Top 10 Live Hit Songs

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10. Jackson Browne - "The Load-Out / Stay" (1978)

Jackson Browne The Load-Out Stay
Jackson Browne - "The Load-Out / Stay". Courtesy Asylum

Music recorded live in concert has been a significant part of pop music for over 40 years. While live songs in the pop top 40 are relatively rare, many of those that have appeared have become true classics. The following are 10 of the best.

A special mention should be made of Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk," recorded live but not in front of a concert audience, and Elton John's fake live recording of "Bennie and the Jets."

The combination of the composition "The Load Out" with the Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs classic "Stay" formed the finale to Jackson Browne's Running on Empty, a concept album about life on a concert tour which featured a number of live recordings. "The Load-Out" is a heartfelt tribute to the roadies who set up and take down the stage set for concert performers. "Stay" functions as an encore.

The two songs were played together by most radio stations as a medley even though they were not released together on a single originally. The song "Rosie" was the original B-side to the "Stay" single. The medley ultimately peaked at #20 on the pop singles chart.

Maurice Williams wrote "Stay" when he was only 15 years old. He was trying to convince a date not to go home at 10 p.m. Instead, he wanted her to break the rules set out by her parents. "Stay" was recorded for a demo in 1960 and no one cared much for it until a 10-year-old child had a positive reaction to the song. The Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs version of "Stay" carries the unique distinction of being the shortest single ever to hit #1 running only one minuted and 36 seconds long.

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9. Peter Frampton - "Show Me the Way" (1976)

Peter Frampton Show Me the Way
Peter Frampton - "Show Me the Way". Courtesy A&M

Peter Frampton was a journeyman rock musician who had failed to make a serious breakthrough in U.S. record sales in the mid 1970s until he put together a double album of his well-received live shows. The result was Frampton Comes Alive, and it eventually became one of the biggest selling live albums of all time. It generated 3 hit singles, spent ten weeks at #1 and sold over six million copies in the US alone. "Show Me the Way" was originally a single released from the studio album Frampton in 1975, but it made little chart impact. The live version of "Show Me the Way" became a classic and went all the way to #6 on the pop chart.

"Show Me the Way" includes the talk box, one of Peter Frampton's signature sounds. The device directs sound from an instrument like a guitar into the singer's mouth and then the sound is modulated by the shape of the mouth and picked up by the microphone. Peter Frampton later went on to sell his own version of the talk box.

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8. Eric Clapton - "Layla (Acoustic)" (1992)

Eric Clapton Layla Acoustic
Eric Clapton - "Layla (Acoustic)". Courtesy Reprise

"Layla" in its original form is a true rock classic. Co-written by Eric Clapton and drummer Jim Gordon, "Layla" was inspired by a 7th century Arabian love story that was used in The Story of Layla and Majnun by Nizami Ganjavi, a Persian poet of the 12th century. "Layla" was first released by Eric Clapton under the band name Derek and the Dominos in 1971. It hit the top 10 on the US pop chart in 1972. Impressively, Eric Clapton completely reworked the song for the intimate setting of MTV Unplugged. The new arrangement was created with rhythm guitarist Andy Fairweather Low. Other musicians included former Allman Brothers Band member Chuck Leavell on piano and frequent Elton John band member Ray Cooper on percussion. Eric Clapton's performance is masterful and was well received by an appreciative audience. Released as a single in 1992, the acoustic version of "Layla" climbed to #12 on the pop chart and hit the top 10 at rock radio in the US.

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7. Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Free Bird" (1976)

Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird
Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Freebird". Courtesy MCA

"Free Bird" has become such a symbol of live rock that it is an overworked butt of jokes in some quarters. However, it remains a high-water mark for southern rock, and Lynyrd Skynyrd at their peak were a legendary live band. Some claim that "Free Bird" is the most requested rock song of all time. Guitar World magazine listed "Free Bird" as having the third best guitar solo of all time. "Free Bird" hit the pop top 20 in its studio version included on the band's debut album along with their rock radio classic "Simple Man." It returned to the top 40 in its live incarnation released as a single off the album One More From the Road peaking at #38. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Rolling Stone both list "Free Bird" as one of the top 500 songs of all time.

