The 10 Greatest Gigs Of All Time – featuring The Beatles, Oasis, Nirvana and Elvis Presley

By Live4ever - Posted on 28 Jan 2010 at 1:43pm

This coming Saturday will be the anniversary of The Beatles‘ legendary Rooftop Concert in 1969. To mark the event, please help us count down ten of the most important and significant live performances of all time:

Beatles Rooftop Concert

10: Live Aid Charity Concert – Wembley Stadium, 13th July 1985

Organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, the Live Aid concerts were a continuation of the fund raising efforts started by the pair 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 in London and at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium, while other smaller events were held throughout Europe and Australia. Beginning in London at midday, the concerts lasted for over 16 hours, with many of the biggest stars of the era taking part. In London, Status Quo kicked proceedings off, and were followed by acts such as U2, Queen, David Bowie and Paul McCartney. The day’s exploits have perhaps informed 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, and an industry poll in 2005 voted Queen’s appearance at Live Aid as the ‘greatest live performance ever’.

9: Bob Dylan – Newport Folk Festival, 25th July 1965

The moment in which he was accused of abandoning his folk roots, this was the gig when Bob Dylan ‘went electric’. Dylan had always been a reluctant associate of any particular movement or genre, and had kept his plans to move away from folk a secret from the public until he walked on stage that summer’s evening in 1965. It should be noted electric music had been played at the festival before, indeed it was The Butterfield Band, a group who had done just that the day before Dylan’s headline spot, with whom he quietly rehearsed the controversial set before the show. Just a few seconds into the first song, ‘Maggie’s Farm’, booing was heard from the crowd, and after third track ‘Phantom Engineer‘, Dylan and his backing band left the stage to a mix of jeering 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 a section of the crowd reacted so negatively to Dylan that day. The widely accepted view is that they were attacking someone they felt was selling-out, someone who was abandoning the unique qualities of folk music for the rock n roll ideals 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 have helped to make 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 his manager ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker to be a broadcast of Elvis Presley performing Christmas songs, the idea of a nationwide TV special was quickly seized upon as an opportunity to re-ignite Elvis’ career after a string of underwhelming, poorly received movies and recordings which had plagued the sixties. Originally apprehensive about the live performance, which would be his first since 1961, Elvis delivered with a degree of passion, showmanship and charisma which made a mockery of those who had written off his credentials as a genuine music star. The mix of hits, gospel tracks and new material was 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 just what a unique talent they had on their hands, and became a landmark gig for the legendary singer. Over 42% of the viewing audience in America watched the show and as a result, Elvis’ career was instantly reignited. He went on to enjoy record-breaking tours of the US and bank-busting residencies in Las Vegas, and was once again enjoying 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 results are spell-binding.

7: The Who – Live At Leeds, 14th February 1970

While lacking the cultural significance of many of the other gigs featured 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 and roll, ‘The Who – Live At Leeds’ captures possibly the best live band to have ever plugged in an amp at their absolute peak. When they took to the stage at the Leeds Metropolitan University in February 1970, The Who had everything a band could wish for; an effortlessly talented, pulsing bassist in John Entwhistle, one of the most charismatic and gifted lead guitarists in Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, a natural frontman with an enviable vocal ability and of course, driving them all, the tireless, manic, ruthless drumming of Keith Moon. After a long world tour organised 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 its conclusion. With a brilliant rendition of their single ‘Substitute‘, a clutch of excellent covers and a near 15-minute version of ‘My Generation‘, the resultant recording is not just the greatest live album of them all, but one that captures in time one of the greatest live bands of them all at their absolute best.

