Album: James Brown Sings Raw Soul
While a lot of James Brown’s funkier tunes stopped and started seemingly upon their own free will, “Money Won’t Change You” was the exact opposite: once it found its groove, it hung on for dear life.
So it was all double-time drums, liquid organ and horn blerts over and over and over and over again world without end amen. While I could see where this kind of repetition could drive folks nuts, to me, it’s no so far off from what The Velvet Underground would be doing — albeit a lot less funkier — at around the same time.
Album: Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag
Among the many many other things it’s always been, “Papa’s Got a Brand-New Bag” might have the most prescient song title that has ever existed.
Sure, there might have been other funk songs — Brown himself made a case for 1964’s “Out of Sight” — but at the very very least, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” was the first funk song that proclaimed itself as a funk song.
Album: Please, Please, Please
I didn’t really discover James Brown until 1991. Well, that’s not exactly true: you don’t exactly discover James Brown. As one of the most important musicians of the past 100 years — and really, only Bob Dylan and Miles Davis might be more important — he’s always been there.
Which might be why it took so long: songs like “Please, Please, Please,” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Feel Good” were such an integral part of the popular music firmament that it was hard to wrap my head around them as discrete entities in and of themselves. (And in fact, “I Feel Good” has been ruined by the seemingly endless usage of it in film trailers, TV shows and the like.)
When James Blood Ulmer’s Odyssey album showed up at KFSR in 1984, it was one of those rare records that could be played during both the jazz hours and the alt-rock hours, and even more rare was that it was a so-called “fusion” record that I really liked a lot.
Of course, given that the entire sound was made with Ulmer’s free-jazz-by-way-of-Hendrix, Charles Burnham’s soaring electric violin and Warren Benbow’s inventive drums, so it was a fusion of a dozen different musical styles the ended up creating majestic jams.
James never really lived up to the promise of The Village Fire EP, and while I know that some people loved their first album proper, Stutter, I remember being disappointed with it, and the follow ups as well.
So I kinda wrote them off. Which meant that I was taken by surprise by their biggest song — at least here in the States — the title track of 1993’s Laid.