Monday, July 25, 2011

James Brown - "Live at the Apollo"

The one album which every music fan should hear is James Brown's recording "Live at The Apollo." It was recorded on October 24th, 1962 at New York's famed Apollo Theater in the midst of the Cuban Missle Crisis, which had been ongoing since October 18th, and would not come to a conclusion until October 29th.

There are several reasons why this album is an essential part of any music collection. The first is that it almost didn't happen. James Brown funded the recording independently, years before other artists would do so in a routine fashion, when Syd Nathan of King Records refused the money needed to record the show. He thought the idea was foolish. The album went on to become one of the top 100 records of all time.

Secondly, the quality of the recording is superb! The vocals are exceptionally crisp and clear, as are each and every instrument and backup vocal. The gospel like rendition of some of the songs gives the entire album a feel of spirituality and excitement. It's like being in a Southern Baptist Church. The audience reactions are a definite part of the proceedings.

Culturally the album reflects the Northern migration taking place at the time as African-Americans continued, as they had since the years before World War Two, to arrive from the South to the industrial cities of the North, bringing with them their own brand of music.

Having been recorded in the midst of the Cuban Missle Crisis lends an almost religous double entendre to songs such as "I Lost Someone", as well as the medley which begins with "Please, Please, Please." When they reach the part of the medley containing "I Lost Someone", which is the song posted here, Mr. Brown is clearly singing to God. The song is a love song to a lover, but also a prayer for salvation. The plaintive way in which Mr. Brown delivers the song draws your attention to the dark events of the Cuban Missle Crisis,which was taking place just outside the doors of the Apollo, engulfing the entire world. The fact that New York City was a target, and could even have been hit during the show, lends a high drama to the performance.

And finally there is the cover art. It is pure Harlem Impressionist at it's best. This album, with it's R and B songs, as well as early Funk and Soul, would lay the groundwork for the sounds of the 1970's and 1980's , with Parliment and the Funkadelics, not to mention the ground breaking sounds of Bootsie Collins. And let's not forget Michael Jackson's "Moon Walk", which was nothing more than James Brown doing his famous shuffle.

No matter how you view this album, or how you hear it, there can be no denying that this was a seminal album, sown from the roots of Gospel Music and Rhythm and Blues. The sound that was created became known as Soul Music, which eventually gave way to Funk and Hip Hop, and today's Rap Music. The future of those genres was born the day James Brown took hold of a microphone for the first time. The same applies to Chuck Berry, Ike Turner and Little Richard in relation to Rock and Roll. Everything that followed in that genre came from those artists.

This album is not for everyone, but it is an important one in the sense that it was a stepping stone to a new sound. I highly recommend it. If you have never heard this live recording before, you need to give it a try. It's some of the most visceral, and real, music which you will ever hear.

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