Skip to content

Commentary: Whatever happened to the live album?

MV stock Craig Lindsay mug
Craig Lindsay is a reporter with the Mountain View Gazette. File photo

It seems back in the 1970s and 1980s and heck even the 1990s every musical act had a live album. Some of the biggest albums out there were live albums. As a young teen I loved KISS and it all started with Kiss Alive II. Oh the majesty of it all. Hello Detroit! Guitar solos! Drum solos! Oh yeah.

Music has, of course, changed a great deal in the years since I was a youngster. Now most people stream music on services like Pandora or download off iTunes. Record stores are almost a thing of the past.

Sure, musicians still release albums but now it's more of a collection of singles. Back in the day I bought plenty of CDs for $20 that had one good song and 11 fillers (Chumbawumba anyone?). Then Napster came along bringing streaming to the masses and that morphed into the aforementioned Pandora and iTunes.

Other great live albums of the past include Frampton Comes Alive. Who had even heard of Peter Frampton before that live album came out? And that voice box coming out of the guitar. Utter genius. That sold like eight million copies somehow. Cheap Trick had their Live at the Budokan. Live versions of the great hits like I Want You to Want Me and Surrender, only with people screaming in the background.

All the artists back then put out live albums. The Rolling Stones' Still Life, U2 had Under a Blood Red Sky, which was great, and The Who live at Leeds! Hippy bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead were more known for their live shows and albums than any hit songs.

Live albums, and their close cousin the greatest hits album, were great money makers for bands. Think about it, put out a couple of studio albums, get yourself known, throw out a live album, then a greatest hits package. That's big money coming in and you don't have to come up with any new songs, which would seem hard.

As far as I can see, bands have always toured and still do. It's a great way to share your music with your fans in a nice, intimate 90,000 seat auditorium. OK, not many bands sell out that much. I find nowadays music concerts are so expensive and if you see the giants you're so far away you're really just seeing them on the big screen anyway.

Still, it's a good time. And if you shell out another $50 you can get the T-shirt to go with it. Of course, these days everyone spends the whole show using their phone to record their experience but that's another issue.

Let's check the Google to see if any of the top artists of the last five to six years have put out live albums. Let's say Drake, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Imagine Dragons. I can Imagine Dragons before I can imagine they put out a live album.

So Ed Sheeran has put out four albums and none are live. There are a couple of live EPs but none that charted huge. T-Swift put out a live album in 2011 that went to no.11 in the U.S., which is pretty bad compared to her usual string of no.1 hits. As for Drake, I can find nada.

So there you have it. I think we can conclude that the live album is pretty much dead. Myself, I enjoy a good concert as much as anyone and should get out more. It's a big chunk of change but an experience that can't be beat. Plus the legends like Elton John, Aerosmith, KISS and so on, you just never know how many more chances you'll get to see them together.

Craig Lindsay is the reporter for the Mountain View Gazette




Comments