Hey Gang! Some of our fans have asked me how I manage to keep things together every week as the host of the GotS podcast. I will say it can be wrangling cats at times when dealing with the comments of my co hosts to keep the show on track. But I’ve always answered that question with the same response: experience. This is especially true of the several years I spent as a classic rock DJ on the radio in both college and afterwards. As a result, I have very fond memories of the times I spent slinging tunes and taking deep dives into album collections to find those forgotten gems that I could share with my listeners.
One of favorite types of tunes to find decent recordings of were the live renditions done by those artists that made the studio version a hit. Those Live albums were bristling with energy, often chaotic, but delivering in raw emotion and a sincerity that you can’t get with even the greatest studio track. Plus they often have some of the best instrumentals with long guitar solos which sometimes turn into all out guitar wars when two or more members of the band start jamming at the same time.
So for today’s blog, I’ve decided to give everyone a list of my top ten favorite “in concert” classic rock songs. Now before we begin this daunting task of limiting the massive library of live music down to just ten songs, I thought I’d lay down some ground rules with how I came up with this list.
- Only Authentic Live Albums- Meaning that for this list I didn’t pull from any of the countless bootlegs that I could possibly have lying around. The Simple reason was that I want people to actually have a chance to go to the store and get these songs for themselves, instead of waiting to trade a bootleg with me…if I had any. Remember…technically bootlegging is illegal. So support the music industry and actually buy the live performances the head executives think you should have.
- Only one song per artist- I know this seems like a no brainer, but honestly, I have a junk load of Dylan and Springsteen live songs that I like. So to be fair and give people a broader spectrum in which to pool music from, I limited myself to only the top song by the artist.
- This isn’t a list of what I consider the “All time Best”. There’s no reason to debate or fuss over songs that you thought should have been included. These are just some of my personal favorites, and a group that I think everyone should at least check out for themselves if live music is what you dig.
On With the Countdown:
10) Waylon Jennings “Bob Wills Is Still the King” (Waylon Live)
Sure, it’s got one of the worst album covers in history. Yeah, it looks like one of those 80s Silhouetted class pictures that have become notorious for their terribleness in recent years. Except it’s made even worse by not actually being photographs, but velvet oil paintings that look like they were done by a carney at a county fair after he just finished a picture of Jesus for Grandma.
But just like you should never judge a book by its cover, same thing goes for albums, and this one by Waylon Jennings is one of the all time best. Whether you are a country fan or not, there’s no denying the strength of character you hear in Waylon’s voice, a trubador from a bygone era, laying bare the truth of the songs he sings without any hint of bullsh*t.
This particular track written about Waylon’s great respect for the contributions of the country music artists from the great state of Texas that preceded him, oozes with conviction and admiration. It’s almost like talking to someone that loves a movie that you could particularly care less about, but because they have such passion and enthusiasm for it, their love becomes your love, because its delivered in such a way that it becomes infectious. It doesn’t hurt that my late Dad also liked Bob Wills as much as he liked Waylon Jennings, so he would play this song from time to time and sing along. Yeah…good memories.
9) Peter Frampton “Do you Feel like I Do?” (Frampton Comes Alive)
A must have for any live concert collection. And I’m not the only one that thinks so, according to Rolling Stone Magazine, this was the greatest Classic 70’s live record ever. And of course, this is the song that made famous one of the most kick ass rock inventions ever, The Golden Throat. That’s the thing that allows Peter Frampton to talk through his guitar, for all those that have been living under a rock for the last 30 years. I’m still waiting for Tenacious D to bring that back for one of their concerts…indeed that Golden Throat is strictly pimp.
8) The Beatles “A Hard Day’s Night” (At the Hollywood Bowl)
One of the greatest mysteries of life is how arguably the greatest rock and roll band of all time has so few great live albums. Maybe it’s because the Fab Four stopped touring only a few short years after they hit it big in America becoming a strictly studio band for a large chunk of the rest of their history together.
Maybe Live albums just didn’t appeal to a group that was progressively moving into a more experimental sound and pushing the boundaries of the genre. Maybe they were sick of the limelight of being recorded and filmed and everything.
Regardless of the reason, for many years even after the band broke up, there was no way for fans to even remotely experience the sheer squee heaven that was hearing the Beatles play their tunes live. Sure there were bootlegs and even that notorious Hamburg Germany live recording from 1962 that sounded like it was recorded underwater with a broken cell phone. But until Live at the Hollywood Bowl was released, so many fans just had to suffer in silence.
It’s a absolutely fantastic album in my opinion and a treasure trove of gems for anyone that’s a fan of early Beatles (y’know those Red album fans). I picked Hard Day’s Night only because it’s one of my all time songs mainly because of the Harrison guitar riff. But you could have easily picked 6 or 7 tunes off this that are equally good. I mean it is the Beatles after all.
7) U2 “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (Under a Blood Red Sky)
I know what everyone is thinking, you give a live U2 song, and it’s not off of “Rattle and Hum”…you heretic!