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6. Alicia Keys - "Unbreakable (Unplugged)" (2005)

Alicia Keys Unbreakable Unplugged
Alicia Keys - "Unbreakable (Unplugged)". Courtesy J Records

Alicia Keys brought back Unplugged, the MTV celebration of live acoustic music, in 2005 with her own Unplugged album. One highlight of her performance was this powerful new song. It was co-written with Kanye West and includes a sample from Eddie Kendricks' song "Intimate Friends." "Unbreakable" only climbed to #34 on the pop singles chart, but it was a top 5 R&B hit. It also earned two Grammy Award nominations including for Best R&B Song. A distinctive element of the song is the name-dropping of real-life famous couples like Oprah Winfrey and Stedman Graham, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, and Joe and Katherine Jackson in addition to the fictional couple Florida and James Evans to illustrate stability in relationships. "Unbreakable" was originally written for the album The Diary of Alicia Keys and left out of the project.

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5. Paul McCartney and Wings - "Coming Up (Live In Glasgow)" (1980)

Paul McCartney Coming Up
Paul McCartney - "Coming Up". Courtesy Columbia

This version of Paul McCartney's "Coming Up" was originally the B-side to the studio version. However, the live version was much looser and relaxed in sound than the original. Pop radio programming quickly placed the live take into their playlists and the song became a #1 pop smash spending three full weeks at the top. John Lennon gave the song credit for helping lure him out of retirement. The original studio version of "Coming Up" is included on the solo album McCartney II. It includes sped up vocals created using a variable speed tape machine. A different live recording of "Coming Up" was included on the benefit album Concerts for the People of Kampuchea.

The "Coming Up" music video is notable for featuring Paul McCartney in ten different roles and Linda McCartney in two. They form the band called the "Plastic Macs" in the video, a reference to John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band.

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4. Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up Pt. 1" (1977)

Marvin Gaye Got To Give It Up Pt. 1 + 2
Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up Pt. 1 + 2". Courtesy Tamla

Marvin Gaye's star had started to fade in the U.S. when a concert was recorded at the London Palladium in London, England in the fall of 1976. The result was a double live album, and the original 11-minute version of "Got To Give It Up" occupied the entire 4th side of the album. Label executives at Tamla Motown strongly encouraged Marvin Gaye to record disco which was rising in popularity. "Got To Give It Up" is his answer to those requests. It pleased disco audiences, but the sound is rooted more strongly in funk and soul. An edited version of this serious party vibe became a #1 pop smash. Michael Jackson has given the song credit for helping inspire his late 1970s work with his brothers and his solo recordings. In 2013, "Got To Give It Up" was the subject of a successful lawsuit claiming "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke committed plagiarism.

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3. Kiss - "Rock and Roll All Nite" (1975)

Kiss Rock and Roll All Nite
Kiss - "Rock and Roll All Nite". Courtesy Casablanca

It's hard to know what would have become of Kiss without "Rock and Roll All Nite." The song was written in response to demands by Casablanca Records' executive Neil Bogart that the band create a rock anthem. Kiss came up with "Rock and Roll All Nite" inspired by British band Slade's "Cum On Feel the Noize." The studio version released on the 1975 album Dressed To Kill had little commercial impact. However, the live version of "Rock and Roll All Nite" from the album Alive released later the same year became the band's first of 6 pop top 20 hits in the 1970's.

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2. Cheap Trick - "I Want You To Want Me" (1979)

Cheap Trick I Want You To Want Me
Cheap Trick - "I Want You To Want Me". Courtesy Epic

"I Want You to Want Me" was one of Cheap Trick's more ordinary songs from their In Color album. However, a perfect performance and a perfect Japanese audience at the Budokan theater turned this into a top 10 pop hit and one of the best loved live pop recordings of all time. The live recording of "I Want You To Want Me" is more uptempo than the studio version. Other artists have recorded live albums at the Budokan including Bob Dylan, but none match Cheap Trick's concert souvenir album. Band members have recollected that they first wrote and recorded "I Want You To Want Me" in an effort to do an over the top pop song. In 2012 Cheap Trick wrote and recorded a holiday interpretation of the song titled "I Want You For Christmas."

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1. Stevie Wonder - "Fingertips, Part 2" (1963)

Stevie Wonder Fingertips
Stevie Wonder - "Fingertips Part 1 & 2". Courtesy Tamla

In over 40 years the sheer exuberance and joyful chaos of Stevie Wonder's first hit single has never been matched. This recording comes from one of the Motown label's package performances of featured artists at the Regal Theatre in Chicago. Part 2 is mostly an unplanned encore by 12-year-old Stevie Wonder, and it also features a young Marvin Gaye on drums. It was the first live recording to reach #1 on the pop singles chart in the US in the rock and roll era when it went to the top in 1963. The original studio version of "Fingertips" was a jazz instrumental included on his first studio album The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie. After the success of the live recording of "Fingertips," Stevie Wonder's live album Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius hit the top of the album chart.