It started as a great marketing idea: Give fans a taste of your live show without them being there.
However, live albums haven’t always been a good representation of an artist’s live show. In all honesty, it’s hit or miss.
When you sit down and look at the greatest albums of all time, some of them will be live albums. On the flip side, when you look at the worst albums of all time, many of those will be live albums as well.
So, what makes a great live album?
It’s simple. Have a great live show. You’d think this is a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at how many artists put out recordings of lifeless performances.
Look at Kiss’ “Alive!”, which is considered one of the greatest albums in rock history. This album was the last hope for the band. Its label, Casablanca Records, was on the verge of shutting down, and Kiss’ studio albums had poor sales.
But their live shows were creating a buzz. “Alive!” gave the band the success it almost didn’t have.
But, it doesn’t take explosions, breathing fire or big stage effects to make a great live show.
Unknown Hinson, a character created by Stuart Baker, is famous for his live shows. He’s energetic, he gets the crowd going and he and his band are great musicians. No explosions. No stage effects. Just a great performance.
Hinson’s live album, “Live and Undead,” is a perfect example of that. Baker generally records his live performances directly from the soundboard, meaning it’s exactly what the audience heard.
Over the years, some fans have even gained access to the soundboard and made recordings of several shows.
This is where some live albums begin to get criticism from fans.
Many live albums such as “Alive!” don’t take the raw approach of albums like “Live and Undead”.
It’s well-documented that “Alive!” was almost entirely re-recorded in the studio. The vocals were overdubbed, the guitars were overdubbed and even the audience was overdubbed.
Peter Criss, the original Kiss drummer, has said his drums were the only part of “Alive!” that was actually live.
Some live albums are drastically different, such as “Songs and Stories,” Guy Clark’s most recent live album.
It’s almost like a jam session. Clark rounded-up some of his friends to play with him on this album. They share stories, jam on some old favorites and have a few laughs. But many people, including myself, will tell you it’s one of their favorite live albums.
There is no formula for what makes a great live album. Whether the show is simple or elaborate, all that matters is the audience gets a truly entertaining experience.