But before you start warming up the fire and put up the stake, hear me out. Nobody doubts that this song really put U2 on the map. They made a huge statement with this song, about their artistic integrity, about their personal views, about something that really just cut to the core of what the band was about.
It wasn’t pretty, it didn’t hold back, and when you hear this song live, the rage in Bono’s voice and the Drums…you can’t help but feel something stirring deep down in your gullet. This is not a rebel song…it’s a powerful ballad to the human spirit…period.
6) Freddie King “Let the Good Times Roll” (Live at the Electric Ballroom)
When I think of the blues, there are few artists I love more than good old Freddie King. Touring constantly living hard on a diet of Bloody Marys, and dying way too young, Freddie still left a undeniable legacy of incredible guitar licks and pure blues beauty.
This particular live album was actually my first introduction to Freddie as an artist, and in fact the song I selected was the first song that I heard off that album. That’s sometimes how I work in that it’s often that first impression of an artist that I get from that very first song I hear that makes me instantly fall in love or hate until the cows come home. In Freddie’s case, from the moment I hear those opening guitar riffs and his bellowing voice yelling “Let It Roll, Baby, Let the Good Times Roll!”, I knew this was something special.
In fact, Let the Good Times Roll has been covered by a wide variety of artists over the years since it was first recorded by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five and then then modified into the song “Come On” by blues legend Earl King. I mean we are talking everyone from Stevie Wonder, to Jimi Hendrix, to Dr. John, to Ray Charles, you name it. So for me to like the Freddie King version more than all those other ones says a lot about what I think about this recording. I definitely recommend picking it up today and get ready to get your socks blown off by some sweet Southern groove courtesy of the Texas Cannonball himself.
5) Bob Marley “No Woman No Cry” (Legend)
You gotta be nuts not to like this song. Bob Marley is a force in himself, a poet that sings in a way that nobody has yet to copy. And besides the lyrics in this, damn I like listening to this song at parties. The groove just washes over me, and I’m peaceful. Honestly, I can’t think of a better song to put on late in the evening while everyone is drunk, mellowing out after things have chilled. It puts me in a really interesting mood, and if you happen to go Hibbie during this song, even better. In fact, this song is so funktastic, I’m going to go ahead, crack open a beer, and listen to it right now!
4) Bruce Springsteen “Hard to Be a Saint in the City” (Live ‘75-’85)
The Boss put out this three disk super set of some of his greatest performances from his first decade out on the road. I’m sorry, but I saw Bruce in concert some 20 years after this box set was released, and he still puts on a show that would make most rawkers half his age fall over dead from heart failure. Just think of the intensity, the raw rawk in these recordings. From Cadillac Ranch, to Candy’s Room, to Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), there could have been easily 10 to 15 songs I could have put on this spot from this album set.
The song I picked from this set has probably one of the most classic guitar wars I’ve heard, between Bruce and Sopranos Star, Stevie Van Zandt. This is particular favorite of both Andrews from the GotS, myself and frequent podcast guest, JA Scott.
3) Richie Havens “Freedom” (Woodstock 1969)
The Woodstock Album is so filled with classic performances from CSN&Y to The Who to Hendrix, that I felt to be fair to everyone else I’d only include one off of this mangtacular gem. And that song is “Freedom” by Richie Havens. Some people know it as “Motherless Child”…I dunno, to me this song summed of the desperation the lost innocence, the chaos, that made up so much of the sixties. In the end though, it has a message that still rings today in some ways even more than in years past. That society’s walls which separate us from kinship with fellow man are growing in number everyday, and we must all cry out in rage from our isolation to stop it.
2) Johnny Cash “A Boy Named Sue” (Live from San Quentin)
You think somebody is cool, a pioneer of music, a force to be reckoned with. Then you hear that the dude loves to play to prisoners, and that his best concert was inside the walls of the one of the meanest institutions on the face of the USA. Although there were a ton Johnny Cash sings this Rockabilly tale of redemption to basically a Ruckus, hooting and hollering like something out of Roman Colosseum.
Sure, some might prefer his recording from Folsem Prision, and don’t get me wrong, that to is insanely good. But from great tunes like “Wanted Man” which he cowrote with Dylan, Wreck of the Old ’97, Starkville City Jail, and of course the song on this list, I’m a bigger fan of this album. Besides, this inspired a generation of men to actually think about naming their son, Sue…on more than one occasion.
1) Bob Dylan “Visions of Johanna” (Biograph)
You can listen to this song on his album, Blonde on Blonde, and sure it’s good, what with the slightly faster tempo and Al Kooper on the organ. But really, if you wanna understand why I like Dylan, get this version of the song, turn off all the lights, preferably wait until a nice rain storm, and just listen. He’s all by himself on this, just him and his guitar. It’s quite possibly the most haunting vision ever put down in verse…it leaves my nerves raw to hear it.
And you wonder why I named my daughter, Johanna.
The mesmerizing spell this song casts on you is just unforgettable. Quite easily the greatest songwriter of the modern era and this is one of his best crackling with electricity, emotion, and raw poetic power.