His 1957 debut 45, Please Please Please, and 1959’s follow-up, Try Me, created soul prototypes with their achingly sublime pleading and fall-to-the-knees pathos. But no one was quite prepared for James Brown’s Live At The Apollo, which introduced the live recording as an exhilarating and innovative art form. The album almost didn’t happen: Brown’s label boss, Syd Nathan, thought the idea stank from the beginning but a determined Brown went ahead with his plan, funding it himself. Recorded on 24 October 1962 during a week-long residency at Harlem’s Apollo Theater and issued the following year, it gave Brown both his first million-selling album and his first hit LP, peaking at No 2 in the US pop chart and remaining on the Top 100 for 66 weeks.
At just over half-an-hour long, it captures Brown at his peak, at a show that dripped sweaty excitement and thrills. First, there’s his voice: bluesy one minute, soulful the next, with a vocal delivery interjected with excitable yelps and screams. Then there are the eight songs, from I’ll Go Crazy to Night Train, taking in Try Me and Think, each one a future classic. Finally, there is the sheer physical agency of Brown’s performance, during which he pushes himself to his absolute limit. His Famous Flames
(led by Bobby Byrd) and band (led by trumpeter Lewis Hamlin) are animated, too, matching Brown’s every move. Such was its huge success, Brown set the tapes rolling at the Apollo again in 1968 for Live At The Apollo Volume II and in 1971 for Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo Volume III. He would record his last live album there, too, in 1994: conceived as Volume IV, it was issued as Live At The Apollo 1995. LW
Runners-up: Bob Dylan The Freewheelin’, The Beatles Please Please Me, Charles Mingus The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady, The Beach Boys Surfer Girl.