Category Archives: James Brown

Rocks In The Attic #727: James Brown – ‘Santa’s Got A Brand New Bag’ (1988)

RITA#727The Godfather of Soul would have been going through a bit of a revival in the late 1980’s. His screams and drum-breaks were sampled all over the burgeoning hip hop genre, and white audiences would have been reminded of him following his appearance on the soundtrack to Rocky IV. His output around this time, particularly on 1986’s Gravity and 1988’s I’m Real, sounds very of its time. The funk is there, but so are the synthesisers and drum machines.

So it would have been a great time to cash-in with a compilation of his Christmas-themed songs from 1966 to 1970. You might find it incredible that any one artist could have recorded so many festive songs in a four-year period – twelve are presented here, culled from singles, b-sides and three standalone Christmas albums – but James’ output during this period was incredible. Not only could he have released a song of him reading the South Carolina phonebook, but the resulting single, Funky Phone Book Pts. 1 & 2, would surely have been a hit on the R&B charts.

Most of these songs collected here show the slower, soulful side of James’ pre-funk career, but the standout is a song from the pointier end of the ‘60s. Soulful Christmas is a funk workout from ‘68, featuring James belting out the lyric ‘Happiness…Good gawd…Huh…I got plenty of!’ before calling for Maceo Parker to play his funky sax.

Santa would be proud. Merry Christmas everybody.

Hit: Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto

Hidden Gem: Soulful Christmas

RITA#727a

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Rocks In The Attic #626: James Brown – ‘Get Up Offa That Thing ’ (1976)

RITA#626The collector in me breathes a heavy, internal sigh when I think about James Brown records. I’ve always liked the collecting aspect of music, almost as much as the tunes themselves. It started with Aerosmith, and I ingested everything greedily. Then I turned to AC/DC, same deal; then the Beatles. And on and on and on.

It’s too hard with James Brown though – he just has too many records. Wikipedia credits him with having sixty-three studio albums, fifteen live albums and forty-nine compilations (at the time of writing). Of course, there’s a lot of variability in there – a couple of diamonds for every half a dozen lumps of coal.

It’s always worth the effort mining his work though – this, his forty-sixth studio record, features one of his biggest hits, Get Up Offa That Thing / Release The Pressure. The song, released as a two-part single a couple of months before the album dropped, is a dancefloor smash and a worthy addition to the man credited on the sleeve as the Minister of New New Super Heavy Funk. He should add ‘doctor’ to his list of titles, given his medical advice in the song – ‘Get up offa that thing and dance till you feel better!’

RITA#626aI’d like to collect all sixty-three studio records but I think it might be too difficult, particularly considering my location in the world. I’m sure that I’d have a better chance if I was within driving distance of record shops in the Bronx, or other inner-city American areas. There’s always Discogs though, and that helped me greatly when I was collecting all of the James Bond soundtracks.

Perhaps I have another James-related quest in me. Five down, fifty-eight to go…

Hit: Get Up Offa That Thing / Release The Pressure

Hidden Gem: I Refuse To Lose

Rocks In The Attic #439: James Brown – ‘The Best Of’ (1987)

RITA#439I grew with a CD copy of this album in the house. It was my Dad’s only James Brown album. Well, at least he had one. It could have been worse; it could have been a James-free house. Ugh, that would have been a disaster.

This is a pretty run of the mill compilation. The K-Tel record label doesn’t really scream artistic authenticity, and as you might expect it’s just a cash-in record to follow on from the success of the Gravity record a year before. Living In America, the big hit off Gravity, was used as Apollo Creed’s entrance music (before being destroyed by Ivan Drago) in Rocky IV – and if a James Brown song takes centre-stage in a Hollywood blockbuster, well the obvious thing to do is to bring out a greatest hits package to capitalise on the scores of movie-goers who might want to hear a bit more.

As far as James Brown compilations go, there are much better ones; but it suits the casual listener’s first toe in the funky water. Two songs from Gravity stand up next to the Godfather’s biggest pop singles from the 1960s and his greatest funk workouts from the 1970s. The long running time (xx minutes) works perfectly on CD, but the vinyl pressing is too busy, too compressed to provide a decent document of James’ – and most importantly, his band’s – sound.

