In this day and age of nearly every concert performed being available, in part or entirety, on social media or streaming services, it bears reminding that it was not the case 50 years ago. In fact, live recordings -- in the form of the actual, physical live album -- were special events indeed.

And back in 1974 there were quite a few of those.

Concert souvenirs were a well-established and expected part of an act's catalog (and contract) by the '70s. The '74 batch was a bit ahead of career-making titles such as Kiss' Alive!, Cheap Trick's At Budokan and, of course, Frampton Comes Alive, but there had been reputation-makers. Get Your Ya-Ya's Out! in 1970 was certainly a part of the Rolling Stones' Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band in the World resume, and the Allman Brothers Band's At Fillmore East made "Whipping Post!" the de rigeur concert request before there was a "Free Bird!" to shout for.

But by '74 live albums were part of the career flow, especially for rock and jazz artists. Some boosted the profile, others were merely easy stop-gaps to give an act time to work on its next studio project. Whatever the reason, that year saw an uptick in the volume of live albums from all genres. Looking back half a century, these were the nearly two dozen that stand the test of time from that year...

Gregg Allman, The Gregg Allman Tour
Gregg Allman -- who released his first solo album, Laid Back, in 1973 -- determinedly separated himself from the Allman Brothers Band with these performances, recorded at New York's famed Carnegie Hall and in Passaic, N.J. The cover boasts a 24-piece orchestra, mostly an outfit called Cowboy that was favored by his late brother Duane Allman and included Allmans pianist Chuck Leavell and a cadre of horn players. The Allmans' Jaimoe (as Johnny Lee Johnson) plays percussion as well, with Tommy Talton on lead guitar. Opening with Oliver Sain's "Don't Mess Up a Good Thing" seemed apropos, but while Allman sounds only semi-comfortable in the larger ensemble he succeeds in pushing himself outside of the Allmans lane.

 

Argent, Encore: Live in Concert
Five studio albums in former Zombies keyboardist Rod Argent and his band had built a substantial catalog, and the quartet was in strong form when it performed in England during the early part of 1974. Encore has the hits ("Hold Your Head Up," "God Gave Rock and Roll To You"), proggy opuses such as "The Coming of Kohoutek" and "Music From the Spheres" and renditions of the Zombies' "Time of the Season" and "I Don't Believe in Miracles," a hit for Zombies' singer Colin Blunstone that was penned by Argent's Russ Ballard.

 

David Bowie, David Live
David Bowie's first released concert album was recorded, appropriate, in Philadelphia during his sonic sojourn from Ziggy Stardust and the glam vestiges of Diamond Dogs to the blue-eyed soul of Young Americans. His new, horn-fueled band was funkier and more facile than the Spiders From Mars, crafting a grooving swagger to the Spiders material that dominated the two-disc collection. Like most transitional steps it was intriguing but flawed, a history marker that was bettered by the subsequent Stage in 1978 and the archival Live in Santa Monica ’72 20 years after that.

 

Bob Dylan and the Band, Before the Flood
Bob Dylan's 1974 reunion with the Band on Planet Waves early in the year and then a tour to support it, was major with a capital M, so documenting it was inevitable. The two-disc (vinyl) Before the Flood, from shows in Los Angeles (with one track from New York) gave both acts their due and found them bringing out the best in each other, Dylan especially invigorated by the return of his most celebrated, er, band. Their repertoires are intertwined, and you'll be hard-pressed to find better performances of "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," "Ballad of a Thin Man," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "The Shape I'm In," "Like a Rolling Stone" and most of the other 15 tracks.

 

Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Welcome Back My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends -- Ladies and Gentlemen
Never shy about going large, and long, ELP chronicled its Brain Salad Surgery tour with a three-disc vinyl set that covered most of the bases of its career to date, including a side-long rendering of "Tarkus" that closed with a bit of King Crimson's "Epitaph" and "Karn Evil 9's" three Impressions, the first featuring Carl Palmer's drum solo. Sound quality was variable, however, though the trio, to its credit, did not take the recordings back into the studio for sweetening or revisions.

 

Rod Stewart/Faces, Coast to Coast: Overture and Beginners
The Faces were already on the ropes, ready to bow to Rod Stewart's solo career, when its first live set was released. True to form it caught the band boozy, spirited and intermittently sloppy, with a sharp contrast between the rockers and its attempts at torchy ballads like JImi Hendrix's "Angel," John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" and the Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain."

