Six favorite live albums
Les McCann is coming to Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley the first weekend in May and the show is being billed as “Swiss Movement Revisited with Javon Jackson.” The current tour coincides with a new release of that seminal live album recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969. Given that I listen to at least one song from Swiss Movement every week, it made me want to consider what would be my top live albums of all time. (Let’s be honest: in my case “all time” means it was probably recorded in the 60s or 70s.) But that could be a long list, so my criteria for this list is that I must still listen to the album at least monthly.
In no particular order:
1. Les McCann & Eddie Harris. Swiss Movement. Still one of my favorites. The single “Compared to What” went platinum and crossed over to the rock charts in 1970. I always think the best live albums are those that reflect the spontaneity of the live concert experience and this one certainly did, given that Eddie Harris and Benny Bailey hadn’t even rehearsed with the Les McCann Trio before taking the stage.
2. The Allman Brothers Band. At Fillmore East. One of the greatest rock albums of all time and the 23-minute version of “Whipping Post” one of the most memorable live songs. “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” tends to be my go-to song from this, but I’ve written a lot of product specs while listening to this album from 1971 in its entirety. American Idol fans will remember Bo Bice riding a performance of “Whipping Post” all the way to second place.
3. Lou Rawls. Live! Recorded in a Chicago club in 1966, it features jazz and blues standards, such as “Stormy Monday” and “Goin to Chicago Blues.” But his half spoken/half sung “Street Corner Hustler Blues” would have been worth the price of admission. Lou Rawls had one of the smoothest singing voices ever, but this album lets him let loose a bit from his more typical mainstream commercial output.
4. Donny Hathaway. Live. Recorded in Hollywood and Greenwich Village in 1972, this featured only one song actually written by Hathaway, “The Ghetto.” He covered Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.” You’ve missed out if you haven’t heard this album because it’s incredible. What a shame that this great singer’s life was cut short so young.
5. Neil Diamond. Gold: Recorded Live at the Troubadour. What can I say? I like a little Neil Diamond now and then, at least the early Neil, and I continue to listen to this album. Most Diamond fans would pick “Hot August Nights” or “Live at the Greek” as favorite live albums, but this 1970 gem best highlights his singer-songwriter skills. It featured a small band, just drums, bass, guitar and some great, gospel-like backup singing. Songs that were way too schmaltzy for many people in their commercial release are very unpretentious here. By the way, Neil will be at Key Arena on September 24.
6. Neil Young. Live Rust. The other Neil. And the only album recorded at a concert I actually attended, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1978. Although I listen to “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere” more than this album, it still has some of my favorite Neil Young songs.