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Great musical performances in the Afrikan World: James Brown Live at the Apollo, October 24, 1962. Critics say it was perhaps the greatest live album ever recorded.
Live at the Apollo is a live album by James Brown and the Famous Flames, recorded at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and released in 1963. In 2003, the album was ranked number 25 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 2004, it was one of 50 recordings chosen that year by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.
Perhaps the greatest live album ever recorded. From the breathless buildup of the spoken intro through terse, sweat-soaked early hits such as “Try Me” and “Think” into 11 minutes of the raw ballad “Lost Someone,” climaxing with a frenzied nine-song medley and ending with “Night Train,” Live at the Apollo is pure, uncut soul. And it almost didn’t happen. James Brown defied King Records label boss Syd Nathan’s opposition to a live album by arranging to record a show himself – on October 24th, 1962, the last date in a run at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theater. His intuition proved correct: Live at the Apollo – the first of four albums Brown recorded there – charted for 66 weeks.
Release and reception
Live at the Apollo was recorded on the night of October 24, 1962 at Brown’s own expense. Although not credited on the album cover or label, Brown’s vocal group, The Famous Flames (Bobby Byrd, Bobby Bennett, and Lloyd Stallworth), played an important co-starring role in Live at the Apollo, and are included with Brown by M.C. Fats Gonder in the album’s intro. Brown’s record label, King Records, originally opposed releasing the album, believing that a live album featuring no new songs would not be profitable. The label finally relented under pressure from Brown and his manager Bud Hobgood.
To King’s surprise, Live at the Apollo was an amazingly rapid seller. It spent 66 weeks on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, peaking at #2. Many record stores, especially in the southeast US, found themselves unable to keep up with the demand for the product, eventually ordering several cases at a time. R&B disc jockeys often would play side 1 in its entirety, pausing (usually to insert commercials) only to return to play side 2 in full as well. The side break occurred in the middle of the long track “Lost Someone”.
In a retrospective article for Rolling Stone, music critic Robert Christgau said that Brown was a “striking but more conventional performer” in the show than on his contemporary studio recordings and wrote of the album:
Recorded in 1962 and barely half an hour long, it lacks the heft we associate with live albums, relegating major songs to the same eight-title medley as forgettable ones. But not only did it establish Brown as an r&b superstar and a sales force to be reckoned with, it’s a time capsule, living testament of a chitlin circuit now defunct. The band is clean as a silk suit, and how the women love this rough singer’s tender lover-in-song act. There is no music anywhere quite like the perfectly timed and articulated female fan-screeches that punctuate the 10-minute ‘Lost Someone.’
Brown went on to record several more albums at the Apollo over the course of his career, including 1968’s Live at the Apollo, Vol. II (King), 1971’s Revolution of the Mind: Recorded Live at the Apollo, Vol. III (Polydor), and Live at the Apollo 1995 (Scotti Bros.).
MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer cited Live at the Apollo as the inspiration to Kick Out the Jams “Our whole thing was based on James Brown. We listened to Live at the Apollo endlessly on acid. We would listen to that in the van in the early days of 8-tracks on the way to the gigs to get us up for the gig. If you played in a band in Detroit in the days before The MC5, everybody did ‘Please, Please, Please’ and ‘I Go Crazy.’ These were standards. We modeled The MC5’s performance on those records. Everything we did was on a gut level about sweat and energy. It was anti-refinement. That’s what we were consciously going for.”
Sources: Wikipedia and Rolling Stone