James Brown – Live at the Apollo (1963)
I could use a Fats Gonder intro to warm up my high school classes on the first day of school. The hype-filled opening buildup for The Hardest Workin’ Man in Show Business has to be heard to be believed!
Then again, Gonder’s contagious enthusiasm may set student expectations precariously high. Somehow a semi-riveting algebra lesson may not quite please the masses quite like James Brown performing Live at the Apollo.
Good music can often be augmented by a great story. In this case, Brown’s label wasn’t interested in backing a live album. Does James Brown take it lying down? Not a chance. He finances the recording of his October 24, 1962 show and eventually, after enough pressure, the label releases it. A good move it turns out, as by spending 66 weeks on the charts, Brown was right to think the demand was there.
At #25 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of all time, I think the record label’s gaffe has propelled it beyond where it would likely rank on a purely musical basis.
…Apollo is, of course, not without its charms. From teaching the crowd to say “owwwwwww” not “ow” to a manic “All aboard!” call rivaled only by Ozzy Osbourne, there’s plenty to satisfy. I quite like The Famous Flames’ staccato, “I don’t mind.”
If we’re talking live soul records celebrating 50th anniversaries, I much preferred Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963.