6: Oasis – Knebworth, 10th/11th August 1996

The gigs which defined Britpop, and crowned Oasis as kings of the movement, this was the moment Liam, Noel, Bonehead, Guigsy and Whitey confirmed their all-too-fleeting 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 its zenith. Knebworth was a culmination of the phenomenal world-wide rise Oasis had enjoyed following the release of their second album ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?‘ and the huge global hit ‘Wonderwall’. For a short time, they were the biggest band in the world, and these two nights captured just what that meant to both the bandmates and their army of fans, still in touch with their adidas-clad heroes and still truly representing all that is great about rock and 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 – Rooftop Of Apple Offices, 30th January 1969

Looking for a suitable way to end their ultimately doomed Let It Be documentary, it was finally decided that The Beatles should perform some new songs on the office roof of their increasingly troubled Apple venture. The Let It Be project, which Paul McCartney had hoped would document the Fab Four rehearsing new material in preparation for a unique live broadcast, had in fact only captured a band close to the end – engaging in constant petty arguments and disagreements. The live broadcast was shelved, and the documentary was instead released as a soon forgotten feature film. The huge positive which came out of the project however was undoubtedly the famed ‘Rooftop Concert’, which is now one of the most iconic moments of The Beatles’ eventful career. It was the first time the John, Paul, Ringo and George had performed a genuine concert publicly for nearly five years, having abandoned the world of live music in 1966 for various reasons to concentrate exclusively on studio work. The group caused a sensation on the London 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 busybodies broke up the concert, Lennon ended the show with his 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 afterm The Beatles’ split was confirmed but this gig proved to be a fitting end for the most important band in pop history, adding another iconic chapter to their unrivaled 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 up Nirvana to appear on the show that year, they set the wheels in motion for what would become one of the most intense performances ever recorded, and one which now over-shadows anyone who has appeared on the show before or since. From the earliest rehearsals, it was clear to everyone that Nirvana’s appearance wouldn’t be your typical Unplugged concert. From the choice of little known band The Meat Puppets as guests, to the make-up of a setlist which omitted many of the trio’s most recognisable tracks, this was clearly always going to be something unique. The mood of the show was set when frontman Kurt Cobain requested the stage be designed to look like a funeral, and his haunting, stirring performance went on to match the decor perfectly. Brilliant covers of tracks such as David Bowie’sThe Man Who Sold The World‘, ‘Oh, Me‘ and ‘Lake Of Fire’, together with superb versions of some of their lesser known tracks such as ‘About a Girl’ were all obvious 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 for a planned encore. Just four months later, the night’s tone and set-up became even more poignant when news broke of Cobain’s suicide; 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 25 years.

3: Sex Pistols – Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall, 4th June 1976

A gig organised by Manchester group the Buzzcocks, they would in fact be over-shadowed by a little-known London band they had booked as support. In the end, the Buzzcocks didn’t appear at the concert at all, but it didn’t matter. That support band, 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 influential venues in British music history. Playing to a room barely half full, by the end of the set the Sex Pistols had changed the lives of those in attendance, some of whom would go on to become hugely successful figures in their own right. The myths that now surround the gig spark debate as to who was actually there to witness the events, but most agree in the crowd that night were Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook – soon to become 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 coming years thanks to his work with Factory and the Hacienda nightclub. Morrissey, who of course would later form The Smiths along with Johnny Marr and later Andy Rourke and Micky Joyce, 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 1969 at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair has gone down as one of the greatest rock performances ever. After bad weather and logistical problems had delayed the start, Hendrix eventually took to the stage in front of a crowd which had diminished from around 500,000 to roughly 180,000, but as he introduced his band as the Gypsy Sun & Rainbows, Hendrix began the longest set of his career and would go on to play at a ferocious pace which his band struggled to keep up with. The stunning performance was rounded of with his now seminal rendition of the ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ a significant contribution to Woodstock now seen as a fitting metaphor for the imminent culmination of the radical changes in society and culture which had occurred during the 1960s. His amazing musicianship at the Woodstock Festival has ensured Jimi is now forever synonymous with one of the most enduring musical occasions in history – one of the greatest performances by one of the greatest musicians 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 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 in doing so changed pop culture forever.

Over 50,000 people were reported to have applied for tickets for the programme that night, and the excitement that swept America is perfectly captured in the frenzy of the theatre that greets the performance. The group 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‘. Nothing out of this world, but more than enough to change it.

