979) – All the hits represented here. Freddie was the ultimate front-man and there are multiple examples of the amount of sheer fun he brought to a show on this album. The production isn’t great , being slightly flat in the mix, but the band’s incredible cohesiveness and feeling for the music is on display throughout making this an excellent document for the halcyon days of classic rock music.
Worthy Mentions – Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive (1976); Wings – Wings Over America (1976); Genesis – Seconds Out (1977); Kiss – Kiss Alive II (1977)