 

Rory Gallagher, Irish Tour '74
If anyone doubted the strength of Rory Gallagher's bollocks he proved them mighty indeed during the tour that gave his second live album its title, when he went ahead with is Belfast concert in the midst of The Troubles, the day after bombs went off around the city. Then again, the guitarist and his quartet were plenty explosive in their own right, demonstrated throughout this 10-song, two-disc (vinyl) set that featured lengthy renditions of "Walk on Hot Coals," "Who's That Coming?," "A Million Miles Away" and more. Gallagher's always gotten the short-shrift from those ranking guitar heroes; this is as fine an entry point as any.

 

Alvin Lee, In Flight
This was Woodstock hero Alvin Lee's first album after leaving Ten Years After, recorded March 22, 1974 as Alvin Lee & Co. an ensemble that included former saxophonist Mel Collins and drummer Ian Wallace, both from King Crimson, and other British aces. Lee plays like he has something to prove here, tearing through a batch of fresh originals and tossing covers of Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Allen Toussaint into the mix.

 

Loggins and Messina, On Stage
For those who thought of the duo in terms of pop hits ("Your Mama Don't Dance," "House at Pooh Corner," "Danny's Song") this was a welcome wake up. Kenny Loggins, Jim Messina and their crack, versatile band get to stretch quite a bit here, opening up on "Angry Eyes," the "Trilogy" medley and especially on an indulgent-but-we-love-it 21 minutes of "Vahevala." And they're just as solid on the tracks that run less than three minutes.

 

Marshall Tucker Band, Where We All Belong
Taking a lead (sort of) from labelmates the Allman Brothers Band, this South Carolina crew's third album was an Eat A Peach-styled set with separate live and studio discs. The concert material, recorded in Milwaukee three months and change earlier, offered expansive Southern rock jamming on long takes of "24 Hours at a Time" and "Everyday (I Have the Blues)," a counter to the more sophisticated rock-jazz mélange of the studio fare.

 

Joni Mitchell, Miles of Aisles
Supporting her Court and Spark album from earlier in the year Joni Mitchell took that album's L.A. Express on the road for jazzy overhauls of her mostly older material. There's only one song, in fact, from Court and Spark and a pair of brand new songs, "Love Or Money" and "Jericho." Mitchell and company freely take chances here and the adventures often pay off, with reeds man Tom Scott and guitarist Robben Ford helping to steer Mitchell's songs in new directions.

 

Van Morrison, It's Too Late to Stop Now
Deservedly in the periodic discussions of the greatest live albums of all time, this caught Van Morrison at a peak, and just before his next career pivot. He and the Caledonia Soul Orchestra weaved some real magic across these 18 songs, from Them's "Gloria" to tracks from his then current Hard Nose to the Highway album and covers of Sonny Boy Williamson, Bobby "Blue" Bland and Sam Cook songs -- with an explosive "Caravan" traveling near the top of 'em all. Morrison disbanded the Orchestra afterwards, so this is a fine cap to arguably the most impactful era of his career.

 

Mott the Hoople, Live
Mick Ralphs and Verden Allen gone but Mott the Hoople was still in strong, rocking form here, one side recorded in London and the other during its Broadway stand in May of '74 (famously supported by Queen). A particular highlight is the Side Two medley that careens from Mott favorites to Beatles and Jerry Lee Lewis hits. A 30th anniversary CD reissue added more from both shows and is real the way to go with this one.

 

Mountain, Twin Peaks
A reunited and revamped Mountain -- now a quartet, and without Corky Laing on drums -- toured Japan in 1973, recording this nine-song set in Osaka. It's not quite as sharp as its 1972 predecessor, Mountain Live: The Road Goes Ever On, and a lot depends on how you feel about nearly 32 minutes of "Nantucket Sleighride." Laing would be back on board in '74, however, for another studio album, Avalanche.

 

Elvis Presley, Elvis Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis
The title alone is reason for optimism, and this performance at Mid-South Coliseum in the King's adopted home town, not far from Graceland, is nothing if not solid. The performance was the same day (March 20, 1974) that Elvis' latest album, Good Times came out, and Presley and his band (James Burton on Guitar, J.D. Sumner and the Stamps on backing vocals) are in good form and humor. The subsequent appearance of Having Fun with Elvis On Stage, a cringey cash-in collection of verbal vamps sans songs, only made this look better in comparison.