Hit: I Got You (I Feel Good)

Hidden Gem: Honky Tonk

Rocks In The Attic #401: James Brown And His Famous Flames – ‘Please Please Please’ (1959)

RITA#401As far as debut records go, this has to be one of the most unlike the same artist’s future output. Compared to the deep funk of the late ‘60s into the ‘70s, this sounds very tame. But compared to contemporary records, it sounds anything but.

The instrumentation on this record doesn’t sound a million miles from the band at the dance scene in Back To The Future – the basic line-up of guitar, upright bass, drums and piano, augmented by the occasional blast of saxophone. The choice of material is also very similar – Night Train, heard in the film as George McFly dances by himself, was recorded by Brown’s band in 1961, later appearing on the seminal Live At The Apollo album.

The sawdust is already in Brown’s voice, as is the raw, burning sound of integrity like he’s singing about the end of the world. He’s just not singing about hot pants yet. If he had at this point in his career, he would have been viewed in retrospect as some weird Nostradamus figure – hot pants hadn’t been invented yet. And young ladies were far from being objectified as sex machines.

Hit: Please, Please, Please

Hidden Gem: Chonnie-On-Chon

Rocks In The Attic #267: James Brown – ‘The Popcorn’ (1969)

RITA#267James Brown was such a smart businessman. Despite being tied to a record contract restricting him to so many LP releases per year as a vocalist, he used to bring instrumental records out. Talk about exploiting a loophole!

The Popcorn is one such release. The LP cover states James Brown directs and dances with the James Brown Band, and just in case the record company is watching, the cover shows James mid-jive on stage. And there’s not a mic stand to be seen!

The album is a short and relatively straightforward run-through of eight instrumentals (with two numbers split into two parts each). It actually sounds like it was hastily recorded (probably to cash in on the back of the successful Mother Popcorn single) and even though 1969 was a landmark year for James Brown – Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose and Funky Drummer were both recorded or released in the same year – the album is a relatively restrained affair. There are no call-outs on the record – no “Fred!”, no “Bobby!”, etc – which I’m guessing was probably a safety measure to prevent the record company from claiming it was a vocal performance.

But it’s still as funky as hell!

Hit: The Popcorn

Hidden Gem: Why Am I Treated So Bad

Rocks In The Attic #213: James Brown – ‘Live At The Apollo’ (1963)

RITA#213Two hundred and thirteen blog posts in, and I haven’t covered any James Brown! Sacrilege!

In the summer of 2004, I went to see James Brown at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall with Moo. The day before I had narrowly missed seeing James play at Glastonbury (a freak thunderstorm blocked my path to the Pyramid Stage where he was playing that afternoon).

Our seats at the James Brown show was in the front row, to the side of the stage, but in the front row all the same. Seeing James play live is one of my greatest achievements, and not many people can say they’ve seen him from the comfort of the first row.

I remember the ushers at The Bridgewater Hall being a little too heavy-handed in their health and safety responsibilities. The very animated gay man sat on the other side of the aisle from us, wasn’t allowed to dance in the aisle, just a step away from his seat. Every time he would wander out, he’d get ushered back into his seat.

Aside from this type of petty rule policing, the show was fantastic. Emcee Danny Ray introduced James on to the stage as he had been doing for the previous thirty years. James wasn’t as energetic as he was in his heyday, but he was far more lively than any other 71-year old I’ve seen. A couple of hot dancers and a crack-hot band filled the stage.

Throughout the show, a really old white guy in the front row of the theatre had been dancing crazily, like a zombie. At one point, James motioned to his ‘man’ (a large bodyguard type who stood close to him all night), and pointed to the old man. James’ ‘man’ went down from the stage and brought the old guy back up with him, so he could dance like a crazy zombie on stage with James. Fantastic.

I had heard about James’ numerous issues prior to seeing him perform. Moo told me that a friend of his had seen James play at his previous Manchester gig, and he had refused to come out on stage, making the support band play over and over until he was ready.

I didn’t see any of that. He was professional to the very end. All I saw was one of the greats. Just a very happy memory.

Live At The Apollo is always bandied around as one of the greatest live albums. It has a lot of charm, and it has a few problems (like how they cut a song in two between side one and side two of the record), but at the end of the day it’s still not really James Brown to me. This record captures him in his first wave of chart success, with one foot firmly placed in gospel, and a couple of years before he single-handedly invented funk with Out Of Sight and Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. To hear a similar show to the one I saw in Manchester that time, it’d have to be Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo, Vol. III.

Hit: Please, Please, Please

Hidden Gem: Think