This coming Saturday will be the anniversary of the legendary Rooftop Concert by The Beatles in 1969. To mark the event please help us count down 10 of the most important and significant live performances of all time:
10: Live Aid Charity Concert – Wembley Stadium, 13th July 1985
Organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, the concerts were a continuation of the fund raising efforts of the pair which had started the previous Christmas with the charity single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?‘. The event’s aim was to raise money for those affected by a large-scale famine which had hit parts of northern Africa, in particular Ethiopia. The two main Live Aid concerts took place at Wembley Stadium, London and the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, with other smaller events also taking place throughout Europe and in Australia. Kicking off in London at 12:00 (bst), the concerts lasted for over 16 hours, with many of the biggest stars in music at the time taking part. In London, Status Quo kicked the event off, and were followed by acts such as U2, Queen, David Bowie and Paul McCartney. The day’s events have perhaps become the most famous musical concert in history, and began a trend of musicians launching projects in aid of charity efforts. The day wasn’t just about the message however; many great performances were delivered by the acts, and an industry poll in 2005 voted Queen’s appearance at the event as the
‘greatest live performance ever’.
9: Bob Dylan – Newport Folk Festival, 25th July 1965
The moment when he was accused of abandoning his folk roots, this was the gig when Dylan ‘went electric’. Dylan had always been reluctant to be associated with any particular movement or genre, and had kept his plans to move away from his folk roots a secret from the public until he walked on stage that summer’s evening. Electric music had been played at the festival before, and it was The Butterfield Band, a group who had done just that the day before Dylan’s headline spot, whom he quietly rehearsed with before the show. Just a few seconds into his first song of the gig, ‘Maggie’s Farm’, booing was heard from the crowd and after the third track, ‘Phantom Engineer‘, Dylan and his backing band left the stage, to a mix of booing and clapping. He did return to play a short acoustic set, but for many the bridges had already been burnt. Since then, there has been many differing opinions as to why the crowd booed Dylan that day. The widely accepted view is that they were booing someone they felt was selling-out – abandoning the unique qualities of folk music for the sound which had been made hugely popular by acts such as Elvis Presley and The Beatles. They felt their man was turning his back on them. Others simply put the booing down to a reaction to sound problems, and the fact that Dylan had left the stage prematurely. Whatever the truth is, the events at that year’s festival has made Dylan’s headline performance at the ’65 Newport Festival one of the most talked about and controversial in rock & roll history.
8: Elvis Presley – ’68 Comeback Special, aired 9th December 1968
Originally intended by Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker to be a broadcast of Elvis singing Christmas songs, the idea was quickly seized on as an opportunity to re-ignite Elvis’ career after a string of disappointing movies and recordings throughout the Sixties. Originally apprehensive about the performances, which were his first live appearances since 1961, Elvis delivered his tracks with a degree of passion, showmanship and charisma which made a mockery of those who had written him off as a genuine music star. His mix of hits, gospel tracks and new material were filmed in two segments on the 27th and 30th June 1968 and despite the nerves, the broadcast shows Elvis in a relaxed but focused mood amongst the intimate crowd. The performance reminded the world of what a unique star Elvis was and it became a landmark gig for the singer. Over 42 percent of the viewing audience in America watched the show, and his career was instantly re-ignited. He went on to enjoy record-breaking tours of the US, and once again found huge success in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. The ’68 Comeback special captures one of the all-time greats with something to prove, and the result is spell-binding.
