Live climbed from modest modern rock success to the mainstream spotlight worldwide on the strength of their 1994 breakthrough album, Throwing Copper, which has sold 8 million copies in the US. Climbing to #1 on the 52nd week on the chart, it is the third album to reach the top after spending a year or longer on the chart (The first two were, Fleetwood Mac in 1976, peaking on the 58th week, and Paula Abdul's Forever Your Girl in 1989, which holds the record at 64 weeks).
The band is most known for their hit singles Selling the Drama, Lightning Crashes (which stayed at the top of Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks for 12 consecutive weeks), I Alone, Lakini's Juice, The Dolphin's Cry, Simple Creed, and Heaven. To date, the band have sold almost 20 million copies worldwide.
Kowalczyk, Taylor, Dahlheimer, and Gracey first came together for a middle-school talent show in the Pennsylvania blue-collar town of York. The group remained together throughout high school, going through a handful of band names (such as First Aid, Club Fungus, Paisley Blues, Action Front, and Body Odor Boys) and new-wave covers before settling on the moniker Public Affection and recording a self-released cassette of originals, The Death of a Dictionary, in 1989. Soon after in 1990, Public Affection released an EP of demos produced by Jay Healy titled Divided Mind, Divided Planet through their Black Coffee mailing list. Frequent trips into New York City to play at CBGB helped net the band a deal with Radioactive Records in 1991. With the new name Live, the band entered the studio with former Talking Heads keyboardist Jerry Harrison that year and began recording the EP Four Songs (1991). The single "Operation Spirit (The Tyranny of Tradition)" went to #9 on the Modern Rock chart, and paved the way for the band's Harrison-produced full-length debut, 1991's Mental Jewelry (#73). The album lyrics, penned by Kowalczyk, were heavily inspired by Indian speaker Jiddu Krishnamurti.
Fueled by light touring (including billing at Woodstock '94 and Peter Gabriel's WOMAD tour) and a string of hit singles ("I Alone", "All Over You" and the #1 Modern Rock hits "Selling the Drama" and "Lightning Crashes"), Live's next album, Throwing Copper, gave the band the breakthrough it desired. The steady success of the singles propelled the album to #1 on the Billboard 200 on May 6, 1995, more than a year after the album was released. To date, it is their best-selling album and often most highly regarded album by fans and critics. The band was invited to appear on NBC's Saturday Night Live where they performed their hits "I Alone" and "Selling the Drama."
The momentum continued long enough to help 1997's Secret Samadhi (co-produced by the band and Jay Healy) debut at #1. Deriving its name from a state of Hindu meditation, the album spawned four Modern Rock singles, but failed to match its predecessor's success, with sales topping off at 2 million. The band performed "Lakini's Juice" and "Heropsychodreamer" from this album on Saturday Night Live.
In 2000, Live embarked on a co-headlining tour with alternative rock band Counting Crows. Frequently, Crows' lead singer Adam Duritz joined the stage for Live's performance of "The Dolphin's Cry," and Kowalczyk sang a verse of "Hanginaround" with the Crows.
"Overcome" was used at the end of the final episode of season 2 of The Shield.
In May 2003, the band released Birds of Pray, which was bolstered by the unexpected success of "Heaven," Live's first U.S. Hot 100-placing single since "The Dolphin's Cry."
In November 2004, Live released Awake: The Best of Live, a career-spanning compilation that included "We Deal in Dreams," a previously unreleased song from the Throwing Copper sessions, and a cover of Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line," as well as Birds of Pray's "Run Away," re-imagined with Shelby Lynne on co-lead vocals.
In 2005, Live signed with Sony BMG Music Entertainment's Epic label, and released a new album entitled Songs from Black Mountain in June 2006, preceded by "The River" as lead single. Thus far, the album has achieved much international success and critical acclaim. However, due to poor promotion from Epic records in their native United States of America, it has proven Live's lowest-seller domestically, reaching #52 before disappearing from the charts. The album topped out at #3 on the Billboard independent chart.
On May 24, 2006, the band and Chris Daughtry performed "Mystery" on the season finale of American Idol. On June 7, a new version of "Mystery" was released on the Friends of Live website, featuring Daughtry on guest vocals.