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 – things would never be the same again.

(Dave Smith)

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.

Just Published:

Leave Your Comments:


  1. Britpop

    I would probably add a Stones gig , the King of Pop and perhaps some of the legendary concerts at Central Park such as Simon and Garfunkels’. So much to chose from but I can see how your choices made it in to the top 10 list !

  2. The Beatles rooftop gig was on the Apple corps headquarters rooftop, not at Abbey Road. Great article though! 

  3. The Importance

    The Unplugged set is good, but I would of picked Reading for Nirvana. Amazing, electrifying set! Not to mention Led Zeppelin’s three or four (five?) night stand at Earls Court, Radiohead at Glastonbury 1997, The Rolling Stones at Brussels 1973… Lot’s of good ones, great list!

  4. Jim Myers

    No Lennon, Harrison or Wings or McCartney? Yet you included Oasis, Nirvana & Sex Pistols . . . pa-leeze! You lost credibility. Thanks for #5 & #1, though.

  5. Swanee

    @ Jim Myers:

    Should the list have been exclusive to Beatles’ and ex-Beatles’ shows, or were there other important live moments that helped to shape modern music?  

    OK then son, back under your rock.

  6. Mozart

    This list is not serious: Firstly: ” The Beatles – Rooftop Of Abbey Road Studios, 30th January 1969″ and ” The Beatles – Live On The Ed Sullivan Show, 9th February 1964″ have not been real concerts.
    But concerning The Beatles, where is their concert in 1965 (Shea Stadium) ? This concert was historic in the history of popular music of the 20th century.
    And where is “Woodstock” ? …And where is “Hyde Park” (400,000 people attended this Rolling Stones’ Concert).
    And zero concert for Led Zeppelin?

  7. Prince

    Not Shea Stadium in 1965 by the Gods Of Pop?
    (Not logic)

    • Mike spike

      I define a live gig as being in a place where you can hear what the band are playing, so how does this one stack up? Nobody could hear a thing it was all media hype and tv recording

  8. LET-IT-BE

    the list is alright but you prolly shoulda made woodstock a whole show instead of just focusing on Hendrix, i mean obviously he was the best performence the whole festival, but the who played an awesome set

  9. Brian Quinn

    For me any concert by THE KING – Elvis Presley – would have to be No.1. He was the whole package – he had the talent, the voice, the looks, the charisma, the moves, the stage act and he did it before anyone else. Elvis was the template.

    • Hearsz

      Certainly a great act on stage but what would’ve made Elvis the “whole package” is if he’d have written all those songs. Nonetheless, a great performer with undeniable stage presence

  10. narella guerra

    woul have tobe the no 1 oasis they are the best in this wordl

  11. Sid

    QUEEN should be no. 1…

  12. Freddie

    3 Words [And some numbers] …: Queen…Live…Aid…’85’

  13. Mac Tan

    This wasn’t supposed to be about “which band is better”. This was supposed to be about the 10 most culturally significant live gigs ever played. Zeppelin was awesome live, but they never really had an iconic or era-defining show like, say, the Beatles’ performance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, which launched the British Invasion, or the Sex Pistols’ gig at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall, which brought some of the most important British musical figures of the next decade under the same roof.

    • Mike spike

      Culturally significant? Get a grip, it’s about a personal place and time and feeling, didnt you realise when you finished with puberty that it wasn’t going to change the world?

  14. rev43

    Boring & predictable. Queen & U2 at Live Aid, Oasis at Knebworth, Dylan at Newport. Yawn. All our yesterdays.

  15. Mike spike

    Well what did you expect, everyone from a different era sees the world through a different window, you didn’t expect consensus did you !!!

    Personally I wouldn’t get fed up slapping the brats from Manchester, for me as
    Much appeal as Jedward or whatever the Irish embarrassments are called

    Simple Minds at Edinburgh Empire 198

  16. Chanda Wieger

    I want this on a t-shirt! …or am I just deluded?

