10 Great Classic Rock Live Bootlegs

Share This:
The Who Toronto

The Who in Toronto, 1975

Few listening experiences can be as flat-out exciting, illuminating and even inspiring as sitting down with a recording of a favorite classic rock band that, hours before, you hadn’t known existed. We’re talking the best rock bootlegs, material that hasn’t gained official release, which sometimes very much deserves to, but which you can often find with a little diligence on the Internet. Or at a good used record store.

Most bootlegs are of the live variety. There have been some doozies of studio material – the Beatles’ Ultra Rare Trax set in the late 1980s was a game-changer in terms of blowing minds as to what was sitting in record label vaults – but since you’re more apt to encounter in-concert material, that’s what we’re going to focus on in a list of ten live bootlegs that number amongst the best of the best.

[One not listed here is Paul McCartney & Wings’ 1974 One Hand Clapping. The live-in-the-studio recording at London’s Abbey Road is finally receiving a proper release in 2024. Pre-order is available in the U.S. here and in the U.K. here.]

10) The Byrds: Live in Stockholm (1967)
If you think of the Byrds as a top live act, you’re probably talking 1970s-era Byrds, when guitar virtuoso Clarence White had given the band an eleventh hour jolt of intensity. But here we find them in Sweden for a 1967 radio session, in excellent fidelity, and in contemplative mood, with the most ruminative version of “He Was a Friend of Mine” you’ll ever hear. You wouldn’t expect Roger (née Jim) McGuinn’s twelve-string guitar to work as well as it does on something like their cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” but, man, does this Rhythm & Blues profit by a bit of jangle.

9) Cream: The Real One  (1967)

Conceivably the best Cream recording there is. Quite a few bands had some of their top live moments in Detroit, and Cream was no different with this fall 1967 Grande Ballroom set. The excess that would plague their 1968 shows is not in evidence here; what is, rather, is the power trio as ultimate rock and roll conflagration. These guys simply, burn. Jack Bruce’s bass occupies as much foreground as Eric Clapton’s blues-heated licks, and Ginger Baker was never more “on.” Demands to be cranked.

8) The Animals: The Deluxe BBC Files (1964-’65)

Mention mid-Sixties BBC recordings, and you think Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, but seldom the Animals. Damn shame. For Eric Burdon & Co. excelled at the Beeb, which is fortunate, as the prime Animals line-ups from the glory 1964-1966 period never left us a clean live recording outside of a mini-set from the NME Poll Winners Concert in 1965. Hilton Valentine was a far better guitarist than anyone even seems to mention, and you can hear his skill on display throughout, but nothing may be more, well, Animals-y in the entire Animals canon than their cover of “Work Song.” As intense as a Howlin’ Wolf number by way of the Parchman Farm.

7) Pink Floyd: Star Club Phyco (1967)

This is the stuff: a September 1967 audience record in loud, crunchy, aggressive sound with Syd Barrett leading the band. Audience recordings can be tricky if you’re not used to them—the ear needs some time to adjust. But once you settle in, this is one that will get queued up regularly. This Star Club is in Copenhagen, so it’s not the one the Beatles and Jerry Lee Lewis did their respective things at, but for the way the Floyd sound, we might as well be communing at some gig on Neptune. Lots of guitar distortion used for favorable melodic effect.

6) The Kinks: Top of the Rocks  (1970)

Live, the Kinks could be something of a slopfest, but on those occasions when songs, setting, group dynamic and the relationship of the Davies brothers meshed, they were one compelling performing combo. As evidence: this 1970 Fillmore West show with rare material like “Last of the Steam-Powered Trains,” a deliciously boozier-than-usual version of “Sunny Afternoon” – the best ever song about being screwed over and coping with swagger and a beer on a hot day – and what one might stump for as the finest live version of “Waterloo Sunset,” a song which one might also stump for as the most beautiful in the English language.

If you’re a new Best Classic Bands reader, we’d be grateful if you would Like our Facebook page and/or bookmark our Home page.

5) Rolling Stones: Rocks Off  (1973)

There are a multitude of wonderful Stones boots from the ’69-’73 apex era, but this Perth show from late February 1973 has always been underappreciated. The Stones would falter in the studio for a bunch of years going forward, but the in-concert twin-guitar attack of Keith Richards and Mick Taylor never worked better. I’d contend that Taylor was the best musician the Stones ever had. This one recording alone is quite the dossier for that argument. A prime candidate for the band’s From The Vaults series.

