40. James Brown – Live at the Apollo

James Brown - Live at the ApolloOne of the things that worried me when I started this 1001 albums adventure was that, eventually there were going to be some albums I just didn’t like. Perfectly reasonable, except that these are albums that have been chosen not just because they’re good, but they’re the GREAT albums. If I’m non-plussed, doesn’t that reflect more on me than them? Isn’t it a perfect formula for looking like a philistine?

In the months to come, it’s going to be a bit more black and white – there’s a fucking Simply Red album in there (not for a couple of years so don’t unfollow me yet). But still, if an album on the list doesn’t blow my skirt up, then I at least put myself through a few listens to give it a chance. As I did with this one.

First off, it’s James Brown. And there’s no way I want to snipe at the Godfather. I love the guy, and there’s no arguing that he had an impact. And this album has not just been chosen by Rolling Stone as the 25th greates album of all time, but it’s even been added to the US Library of Congress.

So yeah, maybe I’m in the minority here but… yeah…

Let’s be fair, this is the proto-James Brown. The soul singer who did “Please Please Please” and “I’ll go Crazy”. That funk swagger that would make him an icon was a couple of years down the road, and while there’s no denying this is the recognisable James Brown on the mike, to me at least, it just didn’t bite.

It has its moments. That intro by Fats Gonder is pure soul showbiz joy, “I’ll go Crazy” sounds good, and the closing “Night Train” is a storm of hardcore soul energy. He gets the crowd going throughout, particularly during a brave nine-hit medley. But just as often, it feels flat, uninteresting, and in the case of “I love you, yes I do”, in the middle of that medley, out-of character insipid.

It’s a surprisingly short album, weighing at just 31 minutes and 31 seconds, and none of it is terrible. But I hope there’s more proper James Brown to come on this list because this left me cold.

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