Is it possible that James Brown turned 71 today? In my mind’s eye, I see him on stage at the Minneapolis Auditorium in 1967, starring in the quintessential live ’60’s show that climaxed in his taking the crown as the King of Soul, wrapped in a royal cape and prostrate on the stage.
For years Brown could do no wrong, reeling off a string of hits including “I’ll Go Crazy,” “Please Please Please,” “Cold Sweat,” “This Is A Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” “I Got You,” “Out Of Sight” and the somewhat cryptic “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” In the transformation of ’50s rhythm and blues into ’60s soul, you can hear the glorious gospel sound that gave the music its vibrancy more directly in his music than anywhere else.
Brown’s two Live at the Apollo albums, the first dating from 1963 and the second from 1967, are the definitive documents. “Lost Someone” from the 1963 album may be the most devastating performance in the history of soul. Crawling from one side of the album to the next over fifteen minutes, Brown teaches, preaches, inspires, and instructs. You can hear him subdue an audience that he himself has aroused.
Contractual recording complications ensued following the unprecedented success of the 1963 album, but in 1964 Brown stole the show in the T.A.M.I. production out from under the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones with an unforgettable performance.
The 1967 album captures Brown going mainstream, on the one hand, with beautiful renditions of “I Wanna Be Around” and “That’s Life,” backed with strings, and going off in the direction of funk, on the other hand, emphasizing rhythm and groove at the expense of melody. As Robert Palmer observes, the rhythmic elements became the song. It is an amazing album in its own right (now rereleased and augmented with 25 minutes of previously unreleased tracks); no one in popular music has ever assembled a more fiercesome backing band, or directed it with such discipline.
Brown is a soul survivor, but he seems to have descended back into the depths of dissolution and self-destruction out of which he willed his success fifty years ago. Below is a photo that catches him with our favorite Democrat in a manner that befits his accomplishments, dating from the the mid-1980s before his notorious relapses.
HINDROCKET laments: Trunk, you were the only man in the world who I thought might be able to explain what “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” means. Now you tell us it’s “somewhat cryptic”? Hey, even I knew that, and I’m still trying to figure out who Eivets Rednow was.
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