4) The Beatles: Live in Paris 1965

The Beatles did exactly one post-fame encore in their career, and it happened in Paris in June 1965. There is less screaming at the two shows, Parisians conducting themselves rather differently than American teenyboppers, apparently, and the Beatles buff has to love this setlist, a mix of the early ravers and the more introspective Beatles For Sale numbers. Lennon busts out the harmonica for “I’m a Loser,” which would not make it into the rotation for the American tour later in the year. Paul McCartney’s “Long Tall Sally” vocal may top that of the studio version. You listen to the afternoon performance here, and you think, “My, how he loved to sing that song.”

3) Jimi Hendrix: Live at the Los Angeles Forum 4-25-70

[Ed.: Well, well, well… since this story was first published, the epic concert was officially released in 2022.] Hendrix doesn’t lack for mind-blowing bootleg recordings, but this is the one that could roll up its sleeves and drop even the likes of Are You Experienced in a fight. Hendrix’s sonic architecture has the sophistication of Bachian fugues, and once you’ve listened to the set straight through, you want to reprise the experience again and again, to ponder and to study just what is going on here. A great musical achievement, a great artistic achievement, a great human achievement in cuts like “Hear My Train A-Comin’.”

2) Bob Dylan: A Nightly Ritual  (1966)

You probably know about Dylan’s famous May 1966 show at the Manchester Free Trade Hall when a heckler called him Judas, prompting one of musical history’s finest retorts. But dig this: this Liverpool show from the same tour is even better. Listen to it, and you may find yourself assessing what Dylan’s top recording was. How it took so long to gain official release is mind-boggling but it’s finally available on the massive The 1966 Live Recordings box set from 2016. The Hawks – the unit that was later to christen themselves the Band – play as well as Dylan sings. Ultimate rock ‘n’ roll symbiosis.

Related: Dylan’s 1966 concerts were released in a 36-CD set

1) The Who: Toronto 1975

An audience recording, but one of such quality to encroach upon soundboard territory. More importantly: a Who show that might surpass Live at Leeds. People forget that the band had an in-concert rebirth in 1975, knocking out some of their finest shows, with Keith Moon returning to his drumming level of 1969-1971. The Who loved Toronto: they played another fine date there the next year, for what would be Keith Moon’s final North American show. We are talking the best live act in rock ‘n’ roll, and were this one to come out, you wouldn’t have a tough time finding listeners who thought, yeah, that is the live album of live albums, hot damn.

Related: Listings for 100s of classic rock tours

Colin Fleming

17 Comments so far

Jump into a conversation
  1. Litsi
    #1 Litsi 28 August, 2016, 21:23

    “The Cream” were one of the first hard rock bands I was exposed to and I became a huge fan of the band along with Clapton and Bruce (never really followed Baker much other than Blind Faith). I am thoroughly enjoying this bootleg… I also thoroughly enjoyed their performance at Royal Albert Hall a few years back. So sad that Bruce has passed. But the music lives on – and still rocks!!

    Reply this comment
  2. Guy Smiley
    #2 Guy Smiley 15 January, 2017, 00:13

    Not a single Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, Zeppelin, or Springsteen show on this list?? Very surprising.

    In a way, I like that since I am not familiar with any of the shows listed here, I will have to seek some of these out!

    The Dylan show is part of that new, official box set now, but I won’t be dropping that kind of money on all those shows. Seeking out the one Liverpool show might be worth it though.

    Reply this comment
    • Billy K.
      Billy K. 7 February, 2018, 11:04

      The Dead bootleg recordings are an industry by itself. Surprised, too, that there are no Zep or Boss recordings on this list.

      Had no clue about the Allman bootleg situation…..but it would make sense that they had a few good shows recorded.

      Reply this comment
  3. FalseProphet
    #3 FalseProphet 18 January, 2017, 04:20

    6/21/77 listen to this eddie zeppelin live at the Forum in LA the Mike Millard tape

    Reply this comment
    • Jeff Tamarkin
      Jeff Tamarkin 19 January, 2017, 14:34

      Eddie Zeppelin? We’re not quite sure what your comment is about.

