Ah, the live album. Tracks that were recorded in concert and then issued commercially as a full-length release. Some feel it’s an opportunity for rock artists to present their material as taken to a level which the confines of a recording studio could never hope to accommodate. Others see live albums as a way for artists to keep their fans from forgetting about them while they’re off someplace working on new stuff (or even as a way get their fans to pay for the same music more than once).
Either way, with the advent of arena rock at the beginning of the Seventies, live albums became a staple, with artists typically putting one out – often a double album – as their fourth or fifth full-length release (the Rolling Stones, for example, would have four live discs by 1982). Live albums lost a bit of their pull in the early Eighties, after live video concerts became popular on cable TV and home video. However, the intention of the compact disc (CD) then allowed artist to cram more live material onto a single release.
Popularity alone never created demand for a live album (hence we didn’t get one from Andy Gibb or the Captain & Tennille), but there were numerous rock artists who always probably seemed like a natural fit for a live release. And these artists did deliver them… eventually. Sometimes even well after the band’s breakup, and/or essentially as an afterthought. Here are nine artists whom we might have expected a live release from much earlier than we actually got it.
# 9 – Bad Company
Not only was British blues-based rock band Bad Company fronted by one of rock’s all-time great vocalists (Paul Rodgers), but their self-titled 1974 debut album had the distinction of being the inaugural US release on Swan Song, a label owned and operated by Led Zeppelin (an endorsement that no one would dare argue with). Following their mentors into platinum-selling and arena-headlining glory, a double live album certainly always seemed like a good fit for Bad Company (plus, the three-year gap between studio albums Desolation Angels  and Rough Diamonds  would have been an ideal time to get it out). However, a live Bad Company release didn’t appear until 1993, with What You Hear is What You Get: The Best of Bad Company Live (which featured Rodgers’ replacement Brian Howe).
# 8 – The Clash
During their heyday, The Clash were tagged “The Only Band That Matters,” and their live performances were never known to be an exception. Still, a live Clash album would only pop up unceremoniously many years after the band’s disintegration in the mid-Eighties, with From Here to Eternity: Live (1999). However, a still later release Live at Shea Stadium (2008) should definitely speak retroactively to the Clash’s prowess as a live band, since the 1982 recording featured a set they had performed as an opening act (The Who was the headliner, in case you were wondering).
# 7 – Prince
After putting out acclaimed records for a half-dozen years, Prince Rodgers Nelson conquered the music world in 1984 with the smash album and movie Purple Rain. Since the whole package at the time also included a successful concert tour, a double live disc as the follow-up release would probably have been a no-brainer (as well as an opportunity to re-introduce some of his earlier work). But Prince was always known for writing and recording new material at the rate that most of us blink, so his next commercial release – barely ten months after Purple Rain – was an all-new studio effort, the quasi-psychedelic Around the World in a Day. Prince did become the subject of a live concert film in 1987 (Sign o’ the Times) but wouldn’t release a live album until 2002, with One Nite Alone… Live!.
# 6 – Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd are by far one of the most popular and influential bands in rock history, and their concert attendance has always reflected that. Still, singer/bassist/principle songwriter Roger Waters was often contemptuous of rock concert audiences, indicating that he would prefer they remain silent while the songs were being played (he was even known to loudly verbalize this to the crowds on occasion). This might partially explain why the band’s only concert film, Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972) was shot without a live audience, and also why the first-ever official Floyd live album – The Delicate Sound of Thunder – wouldn’t be released until 1988, after Waters had left the band (it was followed by another post-Waters live effort, Pulse, in 1995).
# 5 – The Police
The Police had supposedly been toying with the idea of a live album for several years already, but when the shows behind their multi-platinum 1983 album Synchronicity collectively resulted in one of the most successful and acclaimed stadium tours of the era (if not all time), no one was surprised when the trio announced that they were planning a live release. They seemingly forgot to include the word “eventually,” as the simply-titled Live! wouldn’t see the light of day until 1995, after the band had broken up and lead singer/bassist/songwriter Sting was not only well into his successful solo career but had released a double live album (Bring on the Night, 1986) on his own. But Live! did go platinum in the US, and Police fans even got one more chance to catch the real thing when the band reunited for a 2007-8 tour.
# 4 – The Beatles
Two generations (and counting) of later Beatles fans no doubt wish they could have witnessed the Fab Four live, even though most accounts maintain that those concerts weren’t so much musical performances as spectacles (it goes without saying that the crux of the Beatles’ unmatched legacy is in their studio work). Still, given the demand for anything remotely Beatles-related in the Sixties (even John Lennon’s estranged father somehow got to put a record out), it’s truly amazing that it took until 1977 – seven years after the band’s breakup and a decade beyond their final full-length concert – for a Beatles live album to see commercial release.
Apparently either sub-par sound quality of available live recordings or legal issues had been behind the delay, but none of that seemed to matter to fans, as The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl (recorded in 1964 and 1965) went platinum in the US and topped the charts in the band’s native UK (where it looks like belated Beatlemania had managed to defy the punk movement).
# 3 – Black Sabbath
Live albums have always been a touchstone of heavy metal, so many headbangers probably spent the Seventies wondering why they couldn’t buy one from the genre’s prototypical purveyors, Black Sabbath. Thus, the title of the 1980 Sabbath single-disc Live at Last perhaps seemed appropriate initially. Unfortunately, the band had neither approved of- nor was even made aware of the release, a recording owned by their management of a 1973 concert. The original pressings of Live at Last also list the vocalist’s name as “Ossie Osbourne,” which of course we all know is very, very incorrect (we can almost understand mistakenly spelling it “Ozzie.” But “Ossie???”). Despite all this, the album went Top Five in the UK. Not to be outdone, the band (then fronted by Ronnie James Dio) put out an authorized double live album, Live Evil, two-and-a-half years later.
# 2 – Bruce Springsteen
As far back as the early Seventies, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were gaining a reputation as one of the best live acts in rock well before their commercial success managed to catch up. Thus, by 1986, a live Springsteen album probably seemed long overdue (particularly since he had become a multi-platinum superstar by that point). So on some level releasing Live/1975-1985 as a five-LP set might have been an effort to make up for lost time. As the title suggests, it offered live recordings from over the course of a decade (going back to the band’s years playing theaters). Between that and the sheer quantity (and corresponding purchase price) involved, Live/1975-1985 was probably aimed less at kids who’d recently discovered the Boss through MTV than at long-time, hardcore fans. But there were (and remain) no shortage of those, and thus Live/1975-1985 sold four million units as well as becoming the first five-LP set ever to go Top 10 in the US.
# 1 – Van Halen
When he was barely old enough to vote, Eddie Van Halen was already being hailed as the greatest guitarist of his generation. As soon as he and his band, Van Halen, began recording, they skipped over the requisite cult period and went right to multi-platinum status with their 1978 self-titled debut album. Few dispute that the band becoming legendary overnight had a great deal to do with their live performances. “I’ve always thought of us as basically a live band,” Eddie told Rolling Stone in 1993. “That’s where we’re most at home.”
Thus, not surprisingly, “people had been asking us about putting out a live one ever since the first album,” Eddie explained in that same 1993 interview. “I was always, like ‘hey, give us a little time.’” Ultimately it would be a bit more than “a little” time. While there was serious discussion of a VH live album in the mid-Eighties, disagreement over how to best approach it not only kept it from coming to fruition but apparently also contributed to the departure of original lead singer David Lee Roth. Van Halen would release a total of nine studio albums – not to mention replace Roth with Sammy Hagar – before their first-even commercially-released live album Live: Right Here Right Now finally came out in 1993.
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