We lost a legend this week in freedom fighter/folk singer Richie Havens, who had a long yet somewhat under-the-radar 45 year musical career that remains pegged to one iconic moment: his performance of “Freedom” at the opening of Woodstock. This moment ushered in a new era of rock ‘n’ roll in pop culture not too mention it being one of the most wicked live performances caught on film. So this week, we thought we would distill the ten most legendary live moments in history, moments that were iconic, important, and just plain awesome in rock history.
10. Michael Jackson’s First Moonwalk at Motown’s 25th Anniversary
The King of Pop had already made a name for himself as part of the Jackson 5 and with several solo releases, but following the release of his masterpiece Thriller on a televised event celebrating Motown’s history, Michael Jackson escalated to the throne with this performance of “Billie Jean” debuting perhaps the most iconic dance move in music history.
9. “Freedom” Reigns at Woodstock
A relative unknown in Richie Havens kicked off the birth of the modern-day music festival with the performance and perhaps the youth and liberation movement of Woodstock being best captured in Haven’s roaring “Freedom.” Raw. Soulful. Perfect.
8. Rock Moves Beyond Itself for Bangladesh
The first major benefit concert of its kind, LxL’s favorite Beatle George Harrison got together with Ravi Shankar and brought along some other friends like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Billy Preston for the Concert for Bangladesh to benefit those facing political and military turmoil forced to leave their homes. The concert was not only a huge success in raising money for Bangladesh, but it also became a model for subsequent humanitarian benefit concerts like Live Aid and Farm Aid.
7. The Band Bids Us Farewell with the Last Waltz
Not only does the Band’s final concert capture the end of one of the finest and hardest working bands in music in the Band, but it also showcases a golden era of singer/songwriters in the 70’s featuring Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Dr. John to name a few. But the concert really doesn’t get better than Levon Helm belting out “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” with every ounce of his being, perfectly signifying the end of an era.
6. Kurt Cobain’s Last Epitaph in New York
Only a few months before he would take his life, Kurt Cobain and his grunge compatriots performed a beautifully sobering set of covers and acoustic versions of their own material. The show stands as sort of a final epitaph on behalf of Kurt and his band that changed rock’s landscape.
5. Queen Put on the Ultimate Stadium Show at Live Aid
Another performance that stands as a wonderful portrayal of a tragic figure in Freddie Mercury. It’s hard to see someone rocking a stadium audience better than Queen did at Wembley Stadium in 1985 for Live Aid, pretty much writing the book on putting on the ultimate stadium rock show.
4. Bob Dylan Electrifies Newport
The folk community had labeled Dylan their voice of a generation and a beacon for intelligent, politically-charged folk music, but when he plugged in at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival a year after being crowned there as a folk hero, Dylan was met with a choir of boos and chants of “Sellout!” from the crowd. That didn’t stop Dylan making a courageous declaration that rock music can make statements too.
3. Elvis Presley goes Doggie Style on Ed Sullivan
Watching footage of the King Rock ‘N’ Roll doing “Hound Dog” seems fun and innocent now, but I can’t imagine how wild and controversial it seemed at the time introducing this hyper-sexualized “rock” music to the world. Even now, it holds up as simply a captivating performance.
2. The Beatles Invade the U.S. at Shea Stadium
We could have went with another solid Ed Sullivan performance here in the Beatles “All My Loving” on their first U.S. televised performance, but we think their performance at Shea Stadium was more rollicking and a better showcase of madness that was Beatlesmania.
1. Jimi Hendrix Burns Down the House at Monterey Pop
We could have went with Hendrix’s stunning national anthem at Woodstock, but the most iconic performance from the most legendary live artist in rock ‘n’ roll was Jimi’s performance at the close of Monterey Pop in 1967. No image distills the rebellious spirit of rock ‘n’ roll quite like Hendrix burning his guitar on stage.
Todd – A Punk Legend Closes a Legendary Punk Venue
Once the birthplace of the American punk movement including the Ramones, the Talking Heads, Television, and Patti Smith, CBGB’s in New York finally closed in 2006, but was closed the right way with a show from punk legend Patti Smith herself.
Austin – Kanye Spreads His Wings at Live 8
Kanye West showed his true ambition to be the biggest ever when he played “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” with a string orchestra portraying himself as socially conscious, artistically ambitious, and musically diverse.
Wes – The Sound of Silence in Central Park
Marking the start of a short reunion for the duo, Simon & Garfunkel played a free concert for half a million people in Central Park. It’s hard to imagine a third of those people even being able to hear the band, but there’s something special about half a million people listening in closely to two still,quiet voices.