Tag Archives: James Brown

Adult Swim “Country Club” Playlist, Also Known As “What’s On Matt’s Ipod”

My girlfriend and I have recently started swimming at the public pool on the weekends.  Since the pool is usually crowded during the afternoons, we decided to go in the early morning when there’s less people there.  The staff refers to this time as “country club hour” as it’s adult swim.  Usually, this consists of us and a bunch of old men.  Most of them don’t actually swim, they just hang out and talk.  To liven the experience, the staff plays old school R&B an soul music.  

Being the big fan of this that I am, I know most of the words to these songs to the surprise of many of the old men.  After Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and James Brown were played my girlfriend pointed out that it was like listening to my Ipod.  Indeed, when I was recently given an Itunes gift card my purchases included The Phil Spector Collection (the best collection of girl groups you can find) and a whole lot of James Brown.  Overall, I paid about $25 for about 70 songs.  

The whole experience at the pool kind of made me wish that I was young when all this music was new.  Of course if that was the case, then at the current moment I might be one of those old men at the pool.  

I just wish they had played the full version of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” instead of the single edit.  

 

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5 Classic Best Of Collections

I’ll be the first to admit that Best Of Collections are usually a terrible representation of an artist’s catalog. As a general rule, I usually try and stay away from them, preferring to check out the classic albums instead.  Have you ever checked out a collection from an artist you absolutely love, and been horrified at the song selection on their collection? In some instances, key songs are missing.  Or, in other cases a ban has several Hits Collections and you have to buy the separate packages to get everything you want.  (Of course, maybe this isn’t so much of a problem for those who use Itunes religiously.)

Too often, these collections tend to gloss over an artist’s evolution or focus on a singular period.  Van Morrison’s Greatest Hits, while containing some of his most well known songs, is actually a pretty poor depiction of his forays into what can be dubbed Celtic-Soul.  Occasionally though, there are some collections that are absolutely essential, that actually get the story of the artist right – as opposed to just compiling a bunch of songs together in a neat little package.

Sly & The Family Stone – Greatest Hits

Originally released in 1970 to fill the gap between Stand! and There’s a Riot Goin’ On, this set is mind-blowingly good containing the best of Sly & The Family Stone’s hits in the late 60s.  Every single track is a explosive fusion of funk, R&B, rock, and soul that tons of bands have tried to emulate, but none have perfected the way Sly & The Family Stone did.  Greatest Hits is a non-stop party that never lets up particularly on “Sing a Simple Song” and the absurdly titled “Thank You (Falentinme Be Mice Elf Agin”).  As a blend of party-music and socially consciousness anthems, it doesn’t get any better than this.

James Brown – 20 All-Time Greatest Hits

James Brown has a lot of hits collection, but this is the best singular compilation containing the early R&B hits (“Please Please Please”, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”).  There’s also the the cultural touchstones of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” – which almost single-handily invented funk.  More than just a collection though, All-Time Greatest Hits captures all of Brown’s energy and passion from the sex-induced singles  – “Get (I Feel Like Being) A Sex Machine Pt. 1” – to the African American empowerment anthem, “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)”.

Talking Heads – Sand In the Vaseline (Popular Favorites)

If you ever needed to know anything about The Talking Heads, this is a great place to start.  It encompasses the big songs (“And She Was”) with fan favorites (“Heaven, “Psycho Killer”). If you listen to their early records, it can be hard to comprehend how the hell they got so big.    Without a doubt, Talking Heads remain of the oddest bands to ever chart a hit (and they had numerous hits).  But Sand in the Vaseline shows a natural progression of art inspired new-wave to pop oddities they would have in the early 80s.  It also doesn’t gloss over their strangest efforts either – the African music inspired “I Zimbra” with nonsense lyrics from Dada artist Hugo Ball is also included.

David Bowie – Changesonebowie/Changesbowie

Changesbowie was released in 1990 to replace Changesonebowie so it would include some songs from the late 70s and the early 80s.  This collection holds a special place for me, since it was my first introduction to Bowie.  My older brother used to play on his car cassette player while picking me up from school.  I was probably 12 or 13 at the time and mostly listened to R.E.M., U2 an whatever was on the radio.  Bowie seemed so far out and exhilarating.  Not one song sounded the same.  There was the neo-soul of “Young Americans” to the glam-rock of “Rebel Rebel”.  The lyrics were similarly mind-blowing.  Did he really just sing, “well hung with snow white-tan?” on “Ziggy Stardust”.  It’s a good place to start obsessing over Bowie.  I’ve always considered Bowie to be the gate-way artist to much weirder stuff, and this is a collection which leads you down that path.   The only complaint is the really awful remix of “Fame”.

Bob Marley – Legend

An absolute classic of a collection.  Bob Marley’s work is universal but also varied.  Legend does a great job of collecting the love songs (“Stir It Up”, “Waiting in Vain”) songs of protest and social injustice (“Buffalo Solider”, “Get Up, Stand Up”).  It truly captures the spirit of Bob Marley.  As for many I’m sure, this was my first introduction to Bob Marley (and also reggae) and left me wanting to know more about Jamaica, Marley, and reggae.  Kaya, Exodus, and Catch A Fire are great albums, but for some reason I find myself listening to Legend more.

