Modern bands don't seem to release live albums anymore. Actually that's not quite true. I guess they do they just don't make them a milestone in their back catalogue. Official live bootlegs are now the way of the world. Marillion (in 1992) and Fish (in 1993) were the first of the bands to do this (I reckon they predate the Grateful Dead's "Dick's Picks" series by 6 months) releasing live recordings independently of their record label and selling direct to the fans. During Pearl Jam's Binaural tour of 2000 the band made every show available live. Seventy two live recordings from one tour. Back in my "METAL years" (1985-1989 approx) all my favourite bands released an official live album at some point, that might explain the heavy rock leanings of my selections below.
1. Status Quo "Live"
Recorded at the Glasgow Apollo Theatre between 27th and 29th October 1976 this is the holy grail of live albums. Quo were all about the live show and this double album set seemed to capture them at their peak. The nearest you could get to a Quo gig in your bedroom. I used to pogo along so much I'd make the needle on my turntable jump.
2. Johnny Cash "At Folsom Prison"
The first of his prison albums Folsom bristles with energy. John forges a personal connection with the audience at the time and the listener later. It's like he's talking directly to you. No wonder the prison guards sound nervous that the whole thing's going to boil over into a riot. The follow up "At San Quentin" is almost as good but it's Folsom than sets the standard.
3. Iron Maiden "Live After Death"
Released following the massive World Slavery tour of 1984-85 (just shy of 200 dates in 13 months) this was Maiden's first full length live album and marked a high point in their history. It was also the first new release since I had discovered them after picking up a copy of Powerslave because I liked the cover. I cannot remember being more excited about any record release before or since. I cycled into Kingston to get my copy (from the sadly missed Record Shop) on the morning it came out and then cycled straight home to listen to it. Scream for me Long Beach!
4. Ramones "It's Alive"
An album I've only obtained quite recently it's everything you would expect from the Ramones live. Twenty eight tracks in about fifty three minutes. Back to back Ramones classics played at breakneck speed with barely a pause to say hello (or complain about a spicy chicken vindaloo).
5. Townes Van Zandt "Live at The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas"
I've done this top five once before on a Fulham forum now lost to the mists of time. Can't remember what the 4th and 5th placed albums were back then but I had quite a few suggestions for live albums that were better than my chosen few. This recording of Townes Van Zandt was the one that left a lasting impression on me. It captures Van Zandt in an intimate venue with only his voice and guitar for support. A brilliant snapshot of an enigmatic performer that lets his personality and song craft shine through.