1. The Beatles at Shea stadium, New York, 15 August 1965
Considering the sound was awful, there was no lighting show, no screens and no one could see the band, you may wonder how this gig has made it to the top of the list - but it was a world changing concert that paved the way for the large stadium and arena tours that we know today. No music act had ever filled a stadium before or sold so many tickets for a one off performance, so this concert set a precedent for where live music was going. These were the days before the band had the luxury of stage crew, bodyguards, event staff or security services so the 55,000 strong crowd were held in by New York State Police and the baseball crowd fences, leaving them seemingly miles from the action. The fact that promoter Sid Bernstein made a lot of money from the show and no one complained changed the long held opinion that there was no money to be made or market for large outdoor concerts. How little they knew.
2. Bob Dylan, Manchester Free Trade Hall, Manchester, 17 May 1966
Any of the British gigs from Dylan’s 1966 world tour could have made this list. At every show Dylan stepped out with an acoustic guitar to complete silence and utter reverence from his audience before treating the spell-bound crowd to some of his compositional masterpieces such as Just Like a Woman, Visions of Johanna and Mr Tambourine Man. Then the curtain came down and when Dylan re-emerged it was with his R&B band The Hawks (later to become The Band ) at which point the audience rose out of their seats, booed, hissed and shouted abuse. At this particular infamous show one audience member shouted “Judas”to which Dylan replied “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar” before turning to the Hawks and saying “Play it F**king loud!”. The spirit of punk may have been truly born on this tour and it was in the same venue exactly 10 years later that punk arrived not just in spirit but in person.
3. The Sex Pistols at Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester, 4 June 1976
While not in the same room as the Dylan show, but in the same building, this was the night that punk spawned a thousand bands. Manchester band The Buzzcocks had arranged the concert and booked a little known band called The Sex Pistols to support them. The room was by all accounts less than half full (capacity 150) which, considering the amount of people who claimed to have been there, is remarkable. Anger, distortion, rebellion and spiky hair-dos spewed off the stage infecting the small, shocked crowd, inadvertently forming several of Britain’s seminal bands such as Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, The Fall, Magazine and, sadly, Simply Red.
4. Johnny Cash at Folsom State Prison, California, 13 January 1968
This is actually two shows as Cash performed in the morning and the afternoon to ensure that they got the best recording possible, but let’s not get bogged down in technicalities. This show was not only ground breaking as no one had ever recorded a live album in prison before but it was also an incredible gig as documented by the live recordings on: At Folsom Prison. Cash brought the roof down as the armed security services stood nervously with their fingers clutching at their triggers, half expecting Cash to cause a riot. Cash had done a stint in prison himself and against the wishes of his record label insisted on playing the show and releasing the recordings as a live album, which has since gone on to be one of the most famous and best-selling live albums of all time.
5. Queen at Live Aid, Wembley Stadium, 13 July 1985
In general Live Aid should get a mention as one of the greatest gigs of all time – not because it was the greatest day of live music the world has ever seen (in fact Glastonbury Festival probably beats it every year) but because the world’s biggest artists were on show around the world for free, raising over £60 million for charity. It was Queen’s performance (largely Freddy Mercury’s), however, that completely stole the show where some of the world’s biggest acts had failed. Freddy had the crowd enraptured from front to back and when Bohemian Rhapsody hit its crescendo hysteria ensued. The world was watching and Freddy delivered.