The “Listen Again” series was popular enough that your favorite music man has decided to follow the lead of some Los Angeles TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we’ll once again examine previously-released albums BUT the discs we’ll discuss in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. This time we look at James Brown’s Soul Classics, Vol. 1.
For those unfamiliar with Brown, American singer –songwriter/musician James Joseph Brown, Jr. was born in 1933 in South Carolina. He had acquired many show business nicknames before his death in 2006 including “the Hardest Working Man in Show Business” and “the Godfather of Soul”. “They call me ‘the Godfather of Soul’. None of the new generation can ever be the Godfather” he once told author Joe Smith.
Brown has yet to be the focus of a truly well-documented greatest-hits collection, and with the disappearance of the King Records label (and pretty much every James Brown album through 1970), Soul Classics Vol. 1 is more or less all that remains of what was arguably his greatest period. For a performer whose prime stretched over 15 years, the tracks on this compilation album is considered by some critics to be haphazard. Some critics note that even the packaging is utterly devoid of dates, enticing photos from the old days and significant notes.
Some critics also suggest that aesthetically it’s difficult to acknowledge “My Part/Make It Funky Part 3” and “Call Me Super Bad” as quintessential James Brown. Still, there is no arguing when it comes to pieces such as “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, “Cold Sweat” and “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World”.
Released in 1972, Soul Classics Vol. 1 contains 10 cuts. The lead-in, “Sex Machine” is one of his memorable numbers that would actually be revisited in later years. It was written by Bobby Byrd and Ronald Lenhoff. The second selection is the above-mentioned “My Part/”Make It Funky-Part 3″ composed by Charles Bobbit, followed by the noteworthy “Cold Sweat” by Alfred Ellis and the earlier noted Brown composition “Call Me Super Bad”. Side A closes with the hit “I Got You (I Feel Good)”.
The flip side opens another Bobbit number “Make It Funky – Part 1”. It is followed by the classic “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” and yet another Brown tune “Soul Power”. Yet another Bobbit work, “Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose” comes next. The release closes with the unforgettable, famous Betty Newsome number “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World”.
As was often the case back then, the UK release was a bit different. The UK release contained a few more tracks. The extra cuts included were “Money Won’t Change You”, “Night Train”, “Hot Pants (She Got To Use What She Got, To Get What She Wants)” and “Out Of Sight”. These changes were typically made based on the release and/or performance of singles there. It’s honestly a wonder the album became a critical success anywhere considering the controversy that occurred the year the record was released.
1972 was the year Brown stated in an interview that he supported Richard Nixon against the Democrat, George McGovern. This actually brought on a nationwide boycott called by Black Democratic leaders and it damaged his status as the most successful Black entrepreneur in the country. Luckily, he only suffered what some called “a brief downturn” and his continued popularity soon was reported to have “buoyed up his financial fortunes”.
Brown would not be forgotten. In fact, the album was rated five stars by Rolling Stone magazine despite any of their few critical questions. Indeed, some years later the recording would be reissued. The reissue would feature the additional tracks found only on the original UK release as well as Alan Toussaint’s “Working in a Coalmine” giving the expanded disc a total of 16 songs.
The work here marked a period when his voice had yet to decline and his lyrical coherence was not secondary to his sound. Brown had not yet run out of rhythmic ideas and had to resort to recycling some of these very hits under new names (such as “Sex Machine Today”). Indeed, James Brown’s Soul Classics, Vol. 1/Poly.5401 is an essential album from a time before his efforts became caught up in their own somewhat hypnotizing monotony that would later inspire such programs as Saturday Night Live to reduce him to a comedic figure incapable of creating much more than verbal cacophony.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.