A half-century ago James Brown took a huge risk, self-funding his first-ever live album because the main man at Cincinnati’s own King Records, Syd Nathan, assumed it would tank. Nathan was wrong and James Brown was right, and the rest is history: Live at the Apollo became a huge success. The Godfather of Soul continued to perform and record at the Apollo, and two later releases from the historic theater chronicled the evolution of an artist who was constantly breaking new ground. A fourth Apollo live concert was recorded with plans for a release and then shelved. Selections from all four of those recordings appear on Best of Live at the Apollo: 50th Anniversary, which you can order online or buy at local record stores such as Shake-It Records and Everybody’s Records.
Because three of the live records were double LPs, there was a lot of material to choose from. The emphasis from all four shows remains on uptempo numbers of moderate length, with no ballads to be found; the groove is established early on, and it never stops. And while the music here spans an almost ten-year period, the record flows along smoothly, getting a little funkier with time, but that seems like such a natural progression that there’s nothing strained about it. Best of isn’t focused exclusively focused on the biggest hits, but there are plenty of songs that even casual James Brown fans will know, including “Cold Sweat,” “Please, Please, Please,” and “Sex Machine.” I recommend this release to anyone who wants to throw in a CD at their next party and know that, from beginning to end, everything on it is danceable.
50th Anniversary comes at a time when the legacy of James Brown and King Records continues to grow. The recent James Brown Biography, The One, helped clarify why he was such a seminal figure, and a new CD that focused on some early Federal and King sides makes it clear that this music is popular around the music. Also, there is now an official James Brown website. Here’s footage of James Brown live at the Apollo: