Artists For Whom It Was Their Live Album That Catapulted Them To Stardom (Or Perhaps Superstardom)


I’ve often said over the years, that sometimes you just need to see a band live in concert for their music to make sense. I certainly know that was the case for me on certain bands associated with the Grunge era. The first time I saw Bush in ’97, something in my head just clicked and I was on the bandwagon. And by the way, I just saw Bush live again recently and consider me back on the bandwagon. I was the same way with the Stone Temple Pilots, a band I used to derisively describe as “Pearl Jam-lite,” before I saw them live and was blown away. I’m always late to the party.

Some artists just take some time to find their groove in the studio. Hollywood, in countless bio-pics about artists (real and fictional), always shows the artist sitting down with an acoustic guitar (or piano) and delivering a completely realized song off the top of their head. They record it in the studio, perfectly of course, and it’s suddenly a big hit. More often than not artists, especially newer bands, struggle to find their groove in the studio. Sometimes the band just can’t capture that magic they have on stage in front of a group of people in a tiny windowless room. The confines of a 3 minute hit song are sometimes too restrictive for some bands. They don’t get the tempo right or the riff is just slightly off or the vocals sound stiff. Let’s remember an artist as big as Paul McCartney only had a hit song in “Maybe I’m Amazed” – now considered one of his best singles – when he released the live version of the song from Wings Over America as a single and not the original studio version from McCartney. Maybe that’s why the Faces, when they covered the track, used a live version too?

There are a number of artists who went through what I’m describing here. They recorded a studio album – or several studio albums, for that matter – that just didn’t click with a broad audience. Back in the day the formula was for a band to put out albums and grind it out on the road… record album, tour, rinse, repeat. These bands were out there on the road in sweaty theaters trying to win fans through the sheer force of their live performance. It seems elementary that these bands would turn to the “live album” as a way to capture that magic they have as a unit that they couldn’t seem to catch in the studio. Some band have chemistry that can only be truly captured live, versus piecemeal in a studio where they might record the drums separately from the guitars etc. Bruce Springsteen, after failing to catch on with his first two albums, was going to put out a live album – which I would have loved – but was talked into making Born To Run instead. I guess that’s a situation where we won either way.

The other day, I snuck up to the B&V labs because I just needed to hear some Allman Brothers. Naturally I chose their landmark album At The Fillmore East. I had recently listened to their first two albums. I’ve just been in that Allman frame of mind. I was stunned that it wasn’t until they released At The Fillmore East that they broke wide and far. It was the album that made them famous. I thought to myself, well, that’s nuts. But, thinking about it, the live album has made more than one band famous. As I naturally do, I obsessed on the topic for a while and before I knew it I had a list in my head… and yes, I was sitting around in my spare time listening to live albums. Of course, we’re documented as loving the live album around here… but this list of artists and the live albums that made them famous are all worth a spin.


The Allman Brothers Band, At The Fillmore East

The Allmans were the quintessential band that could not be captured in a 3 minute hit song. Well, other than maybe “Midnight Rider.” I still can’t believe their first two albums, The Allman Brothers Band and  my personal favorite, Idlwild South, weren’t big hits. The Allmans played southern blues with a jazz ethos to great effect. It’s a double album and features only seven songs. Doing a live album was the only way to capture the incendiary chemistry of this band. Duane Allman and Dickey Betts’ soaring guitars are simply captivating. Gregg Allman’s vocals are impassioned. Everything you need to know about the Allmans is right here.


Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, Live Bullet

I have occasionally referred to Bob Seger as the “Rodney Dangerfield” of rock n roll… the man can’t get the respect he deserves. Well, maybe he does in the Midwest. Seger couldn’t get a break. He’d already released 8 albums prior to hooking up with the Silver Bullet Band and none of them caught hold. He just couldn’t find the magic in the studio.  I’ve always loved his early albums but Bob refuses to even remaster and release them. Sigh. If you can get your hands on Back In ’72 or Seven, grab them. Live Bullet, recorded on his home turf at Cobo Hall in Detroit rock city it showcases all of the things Seger could do. From the road weary ballad of “Turn The Page,” the Chuck Berry influenced “Get Out of Denver,” and the spectacular 2-song medley “Travelin’ Man/Beautiful Loser,” it’s Seger in all his glory. Songs that he’d done over the years all find their definitive versions on this album. This made Bob a star across America, not just in lower peninsula of Michigan. It’s amazing to me after only 3 more studio albums Seger did another double-live album and only repeated 1 song, the epic Chuck Berry cover “Let It Rock.”