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Music Books I’ve Been Reading

Patti Smith Just Kids

Besides her own version of “Gloria” and “Because the Night“, prior to reading Just Kids I knew little about Patti Smith.  I knew she was a punk icon, and that’s about as far as my knowledge of her went.  Around December I saw that she had won the National Book Award for Just Kids.  Having just finished the book a few weeks ago, it is more than justified.  It’s a moving portrait of a young woman on the cusp of fame finding her voice and her inspiration.  As influential as her records are in the rock and roll canon, it’s art in general that moved her – whether it be Rimbaugh, The Beats, or Dylan.  And at the center of it all is her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.  Sometimes they were lovers, but most of the time they were kindred spirits who not only saw art as a way of life, but also salvation.  Smith’s prose is breathtaking, gorgeous, and always enlightening.  After reading Just Kids, I’ve started to really dig into more of her stuff, but the book also made it clear that even if Smith wasn’t famous as a singer, she would still be known in the art world for something.  For her, rock and roll just happened to be her the medium she used.

The Hardest Working Man: How James Brown Saved The Soul of America – James Sullivan

The Hardest Working Man tells the story behind James Brown’s famous April 5th 1968  Boston Show and Telecast.  I’ve been a fan of Brown’s music for a while, but listening to his music some 45 years later, it’s almost impossible to understand how big his impact on music, popular culture, and Black America really was.  Sullivan does a good job of bringing all three parts together and make a compelling book.  It’s really interesting to read about the relationship that Brown had with Civil Rights Activists, and his own thoughts on the subject.   According to the book, the telecast nearly didn’t happen.  The Mayor’s Office of Boston had already arranged the film crew to be there, leaving Brown in a predicament where he could potentially be sued for video infringement if the show was broadcast.  Last minute phone calls were made, and as history shows, Brown ended up giving one of the most important concerts ever.   I suspect that Brown isn’t rapped most sampled artist just because his music is amazing, but also because of his impact on African American culture.

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Bowie Collaborations: “Dancing in the Street”

Yesterday, I wrote about “Under Pressure”.  Today’s close-up is going to be David Bowie and Mick Jagger’s version of Martha & The Vandella’s “Dancing in the Street”.

The original version of “Dancing in the Street” is one of the defining songs of Motown.  And it’s also listed as #40 on Rolling Stones’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  While it originated as a party song and dance-single, it later took on greater meaning when many protesters cited the song as an anthem for civil rights.

What probably started off as a good idea, David Bowie and Mick Jagger decided to record a version of the song as a charity single for Live-Aid in 1985.  Two of the greatest singers getting together for a charity single, and covering one of Motown’s greatest songs?  What could possibly go wrong?

What could have been a great one -off single, turned into something completely different.  (I’ll mention the infamous video later, don’t worry.) Even before the song actually begins, you know it’s going to be the musical equivalent of something like Denny’s Fried Cheese sandwich as Mick Jagger shouts, “Ok!” (followed by something incomprehensible) and Bowie adding, “South America!”  Then there’s the horns.  And then it’s pure 80’s dance-pop – leaving any shred of the original version’s gusto behind.

It’s not like either Bowie or Jagger didn’t know how to record a soul song.  The Rolling Stones covered numerous soul singles before this (including a great version of “Just My Imagination”) and many of the songs on Exile on Main Street found the Stones dabbling in soul among other genres.  And many of Jagger’s signature dances movies were ripped off soul-singers (most notably taking cues from James Brown).  As for Bowie, he put his stamp on “plastic soul” with “Changes”, “Young Americans” & Golden Years”.

Throughout their career, both Jagger and Bowie took cues from musical genres that preceded them and reinvented them in their own image creating some of the best rock and roll in the process.  This was probably their intention when they made “Dancing in the Street”.  (I’m hoping.)

Without the video, the song would still be ridiculous.  (Especially when Jagger ad-libs, “Back in the USSR!” ).  But then there’s the video.  Believe what you want to about Jagger & Bowie sleeping together, but there’s no denying the chemistry that they have in this video.  (There’s a pretty long article about the “affair” between the two here.) Jagger’s outfit is pretty awful, and what’s up with Bowie wearing what appears to be a  lab-coat?

Yet, all the same, as bad as the song and video are, I still find them both extremely hilarious.  It makes me laugh every time, and I would definitely rank “Dancing in the Street” as one of the greatest videos ever.  Perhaps that was their idea along.

Incidentally, when I was in New York City last year I saw someone with a shirt with Jagger’s face on it that said, “I fucked David Bowie”.  I really wanted to get it.

Dancing in the Street:

 

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Seriously Bizarre – James Brown Body Missing?

This is crazy.  Show James Brown some respect, please.

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