James Brown: Live at the Apollo (1962) [Expanded Edition]

James Brown
Live at the Apollo (1962) [Expanded Edition]

Before the unfortunate incarcerations, before the career reviving appearance in Rocky IV, and before the endless slate of chart topping funk hits there was simply the man and his band. The expanded edition of the of the seminal album Live at the Apollo finds James Brown growing into his future mantle as the Godfather of Soul and ably joined by his inimitable backing band the Flames to create a 40-minute sonic hallelujah. Although this album doesn’t contain any video footage, the expanded edition goes farther than previous versions to create a visual sense of the magnitude of the performance by James Brown and the Flames on a cool October night in 1962.

This version finds the long deleted audience track restored so that we can now hear the whoops, hollers, and rejoicing appreciation of the crowd in what was clearly an interactive roadshow event. Also included are a number of bonus tracks (additional encores of “I’ll Go Crazy” and “Think”, and a second one of their renowned medleys) that stand up to the quality of the existing compositions. Live at the Apollo (1962) Expanded Edition explores the legacy of what many critics consider to be the greatest live album in the history of popular music in a reverent fashion. The remastering process has added vibrancy to the horns, sweetness to Brown’s voice, and a swinging sensation that makes us feel as if we’re in the front row of the Apollo upon every listen.

The original performances are all otherworldly. A more austere introduction of Brown than the one we are treated to today starts the disc, followed by a soaring call and response between Brown and the crowd leading into the swinging bottom groove of “I’ll Go Crazy”. The doo-wop based “Try Me” is next which showcases the lighter side of Brown and the Flames with tender lead and backing vocals. The horn infused “Think” borrows heavily from jazz legends like Charlie Parker with the crowd searing as Brown scats over the band. And of course, there is the plaintive “I Don’t Mind” which provides a sketch of the juking crowd tantalizing vocal work that Brown would use to such great effect in the coming decade. What would a James Brown gig be without a frenetic medley? This one kicks off with his period defining hit “Please, Please, Please” and includes the finer parts of “I Found Someone”, “Why Do You Do Me”, “Bewildered”, and countless other Brown live standards before coming full circle and wrapping the whole thing up with “Please, Please, Please”. The original sequencing of the album concludes with an interactive consciousness-defying version of “Night Train”.

The bonus tracks compile a collection of performances that were recorded and subsequently used as vinyl singles. The second version of “Think” is slower and dirtier than the first. The crowd is in an even greater frenzy, and although the performance isn’t as fresh as it was on the first go around it is no less passionate. The second medley is far less rambunctious than the first. It opens with the gentle swing of “I Found Someone”, takes it up a notch with “Why Do You Do Me” before closing it out with the pensive “I Want You So Bad”. The set ends with an abbreviated version of “I’ll Go Crazy” which allows the crowd to do exactly that, in appreciation of the life-altering spectacle they have just witnessed.

Many have said that every person that witnessed the Velvet Underground live during their initial incarnation started a rock band. While that may be too bold of a statement for this album, it does seem likely that countless musicians were inspired to greater heights with the release of Live at the Apollo. By the triumphant end of the final note you can almost envision a young Mick Jagger holed up in his bedroom taking copious notes and singing along with Brown and the Flames in a full-length mirror. This album is a perfect primer not only for the Rolling Stones, but also for any young artist looking for a lesson on consummate showmanship.

RATING 10 / 10
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