Best live albums review: James Brown ‘Live At The Apollo’

James Brown Live At The ApolloJames Brown
“Live at the Apollo”
Polydor Records, 1963

By Howard Whitman

Live albums were a rarity in 1962.

Record companies considered them pointless; why would record buyers want the same songs they already have just because they’re recorded in concert instead of a studio?

James Brown believed the public would want this record so much that he paid for the recording himself and pressured his label, King Records, into putting it out. A risky move, but he was right.

“Live at the Apollo” was a best-seller, spending 66 weeks on the Billboard charts and peaking at No. 2. Today, the LP stands as an invaluable time capsule capturing a young, vital James Brown early in his career — but ready to tear it up! Backed by his vocal trio, The Famous Flames, and armed with a whip-tight band that hit every stop, start and break with precision and swing, Brown tore through a set of his early hits with the passion and energy that earned him the title “The Godfather of Soul.”

Although he hadn’t come out with classics such as “I Feel Good” or “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” yet, Brown already had plenty of fine material in his arsenal by this point: the bouncy, playful “Think”; the yearning “Please Please Please” (which kicks off an impressive eight-song medley); and “Night Train,” which brought the album to a furious finish. Along the way, there’s also the torchy, 10-minute-plus “Lost Someone” in which James worked the crowd like a master preacher.

Unavailable on CD until 1990 due to lost (and thankfully recovered) master tapes, the version to get is the 2004 deluxe edition, which adds 10 minutes to the original 31-minute runtime, thanks to the inclusion of alternate versions and bonus songs.

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