Monday, December 25, 2006

The Godfather has Souled out

We interrupt your Christmas revelry for this bit of unfortunate news:

The one and only James Brown, also variously known as...
  • The Godfather of Soul...
  • Mister Dynamite...
  • The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business...
  • Soul Brother Number One...
  • The Night Train...
  • Butane James...
  • The Father of Funk...
  • Mister Please Please Please...
  • The Original Disco Man...
  • Universal James...
  • The Sex Machine...
  • and His Bad Self...
...passed away this morning at the age of 73.

Tonight, the world is a less funky place.

It's a hoary cliché to say that someone's influence cannot be overestimated, but when it comes to American popular music, James Brown is the perfect exemplar of that statement. Every rock, soul, funk, and R&B performer of the last 40 years owes an incalculable debt to the Godfather. Without James Brown, you have no Michael Jackson, no Mick Jagger, no Janis Joplin, no Aretha Franklin, no Bono, no Prince. Hip-hop? Forget about it. Without James Brown, there is no hip-hop; he's the most sampled artist who ever laid a track on wax.

In short, the man had a zillion hyperbolic nicknames, but he earned every one.

I enjoyed the privilege of attending one of the Godfather's legendary performances nearly a quarter-century ago. Brown was in his late forties then, and some of his "get up offa that thing" had already got up and gone, but Butane James still threw down an incendiary 90-minute set that would have put many younger performers to shame. Heck, I was a hale, hearty twentysomething college kid, and the man wore me out just watching him work up a sweat.

It's impossible to distill the musical accomplishments of a seminal artist like Brown to just a few greatest hits, but just off the top of my head, here are my baker's dozen all-time favorite James Brown cuts:
  • "Please, Please, Please": The hit that set the standard for all that was to come.
  • "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag": And it was filled with nothing but stone cold soul.
  • "I Got You (I Feel Good)": Yes, my beloved Giants wore the grooves off this one when they used it for several seasons as their theme song, but there's a reason why it worked.
  • "Cold Sweat": Ripped from the deepest recesses of a man's libido, and survived to tell the tale.
  • "Licking Stick": Mama, come here quick, indeed.
  • "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud": The anthem of a generation of socially aware African Americans. Not to mention a bunch of freckle-faced Irish kids from Dublin.
  • "Let a Man Come In and Do the Popcorn": Ladies, even if you weren't exactly sure what "doing the popcorn" meant, you knew you wanted James to come in and do it.
  • "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine": I'll buy that for a dollar.
  • "Hot Pants": She's got to use what she's got to get what she wants.
  • "Get On the Good Foot": Just try to listen to this number and not want to shake what your mama gave you. Go ahead. Try.
  • "Talking Loud and Saying Nothing": In which Mr. Brown gets all sociopolitical on your butt.
  • "Papa Don't Take No Mess": Don't even think about starting anything. The Godfather will take you down.
  • "Get Up Offa That Thing": Words to live by.
I'm sad to think that Papa and his brand new bag have left the building permanently. We'll never see his like again.

One last thought, of a personal nature: About 20 years ago, I worked with a very pleasant fellow whose name just happened to be James Brown. I used to refer to him playfully as "the Godfather of Soul," despite the fact that he was as terminally Caucasian an individual as one could find. James, on the other hand, relished the association. He even asked me to record a message for his answering machine in which I imitated the real James Brown's stage announcer's stentorian oratory:
James Brown — the Godfather of Soul, the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business, Soul Brother Number One, the Sex Machine — cannot take your call right now. But leave a message at the beep, and he'll get back to you.
I hope the other James Brown is still alive and well.

We now return you to your mistletoe and eggnog.

Labels: , , ,

1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Sam offered these pearls of wisdom...

My personal JB faves?

"Super Bad"-When I worked at the oldies radio station here in town, I used the song as my closing theme. Did you ever daydream about being a badass who would make Shaft pee his leather pants? That would be me and that was my theme song.

"The Payback"-The bass line was so smooth, it was like warm butter on toast. The greatest revenge song ever.

"Night Train"-It's not originally his, but James gave his band a huge showcase with this song. Blistering.

"Static"- this one is little known, but in 1988 James teamed up with the group Full Force (the guys that gave us Samamtha Fox)for this song. It proved that the Godfather still had it. "Don't start none, won't be some".

I could find dozens of tunes and we could be here for hours on this. That doesn't really sound like a bad idea now if you think about it.

4:22 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home