On October 24, 1961, James Brown gave an amazing performance for his final night of a run at the Apollo. The show was recorded and would be released as an album in 1963 called, Live at the Apollo.
Although James had attained a level of stardom in the R&B genre due to his live shows, he had not yet had mainstream recording success. That all changed with Live at the Apollo, which became his first major breakthrough album.
Brown had a lot riding on the recording. Syd Nathan, the head of Brown’s label, King Records, refused to record the show, so Brown financed the recording himself. Even his band members in The Famous Flames felt the extra pressure that night.
Live at the Apollo has long been one of my favorite live albums. Listening to the recording, you can feel the energy in the room. My favorite track is “Try Me,” which James had originally released as a single in October 1958. Below is his performance at the Apollo.
After the release of Live at the Apollo in May 1963, the album sold more than a million copies and spent 66 weeks on Billboard’s album chart. Brown made the right bet on what became a hit album. It boosted his crossover appeal for the rest of his career.
Pitchfork notes the importance of the crossover, with a symbolic transformation of R&B into Soul, marking “the dawn of a decade when sharing experiences and points of view across an entire culture meant more than just crossover success.” In other words, the album “was the true beginning of the 60s.”
Rolling Stone ranks Live at the Apollo as the 25th greatest album of all time. Not bad for a record that the record company did not want to record.
What is your favorite song on Live at the Apollo? Leave your two cents in the comments.
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