The live album is a strange beast. On one hand, they capture the untempered urgency of a band playing to a crowd. On the other, it’s easy to feel like the recorded version is somehow the way it was “meant” to be heard. But when a live recording goes right—and it doesn’t happen particularly often—it has the chance to meet, or even surpass, an artist’s best studio work. Examples include The Band’s Last Waltz, Nirvana’s Unplugged, The Who’s Live at Leeds, and Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison. Perhaps the greatest-ever tracks recorded in a live setting, though, are the three volumes that James Brown recorded at the Apollo Theater in the '60s and early '70s.
With the Apollo back in the news thanks to an upcoming James Brown biopic and the venue’s 80th anniversary, it's the perfect time to revisit some of the best songs the Godfather of Soul recorded on the storied stage. From his classic hits like “Sex Machine” to ballads like "Bewildered," there's an unbridled swagger throughout those records that remain unrivaled in the history of funk and soul. Here are ten personal favorites culled from Live at the Apollo, Live at the Apollo, Volume II, and—arguably the greatest of the trio—Revolution of the Mind. Like the best concert albums in history, these records make you feel like you're right up front, singing along with the band.