Deep Cuts

Deep Cuts: Live Tracks Better Than Their Studio Cousins

My daughter can’t stand live recordings of her favorite songs. For her, it’s studio versions or bust.

If that was an issue of audio fidelity I guess I’d get it. I own a lot of bootlegs, after all, and some of them sound atrocious. Heck, you don’t even have to be a bootleg collector to experience that–just go to YouTube, where cellphone videos of concerts abound.

Sound isn’t my daughter’s biggest guarrel with live takes, though. Her beef is that live tracks usually stray from their studio counterparts, and in my daughter’s estimation the studio version is the song. “Why do they have to mess it up? Just play it the way it is on the record,” she’ll say.

Sometimes that’s true. While I’m a firm believer that music is what happens in a given moment, I’d be pretty disappointed if I paid fat money for a Led Zeppelin reunion and in exchange I heard a reggae version of “Stairway To Heaven.”

But sometimes it’s demonstrably false. Legend has it that none of the Grateful Dead’s studio albums capture the band’s magic, for example, and while I love all of Jane’s Addiction’s studio albums I personally can attest that none of them come close to what that band could (and can) do on a good night. Sometimes the live version version of a song is far superior to the studio version.

Below are some of my favorite examples of the live version blowing away the studio version. It’s no mistake that each of these is from the golden age of live albums, which coincided with the golden age of studio self indulgence. Some of these songs were simply beaten to death in the studio, overproduced until no emotion remained. Their live counterparts, on the other hand, rise to the level of goosebump music.


“Maybe I’m Amazed,” Wings.

“Lines On My Face,” Peter Frampton.

“Freebird,” Lynyrd Skynyrd.

“Won’t Get Fooled Again,” The Who.

“Let Me Sleep Beside You,” David Bowie.

“Lola,” The Kinks.

“Slow Ride,” Foghat.

“Jennifer,” Bert Sommer.

There you have it: Eight iconic live performances far better than their studio counterparts. What did I miss? I’m listening.

2 replies »

  1. “Great White Buffalo” – Ted Nugent
    “Coming Up” – Paul McCartney
    “Rock and Roll Al Nite” – KISS
    “Psycho Killer” – Talking Heads
    “Show Me the Way”- Peter Frampton


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