It’s hard to determine which albums are truly live and which albums aren’t. To some extent, I believe, all live albums are somewhat tweaked in the studio. The controversy becomes how much tweaking is allowed before the album is no longer considered live. The album “Alive” by KISS has been under scrutiny since it was released. There are varying accounts about the recording of “Alive” and how much of it was created in the studio. According to Eddie Kramer, the producer, a considerable portion of the album was created in the studio. Gene Simmons claims there was very little studio tweaking involved, Ace Frehley admits some of his guitar solos were tweaked, Peter Criss believes his drumming his not touched, and Paul Stanley admits there were some overall tweaks. Mostly, though, the band maintains studio input was minimal and done only to enhance the “live” experience. Hard to say how much of it was actually live and how much of it was created with overdubs. The real question is how much does it really matter?
To a certain extent, it does matter to me. When I listen to something live, I want to hear something live. If I want the studio version of a band’s songs, I’ll listen to the album. That being said, I understand there needs to be a little cleaning up, particularly if the band’s performance is off so bad that the songs are impossible to listen to. Wouldn’t it be better to start with good recordings to begin with? That makes more sense to me.
A pure live album would be a live recording in the exact concert order from the same show on the same night. That has been done by some bands, but it’s rare. It’s more common to record several shows on the same tour and then choose the best, tweak them in the studio, and assemble them in such a way that the actual concert is represented as accurately as possible. Through the editing process some songs, extended solos, and between-song chit chat is often left out. I get this. It makes for a record that focuses a bit more on the songs as opposed to some of the performance aspects.
One of my favorite live albums ever is “Live Bullet” by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. The album were recorded over a two-night period at Cobo Hall in Detroit. The songs, as far as I can tell, are the actual running order of the show. The concert was recorded on a 16-track recorder. Was there any studio tweaking? Probably. As far as I can tell, though, not much at all. The production is beautiful. The raw energy of Bob Seger in front of his hometown audience while he was on the edge of super stardom is a treat for the ears.
Another of my favorite live albums is Thin Lizzy’s “Live and Dangerous.” While this is a slickly produced album that certainly had some studio input (according to guitarist Scott Gorham), it provides an accurate representation of what aThin Lizzy concert was like at the time. The track listing features some of the most iconic Lizzy songs of all time and the band is playing at the peak of its glory. This is not only a must-have for Thin Lizzy fans, its a live album suitable for anyone who enjoys listening to live performances.
Sammy Hagar has two live albums that are somewhat different than the standard live fare and well worth adding to your collection. Neither of these albums is long (only 8 tracks each), but together they capture the raw, intense energy of Sammy in concert and contain some of his most memorable tunes. The first album is “All Night Long” (“Loud and Clear” in the UK) is Sammy’s first live album ever and it contains absolutely no overdubs. The US release only included seven songs. The UK release had one additional track, Montrose’s Space Station #5. “Red,” “Rock ‘N’ Roll Weekend,” and “Turn up the Music” are included on this album, along with a song written by Sammy Hagar and made famous by Rick Springfield, “I’ve Done Everything for You.” The next album, “Live 1980,” is more of the same raw energy. It features songs mostly from the albums “Danger Zone” and “Street Machine” and was released to promote the album “Danger Zone.” Tracks like “Plain Jane,” Trans-Am (Highway Wonderland), and “This Planet’s on Fire (Burn in Hell) make this a stand-out record. Again, it’s raw with no overdubs or studio interference.
And have you hear Ac/DC’s “If You Want Blood”? This is the band’s first live album and, like the Hagar albums, it isn’t a long one. There are just ten tracks total, but believe me, that’s all it takes. While I can’t say for sure, I would have to bet this song is almost purely live. Featuring some of the best Bon Scott-era songs, it’s powerful and obnoxious. Stand-out tracks include “Problem Child,” “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be,” “Whole Lotta Rosie,” “Rock ‘N’ Roll Damnation,” “Bad Boy Boogie,” “High Voltage,” and the killer “Let There Be Rock.”
Without going into detail, here are a few more of my favorite live albums. I’ll write more on them later.
“Are You Ready” – Atlanta Rhythm Section
“Double Live Gonzo” – Ted Nugent
“KISS Alive II” – KISS
“You Get What You Play For” – REO Speedwagon
“Still Life” – The Rolling Stones
“Stages” – Triumph
“At Budokan” – Cheap Trick