7: The Who – Live At Leeds, 14th February 1970
Lacking the cultural significance of many of the other gigs on this list, this performance is nevertheless quite
simply the benchmark by which all other rock concerts should be judged. A blistering celebration of rock & roll, The Who – Live At Leeds captures possibly the best live band ever at their absolute peak. When they took to the stage at Leeds University in February 1970, The Who had everything a rock band could wish for: an effortlessly talented bassist in John Entwhistle, one of the most charismatic and gifted lead guitarists in Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, a natural front man with an amazing vocal ability, and of course driving them all on was the tireless, manic, ruthless drumming of Keith Moon. After a long world tour to promote their first rock opera ‘Tommy’, The Who scheduled two dates in Yorkshire, one in Leeds and one in Hull, for the purpose of recording a live album to mark the end of the tour. With a brilliant rendition of their single ‘Substitute‘, a clutch of excellent covers, and of course, a near 15 minute version of ‘My Generation‘, the resultant recording is not just the greatest live album of them all, but captures one of the greatest shows by any band, ever.
6: Oasis – Knebworth, 10th/11th August 1996
The gigs which defined Britpop, and crowned Oasis kings of the movement, this was the moment Oasis confirmed their status as the most popular British band since The Beatles. Over two nights in August 1996, the 250,000-plus people who were the lucky two million or so to get tickets payed homage to a band which was at it’s zenith. The two nights at Knebworth were a culmination of the phenomenal rise Oasis had enjoyed following the release of their second album ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory‘ and their huge world-wide hit ‘Wonderwall’. For a short time, they were the biggest band in the world, and these two nights captured a band and an army of fans who truly represented all that is great about rock & roll. The significance of the gig was lost on no-one, and was summed up perfectly by Noel Gallagher as he strode on to the stage on the second night and declared “This is history!”
5: The Beatles – Apple Rooftop, 30th January 1969
Looking for a suitable way to end their Let It Be documentary, it was finally decided that The Beatles should perform their new songs on the roof of their increasingly troubled Apple venture. The Let It Be project, which McCartney had hoped would document the band rehearsing their new material in preparation for a live broadcast, had in fact simply captured a band close to the end, engaging in petty arguments and disagreements. The live broadcast was shelved, and the documentary was instead released as a feature film. The huge positive which came out of the project however was undoubtedly The Rooftop Concert, which is now one of the most iconic moments in The Beatles’ eventful career. It was the first time the four members had performed a genuine concert publicly for nearly five years, having abandoned live music to concentrate on their studio work. The group caused a sensation on the streets below as they played ‘Get Back’, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’, ‘One After 909‘ and ‘I Dig a Pony‘, before being stopped by the police. As the police broke the concert up, Lennon ended the show with the famous line: “I’d like to say ‘thank you’ on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition!” Not long after The Beatles’ split was confirmed, but this gig proved to be a fitting end for such an important band, and added another brilliant chapter to the group’s unrivalled story.
4: Nirvana – MTV Unplugged, 18th November 1993
MTV’s Unplugged series had been running for four years and had featured artists such as Paul McCartney, R.E.M and Pearl Jam by 1993, but when the company finally signed Nirvana to appear on the show that year, they set the wheels in motion for one of the most intense performances ever recorded and one which would over-shadow anyone who has appeared on the show before or since. From the first rehearsals, it was clear to everyone that Nirvana’s appearance wouldn’t be a typical Unplugged concert. From the choice of little known band The Meat Puppets as guests, to the make-up of the set-list which omitted many of Nirvana’s most recognisable tracks, this was always going to be a unique gig. The mood of the show was set when Cobain requested that the stage be designed to look like a funeral, and Cobain’s haunting, stirring performance matched the decor perfectly and had the audience captivated from the start. Brilliant covers of tracks such as David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World‘ as well as ‘Oh, Me‘ and ‘Lake Of Fire’ with The Meat Puppets, alongside superb versions of some of their lesser known tracks such as ‘About a Girl’ were highlights, while the incredible renditions of ‘All Apologies‘ and ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night‘, which closed the set, were about as near as perfect as the band could get – so much so that Cobain refused to return to the stage for a planned encore. Just four months later, the tone and set-up of the gig became even more poignant when news broke of Kurt Cobain’s suicide and this phenomenal gig would help to cement the legend of his band, which is now seen as one of the most significant of the last twenty five years.
