JAMES BROWN – Live at the Apollo (1963)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

In a possible new series of Important Live Albums, this is an important and powerful first entry. Later, James Brown would sound even less constrained, on “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, and downright funky on “Sex Machine”, “The Payback” and the like. But this is where it in many ways started: a half hour album, recorded on October 24, 1962 in NYC and released later in 1963, with some added applause (the version I own is fleshed out with another “generous” 10 minutes, basically single mixes from some of the other material).
Even at over 50 years of age, with old-fashioned background singing, musical accompaniment that’s still carefully sophisticated rather than outrageously funky, this album is a testament to the vision of James Brown. Obviously, in showmanship and musicality he ultimately paved the way for Jimi Hendrix and even Prince, but most importantly, here he created (at least in the perception of the public) his James Brown persona, the hardest working man in showbiz, and modern dance music as a genre.
Compared to other white (Everly Brothers, early Beatles and Beach Boys) and black artists (Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, later Curtis Mayfield and others) of the time, this was anarchy, plain and simple. His delivery and his stage presence (and the call and response singing) created a type of mass hysteria and fainting girls (or so I imagine) that were unprecedented at the time. And yes, parts of this had been heard before, as he had been working (hard) for the five years leading up to this album. But this was the live album that cemented his reputation.
With hindsight it’s easy to point out that it’s way too short and that the applause feels artificial in places. The musicians (drummer, guitar and organ especially) play way too subdued and they don’t do James justice. James shines however: he cries, he screams, he orgasms all the way to the Hall of Fame. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not just a great little dance album, it is an important album. Get it!

Author: tomymostalas


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