These weeks it's all about "Soul Brother Number One," "the Godfather of Soul," "the Hardest Working Man in Show Business," "Mr. Dynamite" -- those are mighty titles, but no one can question that today's artist earned them more than any other performer. Other singers were more popular, others were equally skilled, but few other African-American musicians were so influential over the course of popular music. And no other musician, pop or otherwise, put on a more exciting, exhilarating stage show: his performances were marvels of athletic stamina and split-second timing. He is ranked seventh on the music magazine Rolling Stone's list of its 100 greatest artists of all time. He's been very productive hence plenty to choose from today 3 titles from his early/mid seventies era......N'joy
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Through the gospel-impassioned fury of his vocals and the complex polyrhythms of his beats, Brown was a crucial midwife in not just one, but two revolutions in black American music. He was one of the figures most responsible for turning R&B into soul and he was, most would agree, the figure most responsible for turning soul music into the funk of the late '60s and early '70s. After the mid-'70s, he did little more than tread water artistically; his financial and drug problems eventually got him a controversial prison sentence. Yet in a sense, his music is now more influential than ever, as his voice and rhythms have been sampled on innumerable hip-hop recordings, and critics have belatedly hailed his innovations as among the most important in all of rock or soul.
Brown's rags-to-riches-to-rags story has heroic and tragic dimensions of mythic resonance. Born into poverty in the South, he ran afoul of the law by the late '40s on an armed robbery conviction. With the help of singer Bobby Byrd's family, Brown gained parole and started a gospel group with Byrd, changing their focus to R&B as the rock revolution gained steam. The Flames, as the Georgian group was known in the mid-'50s, signed to Federal/King and had a huge R&B hit right off the bat with the wrenching, churchy ballad "Please, Please, Please." By that point, The Flames had become James Brown & the Famous Flames; the charisma, energy, and talent of Brown made him the natural star attraction.
All of Brown's singles over the next two years flopped, as he sought to establish his own style, recording material that was obviously derivative of heroes like Roy Brown, Hank Ballard, Little Richard, and Ray Charles. In retrospect, it can be seen that Brown was in the same position as dozens of other R&B one-shot: talented singers in need of better songs, or not fully on the road to a truly original sound. What made Brown succeed where hundreds of others failed was his superhuman determination, working the chitlin circuit to death, sharpening his band, and keeping an eye on new trends. He was on the verge of being dropped from King in late 1958 when his perseverance finally paid off, as "Try Me" became a number one R&B (and small pop) hit, and several follow-ups established him as a regular visitor to the R&B charts.
Brown's style of R&B got harder as the '60s began; he added more complex, Latin- and jazz-influenced rhythms on hits like "Good Good Lovin'," "I'll Go Crazy," "Think," and "Night Train," alternating these with torturous ballads that featured some of the most frayed screaming to be heard outside of the church. Black audiences already knew that Brown had the most exciting live act around, but he truly started to become a phenomenon with the release of Live at the Apollo in 1963. Capturing a James Brown concert in all its whirling-dervish energy and calculated spontaneity, the album reached number two on the album charts, an unprecedented feat for a hardcore R&B LP.
Live at the Apollo was recorded and released against the wishes of the King label. It was this kind of artistic standoff that led Brown to seek better opportunities elsewhere. In 1964, he ignored his King contract to record "Out of Sight" for Smash, igniting a lengthy legal battle that prevented him from issuing vocal recordings for about a year. When he finally resumed recording for King in 1965, he had a new contract that granted him far more artistic control over his releases.
Brown's new era had truly begun, however, with "Out of Sight," which topped the R&B charts and made the pop Top 40. For some time, Brown had been moving toward more elemental lyrics that threw in as many chants and screams as they did words, and more intricate beats and horn charts that took some of their cues from the ensemble work of jazz outfits. "Out of Sight" wasn't called funk when it came out, but it had most of the essential ingredients. These were amplified and perfected on 1965's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," a monster that finally broke Brown to the white audience, reaching the Top Ten. The even more adventurous follow-up, "I Got You (I Feel Good)," did even better, making number three.