      Reply this comment
      • zuefreak
        zuefreak 4 February, 2017, 03:28

        “Listen To This Eddie” is the name of a Led Zeppelin bootleg, considered one of the best from their ’77 tour for both the performance and the outstanding sound quality. The “Eddie” is supposedly a reference to Eddie Van Halen, who had recently criticized Jimmy Page’s guitar playing, though some think it’s a reference to sound engineer Eddie Kramer, implying that he would be impressed with the virtues of the recording.

        Reply this comment
  4. Billy K.
    #4 Billy K. 7 February, 2018, 11:20

    A few others to mention…..there was a recording of Carl Wilson’s solo tour, and I think it was in New York. Great version of Sam and Dave’s “I thank You” on the encore.

    There’s a Chicago concert tape, with excellent sound quality…..done right before the “Hot Streets” album…..did the title track, and “Alive Again”….you can feel the tension in the air….first show since the passing of Terry Kath.

    Bloodrock—-which was around in the early 70s——also had a good bootleg concert tape. Not really a fan of these guys, personally……but a really solid dose of hard rock.

    Reply this comment
  5. Ping Pong Bob
    #5 Ping Pong Bob 23 March, 2020, 07:56

    Does anyone know if the Cream Grande show is from radio, or taped from audience by Jim McCarty of Detroit Wheels&Cactus?

    Reply this comment
  6. trailermonkey
    #6 trailermonkey 2 December, 2020, 10:46

    I jumped off the floor reading this! I yelled PERTH! That live Stones show is my favorite thing ever in the history of the whole insane thing! Honestly…it’s a great show. My wife feels like I may be able to move on now. Now that Perth has been confirmed as enjoyable. Maybe I’ll get a hobby…and get more stuff. Stuff sucks.

    Reply this comment
  7. Michael
    #7 Michael 9 August, 2021, 00:42

    I’ll mention a few I know of that are incredible on their own terms, and reasonably well-known. Little Feat’s ‘Electrif Lycanthrope’ is a stunner; the Band’s “Along the Endless Highway”, recorded a couple of days after Watkins Glen; the full Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concerts (both nights, early and late shows). The Who’s Next Sessions is a gem, as well.

    Reply this comment
  8. Echo
    #8 Echo 9 August, 2021, 01:45

    Classics, like me! I thoroughly enjoy these emails. My generation most certainly put out the best MUSIC, hands down. I steal time to listen to every nuance you provide. Super thanks!!!✌

    Reply this comment
  9. jean
    #9 jean 9 August, 2021, 04:06

    I was there, at the Palais des sports in Paris, that June afternoon, a few months before my twenty…..
    And you know what? The Beatles, they moved !!

    Reply this comment
  10. Mick
    #10 Mick 9 August, 2021, 09:36

    Don’t forget Chicago (Transit Authority) at Tanglewood in 70? 25 or 6 to 4. Terry Kath’s guitar is otherworldly to say the least.

    Reply this comment
  11. The Vault
    #11 The Vault 16 August, 2021, 16:32

    Gotta be ZEP-Winterland San Fran. 4/25-26/1969 Page’s axe is from another world!!!!

    Reply this comment
  12. Nocturn
    #12 Nocturn 28 February, 2023, 10:39

    Mick Taylor is a very good musician, but the best musician to ever play with the Stones? You seem to have forgotten Chuck Leavell….

    Reply this comment
  13. v2787
    #13 v2787 12 May, 2024, 12:53

    1. Paul McCartney really did love to song that song. It’s quite obvious that he was having a great time.
    2. George Harrison was a mediocre lead player in those early days. He got much better, obviously, and he also became a wonderful slide player later on. I came to love his later work. However, I’ve always felt that his crude, rudimentary lead breaks on those early recordings were somehow a bit detrimental to the Beatles’ otherwise fabulous songs. To me he always sounded like some guy in a garage band in those early days.
    3. What singers those guys were! To have two world-class singers like Lennon and McCartney, and then to have two pretty unique voices like Harrison and Starr, was amazing. The vocals of the Beatles were simply astounding, particularly for that era of music. No wonder the music has held up for decades: with those songs and those voices, how could it not?

    Reply this comment
  14. ROBERT
    #14 ROBERT 12 May, 2024, 17:51

    The Beatles “Stars of 63” from Stockholm in October 1963 is great.

    Reply this comment

Your data will be safe!Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.