 

Lou Reed, Rock 'n' Roll Animal
Unburdened from the emotional darkness of 1973's Berlin, Lou Reed came out ready to rock with a blast furnace band -- including the all-star guitar tandem of Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, guns-for-hire who also worked with Alice Cooper, Aerosmith and Kiss, among others. This five-song set, produced by Blood, Sweat & Tears co-founder Steve Katz, was captured at the Academy of Music in New York and kicks off hard with the Hunter-written intro to "Sweet Jane" and actually spends most of its time in Velvet Underground territory, with epic takes on "Heroin" and "Rock 'n' Roll" along with "White Light/White Heat." Berlin's "Lady Day" is the only Reed solo track here, though more were included on 1975's Lou Reed Live, taken from the same show.

 

Santana, Lotus
This three-disc (vinyl) collection, recorded in Osaka, Japan during 1973, was a hugely in-demand import when it was first released just there and then in Europe, not formally coming out in the U.S. for another 17 years. The reason is made clear by listening; Santana Mk.II (depending on how you count) was on fire throughout, building up a head of steam as the album went on until it closed with a side-long journey through "Incident at Neshabur." A genuine high point.

 

Paul Simon, Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin'
Rather than taking out a traditional band and milking the success of 1973's There Goes Rhymin' Simon, Paul Simon takes the stage here playing solo, with Andean folk troupe Urubamba (for "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)," "Duncan" and "The Boxer") and the Jessy Dixon Singers adding gospel to "Love Me Like a Rock," "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and Andrae Crouch's "Jesus is the Answer." It was surprising at the time, but it was also a sign to expect the unexpected from Simon as he pushed into his solo career.

 

Frank Sinatra, The Main Event: Live
OK, not strictly classic rock but a classic moment as Ol' Blue Eyes performed in the round at Madison Square Garden. The show was also televised, and he did included favorites by Stevie Wonder ("You Are the Sunshine of My Life") and Jim Croce ("Bab, Bad Leroy Brown") amidst his usual repertoire of pop standards.

 

The Velvet Underground, 1969: The Velvet Underground Live
The Velvet Underground was broken up for a year by the time this set was pulled out of the vaults. Recorded on tour in Dallas and San Francisco, it doesn't have quite the edgy charge of 1972’s Live at Max's Kansas City but is a welcome souvenir of the post-Nico, post-John Cale quartet on stage, introducing material that would surface on the following year's Loaded album and stretching out for extended takes of "I'm Waiting for the Man," "What Goes On," "Ocean" and "Heroin" (which Lou Reed also included on his '74 live album, Rock 'n' Roll Animal.)

 

Rick Wakeman, Journey to the Center of the Earth
Like all things Yes-related at that time, the keyboardist's second solo album was epic, from planning to execution to the final product. "Journey," based on the Jules Verne novel, was recorded during the second night of concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall, with the London Symphony Orchestra and the English Chamber Choir joining the rock band. The two side-long pieces are indulgent and bombastic, but would you want -- or expect -- anything less?

 

West, Bruce & Laing, Live 'n' Kickin'
The final contemporaneous album by the short-lived supergroup (Mountain's Leslie West and Corky Laing, Cream's Jack Bruce) was, appropriately, a live one that not surprisingly spotlights the trio's instrumental skills. Among its (just) four songs are an epic cover of the Rolling Stones' "Play With Fire" and the unreleased original "Powerhouse Sod," a Bruce showcase that he'd previously played with other bands.

 

Frank Zappa and the Mothers, Roxy & Elsewhere
Most of the tracks here came from a three-show December 1973 stand at the Roxy Theatre in Hollywood, with additional songs coming from Chicago and Edinboro, Pa., and in some cases pieced together with elements from the different performances. The Mothers' alchemy of quirky and virtuosity is fully on display, and the closing, side-long "Be-Bop Tango (Of the Old Jazzmen's Church)" is offers 17 minutes of psychedelic cosmic slop before it fell out of favor.

Top 100 Live Albums

These are more than just concert souvenirs or stage documents from that awesome show you saw last summer.

Gallery Credit: UCR Staff

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