These hits kicked off Brown's period of greatest commercial success and public visibility. From 1965 to the end of the decade, he was rarely off the R&B charts, often on the pop listings, and all over the concert circuit and national television, even meeting with Vice President Hubert Humphrey and other important politicians as a representative of the black community. His music became even bolder and funkier, as melody was dispensed with almost altogether in favor of chunky rhythms and magnetic interplay between his vocals, horns, drums, and scratching electric guitar (heard to best advantage on hits like "Cold Sweat," "I Got the Feelin'," and "There Was a Time"). The lyrics were not so much words as chanted, stream-of-consciousness slogans, often aligning themselves with black pride as well as good old-fashioned (or new-fashioned) sex. Much of the credit for the sound he devised belonged to (and has now been belatedly attributed to) his top-notch supporting musicians such as saxophonists Maceo Parker, St. Clair Pinckney, and Pee Wee Ellis; guitarist Jimmy Nolen; backup singer and longtime loyal associate Bobby Byrd; and drummer Clyde Stubblefield.
Brown was both a brilliant bandleader and a stern taskmaster, the latter leading his band to walk out on him in late 1969. Amazingly, he turned the crisis to his advantage by recruiting a young Cincinnati outfit called the Pacemakers featuring guitarist Catfish Collins and bassist Bootsy Collins. Although they only stayed with him for about a year, they were crucial to Brown's evolution into even harder funk, emphasizing the rhythm and the bottom even more. The Collins brothers, for their part, put their apprenticeship to good use, helping define '70s funk as members of the Parliament-Funkadelic axis.
In the early '70s, many of the most important members of Brown's late-'60s band returned to the fold, to be billed as the J.B.'s (they also made records on their own). Brown continued to score heavily on the R&B charts throughout the first half of the '70s, the music becoming more and more elemental and beat-driven. At the same time, he was retreating from the white audience he had cultivated during the mid- to late '60s; records like "Make It Funky," "Hot Pants," "Get on the Good Foot," and "The Payback" were huge soul sellers, but only modest pop ones. Critics charged, with some justification, that the Godfather was starting to repeat and recycle himself too many times. It must be remembered, though, that these songs were made for the singles radio jukebox market and not meant to be played one after the other on CD compilations (as they are today).
By the mid-'70s, Brown was beginning to burn out artistically. He seemed shorn of new ideas, was being out-gunned on the charts by disco, and was running into problems with the IRS and his financial empire. There were sporadic hits, and he could always count on enthusiastic live audiences, but by the '80s, he didn't have a label. With the explosion of rap, however, which frequently sampled vintage J.B.'s records, Brown became hipper than ever. He collaborated with Afrika Bambaataa on the critical smash single "Unity" and reentered the Top Ten in 1986 with "Living in America." Rock critics, who had always ranked Brown considerably below Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin in the soul canon, began to reevaluate his output, particularly the material from his funk years, sometimes anointing him not just "Soul Brother Number One," but the most important black musician of the rock era.
For the majority of his career, Brown carried around a strict drug and alcohol-free policy with any member in his entourage, including band members, firing people who disobeyed orders, particularly those who used or abused drugs and alcohol. Some members of Brown's vocal group the Famous Flames were fired due to alcohol use. Noting of the policy, some of the original members of Brown's 1970s band, The J.B.'s, including Catfish and Bootsy Collins, intentionally got high on LSD during a concert gig in 1971, causing Brown to fire them after the show because he had suspected them to be on drugs all along.
However, by the mid-1980s, it was alleged that Brown himself was using drugs. After meeting and later marrying Adrienne Rodriguez, she and Brown began using PCP ("angel dust"). The drug resulted in domestically violent outbursts from Brown and he was arrested several times for domestic violence against Rodriguez while high on the drug. Clearly Adrienne Rodriguez had a bad influence on him and his brain couldn't cope with drugs. In 1988, Brown's personal life came crashing down in a well-publicized incident in which he was accused by his wife of assault and battery. After a year skirting hazy legal and personal troubles, he led the police on an interstate car chase after allegedly threatening people with a handgun. The episode ended in a six-year prison sentence that many felt was excessive; he was paroled after serving two years.
