Live At The Apollo (Expanded Edition)

Live At The Apollo (Expanded Edition)

Part of the reason Live at the Apollo has stuck around so long is that it achieves the feat of giving listeners a pretty good idea of how it actually might feel to be stuck in the middle of a James Brown show in 1962: Hot, hazy, sticky, sweat-flinging-and-girls-gasping-for-air-between-screams James Brown. Eleven-minutes-of-PG-13-heaving-through-“Lost Someone” James Brown, gospel-calling-and-responding-with-his-band-on-“Night Train”-like-the-show-they-were James Brown. Nobody had ever done this before—at least, the live albums that were out there were more “live” in either the ethnographic sense (recordings of Cameroonian pygmies, or Alan Lomax traveling the rural south for amateur American blues) or attempts to capture more essentially improvisational arts like jazz. In other words, the atmosphere was secondary. But in the case of Live at the Apollo, it was central. Soul music didn’t have the hold on America it would just a few years later, and the soul that was popular tended to be cleaned up and hemmed in for the sake of national—code in part for “white”—audiences. (Just listen to how mannered Sam Cooke sounded on record versus how loose he sounded on the archival Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963—brilliant in both cases, just different.) In the same way an album like Run-DMC’s Raising Hell helped bring rap to the suburbs, Live at the Apollo gave audiences—who would’ve never gone to a mostly Black club like the Apollo in the mostly Black neighborhood of Harlem—a glimpse of what that world was like at a time when the press for Civil Rights was becoming the concern of people who’d never made it their concern before. King Records founder Syd Nathan famously refused to fund the recording because he thought it was pointless, so Brown put up the money himself. He was a showman—he had a hunch.

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