Thursday, 16 June 2011

100 Lps Shortlist #10: James Brown - "Funk Power 1970"

James Brown - Funk Power: 1970: A Brand New Thang



If there's one example of a performer whose accolades, hype and hyperbole are justified, it has to be James Brown. A self made man, self taught musician who redefined R&B, Soul and even changed the way we think about the use of rhythm in popular music.

He redefined the live concert as a life-changing force. His groove is the backbeat of every hip-hop and rap record ever made. He wrote, produced and recorded an insane amount of music during his lifetime, as well as writing and producing a number of records for other artists. He worked hard, and he expected his fellow musicians and staff to follow suit.

For all this, his recorded discography is a shambles. He recorded a number of essential singles, but die to their length, cut them down into neat 3 minute pieces and slapped one on each side of a single. His albums were often studio records with dubbed audience noise on them. His albums were, more often than not, two sides of his latest single combined with a bunch of older studio cuts leftover in the vault. Not only that, there sheer volume of material he released during his time (well in excess of 80 LPs) makes his catalogue almost impenetrable.

In the age of the CD, reissue specialists have sought to make sense of Mr Brown's disco-graphical mess, to the point where the best records of his to own are actually compilation albums. In 1991, the definitive boxed set "Star Time" was issued. However, for my taste, the best buys, by far are the 1996 compendiums "Foundations of Funk 1964-1969", "Funk Power 1970: A Brand New Thang" and "Make It Funky: The Big Payback 1971-1975".

These albums take the original single mixes of some of James' greatest jams, and presents them in their uncut, unedited, unfaded-out glory. Some of these are presented in genuine live cuts, but mostly they are just live in studio jams. They are all seriously cool.

The album in question here is "Funk Power 1970". This album highlights the white-hot funk ensemble that was the original JBs, that included drummer Clyde Stubblefield, bass player extraordinaire William "Bootsy" Collins and his brother Phelps "Catfish" Collins on guitar, among others. This album is one, solid, 78 minute funk workout, with 9 killer jams (including two different versions of "Sex Machine", the longest of which is 10 minutes), all cut live in the studio with the band jamming up a storm.

The great thing about these recordings is you get to hear the band stretch out and have fun getting into what they're playing. And you can tell it's live because you can hear James directing the band when the changes are coming. None better than the example of "Give It Up Or Turn It Loose", where the arrangement scales back to just James ad-libbing over a bongo player's groove. Then he calls the drummer in - "CLYDE!" and he falls in with 4 bars of the funkiest drumming you've ever heard before James calls for the bass player to lead the rest of the band back into the song. "Huh. Huh! Bootsy!"

Don't let the length of the tracks scare you off - the first version of "Sex Machine" is the shortest track here at just over 5 minutes. Most are around 6-7 minutes, with "Soul Power" being 12 minutes, "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothin'" is just shy of 15 minutes - you'll be dancing so hard you won't notice.

I defy anyone to listen to this album and not want to shake their backsides, even when sitting down. This is what dance music is all about. If you don't want to dance while listening to this, you either have no soul, you're dead, or your speakers are broken. Make sure you drink plenty of water because 70+ minutes is a long time to dance.



  1. I love funk, I love James Brown, will be seeking this album out!

  2. Thanks heaps for dropping by Kristy! This album, and the other two I mentioned above are all worth checking out. Highly recommended!