Throughout the '90s Brown continued to perform and release new material like Love Over-Due (1991), Universal James (1992), and I'm Back (1998). While none of these recordings could be considered as important as his earlier work and did little to increase his popularity, his classic catalog became more popular in the American mainstream during this time than it had been since the '70s, and not just among young rappers and samplers. One of the main reasons for this was a proper presentation of his recorded legacy. For a long time, his cumbersome, byzantine discography was mostly out of print, with pieces available only on skimpy greatest-hits collections. A series of exceptionally well-packaged reissues on PolyGram changed that situation; the Star Time box set is the best overview, with other superb compilations devoted to specific phases of his lengthy career, from '50s R&B to '70s funk.
In 2004, Brown was diagnosed with prostate cancer but successfully fought the disease. By 2006, it was in remission and Brown, then 73, began a global tour dubbed the Seven Decades of Funk World Tour. Late in the year while at a routine dentist appointment, the singer was diagnosed with pneumonia. On December 25, 2006, Brown died at approximately 1:45 am EST (06:45 UTC) from congestive heart failure resulting from complications of pneumonia, at age 73, with his personal manager and longtime friend Charles Bobbit at his bedside. According to Mr. Bobbit, Brown stuttered "I'm going away tonight", and then Brown took three long, quiet breaths and fell asleep before dying.
After Brown's death, Brown's relatives and friends, a host of celebrities and thousands of fans attended public memorial services at the Apollo Theater in New York on December 28, 2006 and at the James Brown Arena on December 30, 2006 in Augusta, Georgia. A separate, private memorial service was also held in North Augusta, South Carolina on December 29, 2006, which was attended by Brown's family and close friends. Celebrities who attended Brown's public and/or private memorial services included Michael Jackson, Jimmy Cliff, Joe Frazier, Buddy Guy, Ice Cube, Ludacris, Dr. Dre, Little Richard, Dick Gregory, MC Hammer, Prince, Jesse Jackson, Ice-T, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bootsy Collins, LL Cool J, Li'l Wayne, Lenny Kravitz, 50 Cent, Stevie Wonder, and Don King, among others.
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Originally released in 1973 as a sprawling two-LP set, The Payback was one of James Brown's most ambitious albums of the 1970's, and also one of his best, with Brown and his band (which in 1974 still included Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, St. Clair Pinckney, Jimmy Nolen and Jabo Starks) relentlessly exploring the outer possibilities of the James Brown groove. Stretching eight cuts out over the space of nearly 73 minutes, The Payback is long on extended rhythmic jamming, and by this time Brown and his band had become such a potent and nearly telepathic combination that the musicians were able pull out lengthy solos while still maintaining some of the most hypnotic funk to be found anywhere, and on the album's best songs -- the jazzy "Time Is Running Out Fast", the relentless "Shoot Your Shot", the tight-wound "Mind Power", and the bitter revenge fantasy of the title cut -- the tough, sinuous rhythms and the precise interplay between the players is nothing short of a wonder to behold. And even the album's lower-key cuts (such as the lovelorn "Doing The Best That I Can" and "Forever Suffering") sink their hooks into the listener and pull you in; quite simply, this is remarkable stuff, and even Brown's attempts at lyrical relevance (which were frankly getting a bit shaky at this point in his career) are firmly rooted enough to sound convincing. The Payback turned out to be one of James Brown's last inarguably great albums before he hit a long fallow streak in the mid-to-late 70's, but no one listening to this set would ever imagine that this was the work of an artist (or a band) about to run out of gas.
