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."
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.