Live At The Apollo

James Brown

King Records, 1963

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Rightly hailed as one of, if not the greatest, live album of all time, James Brown’s Live at the Apollo –  much like Johnny Cash’s Live at Folsom Prison –  introduced millions of new listeners to his music without so much as a blockbuster single to promote it. And like Live at Folsom Prison, this album didn’t receive too much in the form of label support when the idea of recording a live album was initially pitched.

According to the liner notes of the 2004 edition (the original was released in 1963 on King Records), head of King Records Syd Nathan was opposed to releasing a live album from James Brown. After all, he does nearly 300 shows a year; this would just be one recorded show of 300. And with no single for promotions, Nathan thought it wouldn’t be profitable. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

What Nathan didn’t foresee was that Live at the Apollo would spend 66 weeks on the Billboard album charts, peaking at number two. He also didn’t foresee record stores consistently selling out of this landmark live album. And he certainly didn’t foresee DJs opting to play one entire half of the album on regular rotation.

If it was just James Brown in his hungry up-and-coming prime, this disc would have been special. But his band, shaped into one of the tightest backup bands in pop history and forged by Brown’s perfectionism and relentless touring, made the album magical. Music director Lewis Hamlin makes sure not a trumpet note is out of place. His direction is a marvel as the band zigzags through a dizzying nine-song medley, which included “Please, Please, Please,” “I Want You So Bad” and “I Found Someone.” With 14 songs (and portions of eight were included in the medley), the original Live clocks in at well under 40 minutes.

The Apollo was the perfect venue for James Brown. And James Brown was perfect for the Apollo. The venue’s patrons were famously known to be intolerant of any artist who did not give it their all during a performance. But for a perfectionist like James Brown, this was not an issue. The euphoric screams of the audience are as much a part of the recording as James Brown’s backing band is. This is especially evident on “Lost Someone,” where Brown leads the audience into a near orgasmic “call and response” hail of screams.

James Brown returned to The Apollo and recorded additional live albums, including a more than respectable 1968 follow-up. His 1962 live recording came during the Cuban Missile Crisis and was released a few months before John Kennedy was assassinated, while his 1968 album was released in the thick of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement; it’s only fitting that James Brown’s best-known live recordings were released so near the defining moments of the ‘60s.

Rating: A

User Rating: A


© 2008 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of King Records, and is used for informational purposes only.