James Brown - The Payback (flac 448mb)
01 The Payback 7:39
02 Doing The Best I Can 7:39
03 Take Some ... Leave Some 8:20
04 Shoot Your Shot 8:19
05 Forever Suffering 5:39
06 Time Is Running Out Fast 12:58
07 Stone To The Bone 10:14
08 Mind Power 12:04
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After Isaac Hayes kicked his career into high gear with the popular and influential score for Shaft, and Curtis Mayfield managed the same feat with Superfly, seemingly every major soul star of the early 1970's ended up doing music for a blaxploitation film, and James Brown was certainly no exception. Brown sang the title tune for Larry Cohen's idiosyncratic black crime film Black Caesar, as well as performing ten other pieces for the movie's soundtrack (most written by Brown in collaboration with Fred Wesley); Barry Devorzon's lead-off cut, "Down and Out In New York City", sets up the picture's story, while most of the other five vocal cuts reflect the film's narrative in one way or another (although "Make It Good To Yourself" seems to be here mainly because of it's high funk quotient, and on "Mama Feelgood", Brown appropriately hands the vocal chores over to Lynn Collins). Like most soundtrack albums of the period, Black Caesar sounds rather scattershot, especially when the music is divorced from the film's narrative, and this isn't one of Brown's stellar albums of the 1970's; however, there are several top-notch tracks, especially the much-sampled "The Boss", the potent "Make It Good To Yourself", and the melodramatic "Mama's Dead", and Fred Wesley's superb horn charts, Jimmy Nolen's percussive guitar, and Jabo Starks' dead-on-the-one drumming make even the weaker instrumental cuts worth a quick listen.
James Brown - Black Caesar (flac 220mb)
01 Down And Out In New York City 4:43
02 Blind Man Can See It 2:18
03 Sportin' Life 3:50
04 Dirty Harri 1:29
05 The Boss 3:14
06 Make It Good To Yourself 3:18
07 Mama Feelgood (Feat. Lyn Collins) 3:29
08 Mama's Dead 4:47
09 White Lightning (I Mean Moonshine) 2:40
10 Chase 2:38
11 Like It Is, Like It Was 3:51
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Brown's early-'70s run of classic singles and good-to-great albums is still impressive. Hell was the double album released a year after the gold selling The Payback. To some, the title might put this effort in the realm of kitsch, but in many ways Hell was one of Brown's strongest albums. The album was the pinnacle of his work as the Minister of the Super New New Heavy Funk. From the tough and nimble Latin rhythms of "Coldblooded," and "Sayin' It and Doin' It" to the title track, all are prime pre-disco Brown. "My Thang" is probably as hard and unrelenting as he got without spontaneously combusting. The biggest surprise of Hell is that no matter how odd the song choices seemed, practically everything worked, excluding a few key songs of course. Both "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Stormy Monday" don't belong in James Brown's catalogue, let alone the same album. Ballad-wise, Brown fares better. "These Foolish Things Remind Me of You" has him getting all warm and fuzzy as he inexplicably throws in an "I'm hurt, I'm hurt" for good measure. That song, as well as the weepers "A Man Has to Go to the Cross Road Before He Finds Himself" and "Sometime," were produced by David Matthews who could always get good ragged yet poised vocals from Brown. Although Brown did roll snake eyes on all of side three, he did leave Hell on a good note. "Papa Don't Take No Mess" is laid-back, funky jazz that's worth each of its 13-plus minutes. Despite a few detours, Hell is worth listening to.
James Brown - Hell (flac 441mb)
01 Coldblooded 4:46
02 Hell 5:07
03 My Thang 4:19
04 Sayin' It And Doin' It 3:08
05 Please, Please, Please 4:14
06 When The Saints Go Marching In 2:41
07 These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You 3:15
08 Stormy Monday 3:17
09 A Man Has To Go Back To The Crossroad Before He Finds Himself 2:57
10 Sometime 4:20
11 I Can't Stand It "76" 8:08
12 Lost Someone 3:41
13 Don't Tell A Lie About Me And I Won't Tell The Truth On You 5:09
14 Papa Don't Take No Mess 13:51
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