ARTIST: JAMES BROWN
ALBUM: LIVE AT THE APOLLO
This Sunday (Sept 4th), at 9pm, you’re invited to share a listening session with some likeminded souls, wherever you might be. This can be experienced either alone or communally, and you don’t need to leave the comfort of your own home to participate. Full lowdown here:
The oldest Living To Music inclusion to date, recorded on October 24th 1962, before Martin Luther King made his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, before JFK was assassinated, before Dylan released ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, and just as The Beatles had started out on their recording career (their first single, ‘Love Me Do’, only released a few weeks earlier). In a modern context, this is ancient history, yet its influence is still felt today, even if people don’t realise the full gravity of Brown’s legacy.
On its release, in May ’63, ‘Live At The Apollo’ would go all the way to #2 on the Billboard Pop chart, a remarkable achievement for an artist whose audience was previously almost exclusively black. Brown had financed the recording of the album himself, and it was released on King Records over the objections of label owner Syd Nathan, who saw no commercial potential in a live album containing no new songs – bands just didn’t record live albums back then, but Brown knew better. In 2003, just a few years before his death, he’d see it named as the greatest live album of all-time by Rolling Stone magazine.
Brown and his band, The Famous Flames, who’d been touring since the mid-50’s, were already veterans on the ‘Chitlin' Circuit’ (the collective name given to the string of performance venues throughout the eastern and southern United States that were safe and acceptable for African-American entertainers to perform during the age of racial segregation in the US). His first major R&B hit had been the million selling ‘Please, Please, Please’ in 1956 (which would become famous as his finale track, with Brown theatrically dropping to his knees before being helped up to his feet and having a cape draped across his shoulders as he was slowly led off stage, supposedly exhausted – only for him to throw the cape off and launch into the song once again). By the time of the ‘Live At The Apollo’ recording, Brown was regarded by blacks throughout the US as a showman extraordinaire, announced onstage as ‘the hardest working man in show business’ – the white folk where about to find out why.
To get the full weight of James Brown’s legacy, just think of it in this way - if you condensed his career just to the years 1967-1976, starting with ‘Cold Sweat’, the genesis of funk, and cutting off at arguably his last great single, ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’, he’d be lauded as an iconic artist, one of the true titans. However, prior To ‘Cold Sweat’ he’d already recorded many classic tracks, including ‘It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World’, ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’, ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’, ‘Out Of Sight’, ‘Night Train’, ‘Try Me’ and ‘Please, Please, Please’, not to mention this, his defining album, ‘Live At The Apollo’ – in short, Brown was already one of the greats before he’d unleashed Funk on the world.
Michael Jackson absolutely worshiped James Brown – it’s inconceivable that there could have been an MJ without JB. To say that his vocal style and dancing was influenced by Brown is an massive understatement – it provided the very essence of all he aspired to be and it was no wonder that Jackson laid a kiss on ‘the Godfather’s’ forehead as his body lay in a gold casket in Augusta, Georgia (where Brown had lived) following his death on Christmas Day 2006. Prior to this his body ‘lay in state’ at the famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem, the very place where this album was recorded.
Your own memories are always welcomed, and, should you join us for Sunday’s session, it’d be great if you could leave a comment here after you’ve listened to the album sharing your impressions – how the music affected you, who you listened to it with, where you were, plus anything else relevant to your own individual / collective experience.
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