  17. Sandee

    come on… you forgot PULSE Pink Floyd 

  18. I think “The Beatles LIVE at Ed Sullivan show 9th February 1964 is not a best LIVE concert of Beatles because sound is not clear John Lennon and Paul McCartney looking very tired and there are lot of girl screaming watch the Beatles “Royal variety performance 4-11-1963 . It is way better than the Live at LIVE at Ed Sullivan . Sound is technically clear, Paul McCartney sung very well and his voice looking fresh and no girls screaming Please replace LIVE at ED Sullivan with “Royal variety performance ” Second those who recommend Micheal Jackson there are a moron because there is a back up band perform with him . He is not completely depend upon himself .

  19. Julian Quail

    All lists are debatable unless you provide very clear guidelines. From a cultural perspective I don’t have a huge problem with #1 (although you are right, it isn’t really a gig), although I would argue that Presley’s appearance in 1956 on TV in the USA was as important, if not more important. I would argue that the best gig of all time is probably the Monterey Festival, with Woodstock a very close second. The best line-up in the UK was either 1970 Isle of White or 1970 Bath Blues Festival. I was lucky enough to see two of the above gigs (Live Aid and Oasis), and saw the Pistols 2 months after the Manchester gig. Personally, I think The Jam are the best live band I have ever seen, although a very early Pixies gig came close!

  20. Johnny B. Goode

    This list is too pro-British. First off, Elvis’ 68 comeback special was nothing compared to his Ed Sullivan or even Dorsey Brothers Stage Shows and number one on this list should be Elvis’ Aloha from Hawaii which remains the most televised and most watched (live) rock concert of all time. You could have included Elvis’ first appearance in his all-gold suit or his Tupelo homecoming concert. Now that’s for Elvis. Another thing that bothered me about this list is you did not include Michael Jackson’s 1983 Motown Special concert where he first displayed his using of the moonwalk. That should definitely be in the top 5.

  21. Frank

    You guys are all nuts. A top ten with 9 white guys/bands. Now that is credible. Check ‘funkadelic houston 1976’ on youtube and you cant even come up with a number  two

  22. kat

    Monterrey Pop Festival- Janis was discovered and so were alot of the San Francisco bands.Every night CBGB’s debuted a new band, they deserve to be on the list. The first time The Ramones played, The Patti Smith Group, The Talking Heads, Blondie, The Polices first performance EVER in America was at CBGB’s.The Doors 1969 gig in Miami-Jim Morrison arrested.The NME Poll winners show where the Beatles and Stones shared a stage only time in history.The 2 nights Elton John played the Troubadour in 1972. His first performances ever in America.And if tv performances count:.The Michael Jackson performance for Motowns 25th Annivesary show was historic.

  23. Becky

    Oasis at knebworth! Are you kidding me! Only someone who wasn’t there would write that. The sound delay was distracting plus the idiots who behaved like they’d never  been to a concert before. If you wanted to include an oasis gig it should have been April ’96 at Maine road. Unbelievable! The stadium was literally rocking. I will never forget it. I wish I could forget knebworth.

  24. Steve

    Would have left PIstols, Nirvana and/or Oasis out to include the 25th anniversary Rock hall of fame shows at MSG-The first night of CSN( with JT, Jackson, Bonnie), Simon(& Garfunkel). Stevie Wonder( with Smokey, BB, Sting. Jeff beck) and Springsteen ( with John Fogerty and Billy Joel) is the best single live show I’ve seen. Plus what about Prince?

  25. bobisi

    Bob Marley and the Wailers performing live in London which became the classic live album.

  26. Jed Maxwell

    As excellent as it is, that Nirvana Unplugged gig wouldn’t have been in this list if their singer hadn’t died not long after. It is almost impossible to separate the gig from thoughts of his passing and so it takes on the added gravitas that gets it onto the list. I don’t think it would have been in the top 10 if he had lived longer.

  27. Chris from Belgium

    No Stones gig qualifying to be in this list? You got to be kidding!!!!!!!

    I guess I’m going to print your list and use it in the bathroom, LOL!