Peter Frampton, Frampton Comes Alive!

Peter Frampton suffered from the same malady as Bob Seger. He’d recorded four solo albums after leaving Humble Pie and the man couldn’t get arrested. He had this beautiful melodic guitar sound. His solos were fabulous but nobody got on the bandwagon. Enter Frampton Comes Alive! Boy, did he. This was the biggest live album of all time for a while. My grandmother – yes, my grandmother – bought this album for me as a gift. It was that ubiquitous. I have come to love Frampton’s early studio solo albums but I’m in the minority there. This album changed Frampton’s career 180 degrees. Hard to follow up this kind of success… and he didn’t. He mellowed out his sound for a while to kind of, well, escape fame.


Kiss, Alive!

Kiss was fairly successful over their first three albums. They’d all three gone gold. but if you were a kid in the 70s, and it just so happens I was, it was Alive! that made them cool. This was the album all my friends seemed to own. While it was Kiss’ second live album, creatively named Alive II, that went double platinum, without Alive! they wouldn’t have broken so big on their following album Destroyer, which went double platinum, their first LP to do so.


Thin Lizzy, Live And Dangerous

The Thin Lizzy story is a bit like the Kiss story. They’d released 7 or 8 albums prior to deciding to do a live album. They’d started to gain some momentum and their previously three LPs had gone gold: Jailbreak, Johnny the Fox and Bad Reputation. I’ve always been partial to their earlier LP, Fighting where they’d started to really pull it together. But Live And Dangerous was their masterpiece. The twin lead guitar attack of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson is the most amazing guitar playing you’ll hear this side of the Allman Brothers. They even throw in the great Seger cover “Rosalie.”


Jackson Browne, Running On Emtpy

I may be cheating a bit here. Jackson Browne had had a very successful run over his four previous LPs before this live album that was actually a concept album about being on the road. His first three albums were all platinum. His fourth album, The Pretender, where Jackson had decided to be “a happy idiot, and struggle for the legal tender,” went three times platinum. That’s a lot of legal tender, indeed. Jackson was already a star when he released Running On Empty, clearly. But this album made him a superstar. It went a staggering 7x platinum. That’s 7 million records sold. That was quite a jump. The “concept” not only holds together the music is awesome. The crowds go crazy and what you must remember – most of them had never heard this music before. That ain’t easy.


Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense

The Talking Heads, like Kiss and Thin Lizzy above, had career momentum before they’d released Stop Making Sense. It wasn’t even their first live album. Their previous studio album, Speaking In Tongues with the hit song “Burning Down the House,” had gone platinum. But for many people, like me, this was the first Talking Heads album we purchased. It was like an even twitchier greatest hits album. I bought it after I heard it down in my friend RK’s room on cassette. It went double platinum and for a post punk band that’s a lot of records.


Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick At Budokan

Cheap Trick was coming off two platinum albums in a row, In Color and Heaven Tonight. They hadn’t originally intended to release a live album. And indeed, at first they only released this record in Japan as a tour souvenir. People started ordering it in the States and the next thing I knew, it was playing on 8-track in my buddy Brewster’s Monza every morning on my way to high school. I honestly had never heard of Cheap Trick until At Budokan came out. It eventually went 3x platinum catapulting Cheap Trick into the super star category… for a while at least. Cheap Trick has put out a couple of great LPs lately, worth checking out: We’re All Alright! and In Another World.

Maybe you’re like the Rock Chick who I’ll quote, “Live albums just aren’t my thing.” That’s cool, but to paraphrase an old Elvis greatest hits LP, “millions of fans can’t be wrong” about these albums. They helped these iconic bands listed above launch or solidify their careers. One might say these live albums are “next level,” as they helped the artists reach that next level in their career. Each of them are worthy of playing at very loud volumes with a tumbler of dark and murky fluid! In case you were looking for something to do this weekend…



3 thoughts on “Artists For Whom It Was Their Live Album That Catapulted Them To Stardom (Or Perhaps Superstardom)

  1. Good stuff. I was in Toronto last October and finally bought Live & Dangerous on vinyl. Such a killer album. Another one you could have added was UFO Strangers In The Night as that to me is one of those albums people still talk about over there studio stuff which also was stellar.
    Cheers pal

    Liked by 1 person

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