Oct 24, 1962: James Brown Tracks ‘Live at the Apollo’

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james-brown-live-at-the-apollo_zps708edfa2“So now ladies and gentlemen, it is star time,” announces James Brown‘s MC and organist Lucas “Fats” Gonder. “Are you ready for star time?” So opens one of the greatest and most influential in-concert albums in popular music. If you want to understand why Brown was known as “The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business” and “Mr. Dynamite,” here’s the convincing evidence.

Live at the Apollo almost didn’t happen. Syd Nathan, head of the label Brown recorded for, King Records, nixed his original request to do a live album at the top showplace on the R&B “Chitlin Circuit” in Harlem. He considered Brown a singles artist, and million-selling 45s like “Please, Please, Please,” “Try Me,” “Think” and most recently the instrumental “Night Train” had proven that. Brown’s album releases, however, had sold poorly, moving only 5,000 to 10,000 copies. Nathan also felt live albums didn’t sell well, and feared that people who did buy one no longer had a reason to see the artist perform in person.

Brown was convinced the concert recording would be a hit. His band The Famous Flames were red-hot from years of one-nighters, and his dynamic stage presence could whip audiences into a frenzy. So Brown funded the recording and hired out the Apollo Theater for a night at the end of a five-day stand. Microphones were hung above the crowd to capture their fervent enthusiasm as well as Brown’s music.

When the eight-track album album was released in May 1963, it quickly became a smash hit, reaching #2 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, and staying on it for over a year. It sold so well that many record stores had problems keeping it in stock. It eventually moved over a million units.

Live at the Apollo cemented Brown’s stature as R&B music’s reigning superstar and won over a significant white pop music audience as Brown fans. It also led many other acts to issue live recordings in the years to follow (and Brown to record three more live albums at the Apollo). It’s a burning cauldron of energy rich with sizzling and stunning musicianship and commanding, impassioned singing that every popular music fan should not just hear but have in their collection.

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