Best Of Live At The Apollo by James Brown (Album)

23 June, 2013 in Music Reviews

James Brown Apollo

With 12 tracks taken from the ‘Live At The Apollo’ albums, here’s an ideal introduction to the Godfather of Soul

Best Of Live At The Apolloive albums don’t come much more legendary than James Brown’s original Live At The Apollo. Recorded at Brown’s own expense in 1962, it was released in 1963 against his record company’s wishes, because they didn’t think a live album would sell. The album went to No 2 on the Billboard charts and stayed on the Billboard chart for well over a year.

So successful was Live At The Apollo, in fact, that it spawned a number of sequels: 1968’s Live At The Apollo, Vol II, 1971’s Revolution Of The Mind: Recorded Live at the Apollo, Vol III and 1995’s Live at the Apollo 1995. There was also 1972’s Get Down At The Apollo With The JBs: Live At The Apollo Vol IV, which was recorded but never released.

Two tracks from that lost 1972 recording, Hot Pants Road and There It Is, are now included on this new ‘best of’ set, which culls a total of 12 tracks from the four albums recorded in the 60s and 70s, and which is being released to mark the 50th anniversary of the original album’s release. Naturally, perennial faves Sex Machine, Soul Power and Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved are also included, while from that iconic first …Apollo album we’re treated to Try Me, Night Train and I’ll Go Crazy.

So is it any good? That goes without saying. By instructing his backing musicians to play with the emphasis ‘on the one’ – that is, on the first beat of the bar (the ‘downbeat’) rather than on the second (the ‘backbeat’) – James Brown is widely credited with having singlehandedly initiated soul music’s mutation into funk (and later, by extension, disco and hip-hop). His importance in the history of 20th century music is hard to overstate, and without a doubt the best way to experience his songs is when they’re presented with the taut musicianship and exuberant energy for which his live shows were famed.

Even if you think you’re not much of a soul man (or soul woman), it’s worth noting that Wayne Kramer of legendary Detroit proto-punks The MC5 has cited Live At The Apollo as the biggest influence on the band, saying: “Our whole thing was based on James Brown…everything we did was on a gut level about sweat and energy.” And sweat and energy are here in abundance, have no doubt!

Diehard Brown fans and collectors may perhaps have preferred to mark the half-century anniversary with a definitive box-set edition of all five …Apollo albums, but for those getting on the good foot for the first time, this is an excellent introduction to one of the most important artists in black American music of the past 50 years.

Verdict: A great collection of some of Brown’s best live work and an ideal ‘beginner’s guide’

Russell Deeks

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