Live albums are like concerts you can own and enjoy on-demand. Live recordings create a deeper connection between the listener and the artist which allows for a more intimate experience, especially with commentary from the artist. These transitional pieces of music are either live recordings of their concerts or recorded specials like MTV Unplugged and are listed in no particular order.
Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged
There cannot be a list of live albums without mention of the iconic 1993 episode of MTV Unplugged featuring Nirvana. This episode is one of the few that were turned into albums after the band had been in negotiations with MTV for a while before agreeing to perform. This unplugged album won a Grammy award for Best Alternative Music in 1996. Rolling Stone called Nirvana’s performance “the most legendary performance of their brief career, stripping down deep cuts and select covers to acoustic guitars, softly played drums and Kurt Cobain’s gravelly, heartbreaking voice.”
This iconic album features an acoustic rendition of “About a Girl,” as well as a haunting performance of “Come As You Are.” The latter’s lyrics: “I don’t have a gun,” became especially heartbreaking after the death of Kurt Cobain a year later. The album ends with “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” formally called “In The Pines.”
John Mayer’s Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles
John Mayer’s Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles album debuted in the USA Billboard chart at number five. Guitarist magazine called Mayer’s performance as proof that Mayer is “the complete package as a singer, songwriter and guitarist.” Notably, this was also where Mayer debuted his acoustic rendition of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” that would go on to win Mayer critical acclaim.
Eric Clapton’s Unplugged
Eric Clapton was recorded live in 1992 for MTV Unplugged and the recording was later released as an album. Clapton’s acoustic renditions of his popular hits appealed massively to his fan base. Clapton’s episode of Unplugged came after his infamous song about his ex-wife titled “Layla” and “Tears in Heaven” which was written after the death of his son. According to Where’s Eric Clapton’s episode of MTV Unplugged “became the series’ highest-rated show” and the resulting album “became the biggest selling album of Eric’s career.”
Frank Sinatra’s Sinatra At The Sands
Before becoming “Mr. New York,” Sinatra was the star of Las Vegas. His album Sinatra At The Sands is legendary for his versions of his classic hits like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “Fly Me To The Moon.” Rolling Stone listed it as 36 on their list of the “50 Greatest Live Albums.” Rolling Stone compliments Sinatra’s performance and said it was “complete with an adoring casino crowd and an epic ‘Tea Break’ monologue where the chairman cracks harsh on his Rat Pack subordinates.”
The Grateful Dead’s Live/Dead
Rolling Stone described The Grateful Dead’s Live/Dead album as: “One the greatest advertisement for a band’s in-concert capabilities recorded to date.” The Grateful Dead was $180,000 in debt to Warner Brothers in 1969 and recorded a live album to be cost-effective. The result “proved themselves both serious avant-gardists and impeccable roots revisionists—and spent the rest of their career reaffirming it onstage.” The Grateful Dead deliver a haunting performance topping the night off with an acoustic rendition of “And We Bid You Goodnight.”
All of these live albums have their particular draws, especially the older artists that we have no hope of seeing in concert. Harry Styles has yet to release a live recording of the tour for his self-titled album. According to Billboard, his first solo world tour sold out in seconds and received nearly universally positive reviews. Billboard’s Eve Barlow commended Styles as a “true rockstar.” Until Styles releases a live album I’d like to dedicate an honourable mention to his performances of Just A Little Bit of Your Heart and Still the One and his two Spotify singles Girl Crush and Two Ghosts.
- The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
- Surprising Movies That Fail The Bechdel Test
- Exams as Told by the Cast of Arrested Development
Want more HCW? Check us out on social media!
Subscribe to our newsletter!