This is my all-time favorite James Brown collection. And every single song here has a corresponding story of how it fits into my life.
Song 1 — “It’s a Man’s Man’s World’
Picture yourself in a Brooklyn nightclub on a Saturday night. The paper listed it as a burlesque show, and we’re not really sure what to expect. Our group of 10 drinks and talks over the background music in the dim, wooden, beer-soaked club.
The lights dim and a shadowy figure appears on the stage, as the light drenches her, a girl, dressed in dollar bills has her hands to the sky. And a song that I had never liked begins to play. “It’s a Man’s, Man’s World” by James Brown has a real 50’s doo-wop crooner feel. And before this night, I’d always thought it a tribute to misogyny and the darker part of James’ dealings with the fairer sex. But as the organ pumps out the chords, full of tension and emotion, and this woman begins to cast the dollar bills from her body, the whole song takes on new meaning. The song is now about the roles of the sexes, pride, misunderstanding and the words become a tribute of a tired man who loves a girl.
Song 2 — “Please, Please, Please”
Every week at KEXP, I make documentary on a new musical subject. During the “Heart of Soul” series I had a James Brown week. There were so many interesting facts that the 5 minute story did not have time to cover. One fact was that this song “Please, Please, Please” was one of James’s first big hits. It didn’t have much in terms of lyrics, just these repeated words pretty much, yet with James it didn’t matter. His all-out delivery, pleading for love was enough. And this moment in was a make or break point in his career (it made him). If you want to listen to the documentary on James go here. One more obscure fact about James — in the bonus DVD for the movie Elizabethtown, the main character goes to a bar where the bartender has seen the rise and fall of rhythm and blues. The actor asks the bartender “What makes an artist like James Brown so good.” The bartender answers. “Hunger.”
Song 3 — “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”
Last summer I went to the music/arts festival Burning Man. And I have to say it will probably be my last time. Although the art is the best in the world (I’m not kidding, anyone who loves art should go at least once), the dust was unbelievably bad. I think I was waaaay too sober to ignore the fact that I couldn’t breathe. Anyhow, the upside was the amazing people we met. There were the two salt-of-the earth dudes from Ohio, a whole group of wild ones from the Bay Area, and there was a camp from Japan. Each morning when I put on a CD in our camp one of the Japan kids would start to dance. He had sort of a Michael Jackson pre-Thriller style but different. And the morning I put on this James Brown CD his dancing got even better. He didn’t stop until the CD ended.
On the last day of the festival I went to the dancing guy (who spoke no English) and handed the James Brown CD. He looked confused and I pointed to him. He threw me a questioning look and pointed to himself. “Yes” I nodded. I’m giving it to you. He brought a friend over to translate and when he was sure the CD was his he jumped into my arms (he was smaller than me, and I’m little) for a big hug.
This video with James Brown giving dance lessons is dedicated to my friend from the desert, the bartender with the wise words, and the stripper who changed a song from good to bad.
Join Michele Myers for Nite Life — Every Friday Night at 9pm. Fridays at midnight she does an album spotlight, playing 3 songs from an album and telling a story about it. She also produces KEXP Documentaries — short radio features. KEXP Documentaries series include: Punk Evolution, Masters of Turntablism, Portraits of Post-Punk, The Heart of Soul, Music Revolutionaries and Death, Drugs and Rock n Roll.