The 10 greatest live albums of the 1970s
27.07.2020

The 10 greatest live albums of the 1970s

Words by Will Brewster

From Jimi to Joni and beyond.

An all-too-underrated marketing tool overlooked by many of the best bands today, there’s nothing quite like a well-done live album, and historically, there was no better era for this concept than the 1970s.

From funk-soul freakouts to blistering hard rock and playful folk, today we’re taking a look back at some of the greatest live albums to be released in the 1970s.

Jimi Hendrix – Band Of Gypsys (1970)

Captured over two nights in New York, Band Of Gypsys sees Jimi accompanied by Billy Cox on bass and the dangerously soulful Buddy Miles on drums on vocals for the funkiest, rawest Hendrix performance ever recorded.

While it’s best known for its cataclysmic, tortured twelve minute rendition of ‘Machine Gun’, Band Of Gypsys showcases Jimi’s adventurous fretwork at its finest, with Cox and Miles providing an irresistibly funky palate for Hendrix to let loose over on tracks like ‘Who Knows’ and ‘Changes’.

The Band – The Last Waltz (1976)

Enshrining everything that’s special about Martin Scorsese’s concert film of the same name, The Last Waltz offers three discs of live material from The Band’s legendary 1976 farewell concert in a pure audio format.

Packed with over two hours of music and featuring guest appearances from Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and more, The Last Waltz is a masterclass in live performance, and proves to be a timeless portrayal of everything that made the ‘70s such a special era for rock music.

The Who – Live at Leeds (1970)

If you’re totally new to The Who, this is the album to start with – you simply cannot listen to Live at Leeds and not be floored by the ferocity of these songs.

Straight after recording their acclaimed rock opera Tommy, The Who took to Leeds to perform what’s considered one of the best live concerts ever cut to tape, with the band’s breakneck renditions of ‘Substitute’ and ‘Young Man Blues’ setting an incredibly high standard for the decade of hard rock to follow.

Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive! (1976)

One of the biggest selling live albums of all time, Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive! is indulgent stadium rock at its very best.

With Les Paul in hand and backed by a rock steady group of session hounds, Frampton proved he was so much more than just another big-haired yahoo with his electric renditions of singles ‘Show Me The Way’ and ‘Baby, I Love Your Way’, while ‘Do You Feel Like We Do’ brought the Talkbox to the masses and singlehandedly wrote Frampton into rock ’n roll history.

Joni Mitchell – Miles Of Aisles (1974)

Miles Of Aisles presents Joni Mitchell like the world had never heard her before, pairing the Canadian singer-songwriter sensation with a live band to make for a sublime fusion of folk, jazz and rock that sees Mitchell at her most charismatic and powerful.

Bridging the gap between the gentle folk of Blue and the jazzy, explorative tones of Hejira, Miles Of Aisles is playful, emotive and ever-engaging, with Mitchell’s live renditions of ‘Woodstock’, ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’ and ‘A Case Of You’ being among some of her best ever performances.

Curtis Mayfield – Curtis Live! (1971)

Although it was critically panned at the time of release, Curtis Mayfield’s first post-Impressions record is now regarded as being right at the pinnacle of socially conscious funk and soul, and rightfully proves his status as one of the genre’s finest entities.

Jam-packed with material from Curtis’ self-titled debut and forthcoming Superfly soundtrack and peppered with a number of Impressions classics, Curtis Live! is an irresistibly groovy record that continues to get better and better in the wake of time.

KISS – Alive! (1975)

The definitive KISS album, and certainly one of the most famous hard rock albums of all time, Alive! depicts KISS at the peak of musicianship and ‘70s excess, and is all the better for it.

Of course, it’s packed with a few-cringeworthy moments and rock ’n roll cliches (eight-minute drum solo, anyone?), but the silly moments never take away from the fact that behind all the facepaint and pyrotechnics, KISS were packing some serious musical prowess, and certainly knew how to put on a good rock show.

Aretha Franklin – Live At Fillmore West (1971)

Backed by an all-star band that featured the likes of Bernard Purdie, King Curtis and Billy Preston, Aretha Franklin’s Live At Fillmore West concert album is ecstatic R&B and soul at its most vibrant. Franklin’s might as a vocalist is displayed on every track, the horns are off the chain, Preston’s organ playing is to die for, and that Ray Charles ‘Spirit In The Dark’ duet just puts the cherry on top for this one.

However, it’s Aretha’s covers of ’Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ that really seal the deal here, making Live At Fillmore West a quintessential release from the Queen of Soul.

Iggy and the Stooges – Metallic KO (1976)

A ridiculously rowdy release even by Iggy Pop’s standards, Metallic KO documents one of the most chaotic concerts that Iggy and the Stooges ever played in Detroit. Performing to a crowd full of Scorpion biker gang members, Iggy saw it fit to taunt, cuss and aggravate the crowd at any given opportunity throughout the band’s set, resulting in the fiery bikies pelting the band with beer bottles, eggs and ice cubes while performing.

Legend has it that Iggy got knocked out by one particularly angry biker mid-set, with the Scorpion gang subsequently putting out a hit on Iggy on live radio the next day – it doesn’t get much more punk than that.

Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Africa ’70 with Ginger Baker – Live! (1971)​

After the dissolution of Cream, Ginger Baker joined Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti on a Landrover expedition through Nigeria to immerse himself in the country’s syncopated rhythms and explore its burgeoning yet fractured music scene. What eventuated was one of the most fascinating live recordings of the early ‘70s, with the gruff British drummer accompanying Fela’s legendary Africa ’70 band for an onslaught of funky, horn-heavy Afrobeat jams.

Later reissues of Live! also feature an awe-inspiring, sixteen minute long drum solo performed by Baker and the untouchable Tony Allen, making for a double drum assault that should be essential listening for any prospective percussionist.

Want to listen to something a little closer to home? Explore some of the best Australian rock deep cuts from the ’70s.