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James Brown – Live at the Apollo (1963)

August 14, 2013

[Album 225/1001]220px-James_Brown-Live_at_the_Apollo_(album_cover)

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.


From → 1960s

  1. Nice write-up on a great & legendary live recording. I prefer some of his later live albums, mostly because of the ridiculous funky musicality of Brown & his band, but this is really where the legend started.

    • This record should probably come with a disclaimer to manage expectations – for those looking for the Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag sound, you’ll have to fast forward a couple years! I’d be interested in seeing a video of this, it feels like the audio is only part of the show with James Brown.

  2. Agreed with Rich in a way, some of the later live albums are really fun. This however is classic.

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