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Top 10 Live Hit Songs

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Music recorded live in concert has been a significant part of pop music for over 40 years. While live songs in the pop top 40 are relatively rare, many of those that have appeared have become true classics. The following are 10 of the best.

A special mention should be made of Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk," recorded live but not in front of a concert audience, and Elton John's fake live recording of "Bennie and the Jets."

1. Stevie Wonder - "Fingertips, Part 2" - 1963

Wonder, Little Stevie - Fingertips Part 1+2 - D - 1963
Affendaddy/Flikr/CC BY 2.0

In over 40 years the sheer exuberance and joyful chaos of Stevie Wonder's first hit single has never been matched. This recording comes from one of the Motown label's package performances of featured artists at the Regal Theatre in Chicago. Part 2 is mostly an unplanned encore by 12-year-old Stevie Wonder, and it also features a young Marvin Gaye on drums.

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2. Cheap Trick - "I Want You to Want Me" - 1979

Cheap Trick - "I Want You To Want Me"
Courtesy Epic

"I Want You to Want Me" was one of Cheap Trick's more ordinary songs from their In Color album. However, a perfect performance and a perfect Japanese audience at the Budokan theater turned this into a top 10 pop hit and one of the best loved live pop recordings of all time. The audience shouting in unison during the song's breaks is glorious. Other artists have recorded live albums at the Budokan, but none match Cheap Trick's concert souvenir album.

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3. Kiss - "Rock and Roll All Nite" - 1975

Kiss - "Rock and Roll All Nite"
Courtesy Casablanca

It's hard to know what would have become of Kiss without "Rock and Roll All Nite." The song was written in response to demands by Casablanca Records' executive Neil Bogart that the band create a rock anthem. The live version of "Rock and Roll All Nite" became the band's first of 6 pop top 20 hits in the 1970's and is a true pop-rock classic.

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4. Marvin Gaye - "Got to Give It Up, Pt. 1" - 1977

Marvin Gaye - Live at the London Palladium
Courtesy Tamla

Marvin Gaye's star had started to fade in the U.S. when a concert was recorded at the London Palladium in London, England in the fall of 1976. The result was a double live album, and the original 11-minute version of "Got To Give It Up" occupied the entire 4th side of the album. An edited version of this serious party vibe became a #1 pop smash.

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5. Paul McCartney & Wings - "Coming Up (Live at Glasgow)" - 1980

Paul McCartney - "Coming Up"
Courtesy Parlophone

This version of Paul McCartney's "Coming Up" was originally the B-side to the studio version. However, the live version was much looser and relaxed in sound (plus those great laser attack sounds) than the original. Radio quickly placed the live take into their playlists and this became a #1 pop smash.

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6. Alicia Keys - "Unbreakable (Unplugged)" - 2005

Alicia Keys - Unplugged
Courtesy J Records

Alicia Keys brought back Unplugged, the MTV celebration of live acoustic music, in 2005 with her own Unplugged album. One highlight of her performance was this powerful new song.

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7. Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Free Bird" - 1976

Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Free Bird"
Courtesy MCA

"Free Bird" has become such a symbol of live rock that it is an overworked butt of jokes in some quarters. However, it remains a high-water mark for southern rock, and Lynyrd Skynyrd at their peak were a legendary live band. "Free Bird" hit the pop top 20 in its studio version, but it returned to the top 40 in its live incarnation.

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8. Eric Clapton - "Layla (Acoustic) - 1992

Eric Clapton - Unplugged
Courtesy Reprise

"Layla" in its original form is a true rock classic. Impressively, Eric Clapton completely reworked the song for the intimate setting of MTV Unplugged. His performance is truly masterful and well received by an appreciative audience.

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9. Peter Frampton - "Show Me the Way" - 1976

Peter Frampton - Frampton Comes Alive!
Courtesy A&M Records

Peter Frampton was a journeyman rock musician who had failed to make a serious breakthrough in U.S. record sales until he put together a double album of his well-received live shows. The result was Frampton Comes Alive, and it eventually became one of the biggest selling live albums of all time. It generated 3 hit singles and made Frampton a star.

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10. Jackson Browne - "Stay / The Load Out" - 1978

Jackson Browne - Running On Empty
Courtesy Asylum

The combination of the composition "The Load Out" with the Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs classic "Stay" formed the finale to Jackson Browne's Running on Empty, a concept album about life on a concert tour which featured a number of live recordings. "The Load Out" is a heartfelt tribute to the roadies who set up and take down the stage set for concert performers. "Stay" functions as an encore.

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