The death of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, made me think about all the great music he created and influenced. Here’s my pick of the ten best songs he had a hand in….
Jesus, he could dance…
- Talkin’ Loud & Sayin’ Nothing – James Brown: The song that gave Gilles Peterson the name for his legendary Sunday afternoon club and award winning record label. James & his band were rarely tighter or funkier whilst the lyrics cover the familiar subject of minding your own business before you mind anyone else’s. And that break in the middle is the coolest thing ever!
- I Know You Got Soul – Bobby Byrd: The lead vocalist in James Brown 1st band, Bobby Byrd ended up as James co-vocalist & band leader. This song was co-written by Brown but sung by Byrd. It’s been sampled countlessly and is sure to make anyone feel funky.
- Unwind Yourself – Marva Whitney: Originally one of James’ backing singers, Marva Whitney went on to release a string of brilliant songs (none of which really made the big time). I’ve written about this track before, and it’s still bloody brilliant.
- Cross The Tracks – Maceo & The Macks: An impossibly funky song driven by the wailing sax of Maceo Parker – long-time member of James Brown’s band. Brown produced this record and it tells.
- Get Up (I Feel Like Being) A Sex Machine – James Brown: Probably his most famous song, and one that has fallen vitcim to many pastiches. But actually listen to Sex Machine and you realise what an amazing song it is. James Brown makes explicit what others had hinted at – funk is only one letter away from fu*k.
- It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World – James Brown: Before he invented funk, James Brown was all about the soul and Man’s World has that in abundance. Despite the apparently sexist nature of the song it is of course a hymn of praise to the women of the world. Beautiful. And it has one of the greatest intros ever.
- Think (About It) – Lyn Collins: Another of James Brown’s backing singers who went on to record her own material; this song (produced by Brown) has what must be one of the most sampled drum breaks ever. And it’s been sampled because it’s funky as hell, especially with Lyn belting out the words.
- Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud – James Brown: Whilst James Brown was known as the black Elvis, nothing the King ever did had half the impact this did. Not really one of James Brown’s best songs, I’m Black & I’m Proud actually entered the language as a statement of defiance for African Americans in a country which had was only just leaving segregation behind.
- Soul Power – James Brown: A song that most of the population of the Western world would probably recognise and be unable not to dance to if they heard it. James Brown was funk, pure & simple. And he wanted to go to the bridge…
- The Message From The Soul Sisters – Vicki Anderson: Another former backing singer, Vicki Anderson was considered by James Brown to be the best backing singer he ever had. This song (released under the pseudonym Myra Barnes) has a great groove, and a dark undertone with uncompromising lyrics – “If you donâ€šÃ„Ã´t give me what I want Iâ€šÃ„Ã´ve got to get it some other place.”
I probably could have chosen any 10 from hundreds of great tracks, but these are the songs written, produced or performed by James Brown that I feel have had the most impact and which, quite simply, rule.
Have a look at him performing Sex Machine whilst you think of your own ten, and also about how much the music world lost this Christmas.
Nice ‘tache James…..