Written by Emilee Lindner • Photography by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images • February 24, 2017
Mariah Carey’s MTV Unplugged, recorded at New York’s Kaufman Astoria Studios, was the result of critics’ questions about the diva’s ability to sing live. And boy, they sure didn't know what they were in for! Following her first two albums, Carey’s Unplugged had her belting out her No. 1 songs (with an incredible back-up section) and adding more to the fire. Her cover of The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” not only went to No. 1 after the live album’s release; it was nominated for two Grammys. The LP, with favorites like “Emotions,” “Someday” and “Vision of Love,” went quadruple platinum. Watch Mariah Carey's live experience when she goes on tour with Lionel Richie this spring: get your tickets.
As Adele’s star rose higher and higher after the release of her sophomore album, 21, the singer released a live album that would become just as iconic as her studio efforts. Live at the Royal Albert Hall was recorded during the London stop of her Adele Live tour in 2011. The album’s performance of “Set Fire to the Rain” earned Adele a Grammy (to put with her collection) for Best Pop Solo Performance in 2013. The 90-minute set includes cuts off 19 and 21, and covers of Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me,” The SteelDrivers' "If It Hadn't Been for Love,” and, of course, her rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.”
Lady Gaga dubbed her 2011 Monster Ball Tour as the “first-ever 'pop electro opera,” so when you dig into her live recording of the event at Madison Square Garden, get ready for a production. When the concert footage aired, it garnered 1.2 million viewers and five Emmy nominations, winning one. The setlist supported her first two albums, The Fame and The Fame Monster, and the show had a New York City theme, detailing a journey where she gets lost with her friends on their way to the ficticious Monster Ball. Although the Monster Ball is meant to be watched, Gaga’s best hits make it on the DVD, so it’s always a good option to pop on. Tickets for Lady Gaga's Joanne Tour are available now, so get those badboys!
All One Direction live releases are worth a listen, just to get a taste of the spectacle and phenomenon, but their first live video album will always have special spot in the hearts of Directioners. The setlist for the show, recorded in Bournemouth, U.K., featured nearly all of their debut album, along with a bevy of covers, perhaps most notably, Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody.” The concert is a delightful reminder of the boy band’s fresh beginnings before becoming one of the biggest pop acts in the world.
Katy Perry took the MTV Unplugged challenge seriously when she was asked to strip down her pop tunes for a live album in 2009. She made over the novelty hit, “I Kissed A Girl,” into a jazz tune, and added big brass to “Ur So Gay.” She even did a cover—of Fountains of Wayne’s “Hackensack,” no less. Without the gloss of heavy production, Perry was able to let her natural voice shine and give more personality to her songs.
Daryl Hall and John Oates got some legendary help when it came time to record their appearance at The Apollo Theater in 1985. The duo brought along The Temptations’ David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, who commandeered the first 13 minutes of the LP with a medley of their hits. The show flows into Sam & Dave’s “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby," and then the rest of the album is dedicated to Hall & Oates’ pop tunes: “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” “One and One,” “Adult Education,” and more.
A true collaborative EP, George Michael and Queen teamed up with Lisa Stansfield for Five Live, which, quite literally, is five songs recorded live at Wembley Stadium. Queen’s studio version of “Dear Friends” is tacked onto the end too. The project, released in 1993, benefitted the Mercury Phoenix Trust to fund AIDS awareness and had quite the eclectic track list. Some of the songs are Queen’s, but others belong to Adamski, The Temptations and the soundtrack to Bagdad Cafe. Catch Queen on tour this summer with Adam Lambert: grab your tickets now!
After the incredible success of Surfacing, how could Sarah McLachlan not release a live album? In 1999, the adult contemporary mainstay graced fans with a live album full of cuts recorded during her Surfacing Tour, including favorites like, “Adia,” “Angel” and “I Will Remember You”—the latter earned McLachlan a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2000. With a pulsing electric guitar, reverbed vocal harmonies and the glistening piano McLachlan’s known for, this live album is haunting, spacious, emotional, and, yeah, fun, too.
All the tracks from Carly Simon’s Greatest Hits Live were taken from a concert at Martha’s Vineyard, which seems like the perfect setting to be singing hits like “Nobody Does It Better” and “You’re So Vain.” The footage from the show went on to make a 1987 HBO special, while the audio was put together for the CD, which went platinum a few years later. The album’s mixing has that easy-breezy feeling, giving you the illusion that you’re chilling at the New England vacation spot, singing along to nostalgic classics.
Panic! at the Disco has always been about the theatrical aesthetic, with a twisted edge, so why wouldn’t you see them live? If you missed Panic! at the Disco back in the day, it’s OK, because their Live in Chicago will give you a taste of what Brendon Urie and co. were like in 2009. The live LP is full of songs—18 to be exact—from 2005’s A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out and 2008’s Pretty. Odd. The set was recorded at the Chicago stop on the Honda Civic Tour and, of course, “Nine in the Afternoon” and “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” make the cut. Panic! at the Disco are on tour now—get your tickets.
Looking for more great live albums? Check out these 10 essential live rock albums.
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