Live at the Apollo was recorded on the night of October 24, 1962 at Brown's own expense. His label, King Records, originally opposed releasing the album, believing that a live album featuring no new songs would not be profitable. The label finally relented under pressure from Brown and his manager Bud Hobgood. (It was disagreements such as this that moved Brown to begin recording for Smash Records the following year in violation of his contract with King.) To King's surprise, Live at the Apollo was an amazingly rapid seller. It spent 66 weeks on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, peaking at #2. Many record stores, especially in the southeast U. S., found themselves unable to keep up with the demand for the product, eventually ordering several cases at a time. R&B disc jockeys often would play side 1 in its entirety, pausing (usually to insert commercials) only to return to play side 2 in full as well. The side break occurred in the middle of the long track "Lost Someone".
In 2003, the album was ranked number 24 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 2004, it was one of 50 recordings chosen that year by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.