3: Sex Pistols – Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall, 4th June 1976
A gig organised by Manchester group the Buzzcocks, they would be over-shadowed by the little-known London band they had booked to support them. In the end, the Buzzcocks didn’t appear at their concert, but it didn’t matter – the Sex Pistols had signalled the arrival of punk all by themselves. That night, the small upstairs room usually used for public debates at once became one of the most legendary venues in British music. Playing to a room barely half full, by the end of the set the Sex Pistols had changed the lives of the audience, some of whom would go on to become hugely successful figures in their own right. The myths that now surround the gig means it is debated as to who was actually there, but most people agree that in the crowd that night were Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook – soon to be the main players in Joy Division and later New Order. Also there was Tony Wilson, the man who signed Joy Division to his Factory label, and who would help to shape the musical landscape in the coming years thanks to his work with Factory and the Hacienda nightclub. Morrissey, who of course would later form The Smiths, was also in attendance. Despite the myths and uncertainties surrounding the performance, there’s no question that this one gig, this one performance, cemented the direction of British music for two decades. Not bad for less than an hour’s work.
2: Jimi Hendrix – Woodstock Festival, 18th August 1969
Jimi Hendrix’s closing performance in the early hours of Monday, 18th August at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair has gone down as one of the greatest performances ever. After bad weather and logistical problems had delayed the start of his performance, Hendrix eventually took to the stage in front of a crowd which had diminished from around 500,000 to roughly 180,000. Hendrix introduced his band as the Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, before beginning the longest set of his career. Hendrix would play at a ferocious pace which his band struggled to keep up with and the stunning performance was rounded of with his now seminal rendition of the ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’. Woodstock is seen as the culmination of the radical changes in society and culture in the 1960s and Hendrix’s performance of ‘The Star- Spangled Banner’ is said to be a symbol to represent the passing of the radical 1960s era. His amazing musicianship at the Woodstock Festival has ensured he is now forever synonymous with one of the most enduring musical occasions in history – one of the greatest performances at one of the greatest events.
1: The Beatles – Live On The Ed Sullivan Show, 9th February 1964
By February 1964, the Beatlemania craze which had gripped Britain and Europe had arrived in the United States following the release of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand‘ in the US in December 1963 and so, when The Beatles touched down at JFK Airport in February 1964 to begin their first North American tour, over three thousand screaming fans were there to welcome them. On February 9th, they made their debut on US television on the Ed Sullivan Show – and changed pop culture forever.
Over 50,000 people were reported to have applied for tickets for The Ed Sullivan Show that Sunday night, and the excitement that swept America is perfectly captured in the frenzy in the theatre that greets their performance. They opened the show with ‘All My Loving’, ‘Till There Was You‘ and ‘She Loves You‘, before returning to finish the broadcast with ‘I Saw Her Standing There‘ and the track that had made them stars in America – ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand‘.
On The Beatles’ Anthology series, Paul McCartney remembered the event, saying:
“It was very important. We came out of nowhere with funny hair, looking like marionettes or something. That was very influential. I think that was really one of the big things that broke us – the hairdo more than the music, originally. A lot of people’s father shad wanted to turn us off. They told their kids, ‘Don’t be fooled, they’re wearing wigs.’ A lot of fathers did turn it off, but a lot of mothers and children made them keep it on. All these kids are now grown-up, and telling us they remember it. It’s like, ‘Where were you when Kennedy was shot?’ I get people like Dan Aykroyd saying, ‘Oh man, I remember that Sunday night; we didn’t know what had hit us – just sitting there watching Ed Sullivan’s show.’ Up until then there were jugglers and comedians like Jerry Lewis, and then, suddenly, The Beatles!”
A reported 73 million people watched, the British Invasion had begun, and The Beatles had swiftly confirmed themselves as the most influential band of all time – the world would never be the same.
What do you think? Which gig do you think was the best, most significant in history?
Which should have been included in the list? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.