Three facts about James Brown:
1. He’s the godfather of soul
2. He’s the hardest working man in show business
3. My wife Holly does not like his music
If you only knew two of the three facts above, don’t feel bad – so did I prior to putting Brown’s live double album Sex Machine on the turntable yesterday. And to be clear, I did not learn about him having a nickname that I’d never heard of before, so that pretty much leaves #3. You think you know someone after being married to them long enough that if your marriage were a person, it would be allowed to buy cigarettes and vote (but not drink alcohol). Go figure.
I first became aware of James Brown as a teenager through the brilliance that was Rocky IV. OK, it wasn’t brilliant, but it was a classic cold war US versus Russia story done with sport, and Brown’s pre-fight intro at the start of the movie with the song “Living in America” is, frankly, amazing. It’s SO over the top, and SO good! In fact, I just went and watched a clip of it on YouTube, and it’s every bit as fantastic as I remember. The rest of the movie followed predictable lines, and the lack of further live James Brown performances certainly hurt it, probably as much if not more than the stilted acting of Dolph Lundgren.
(Studio Guy: “Look, we’ll get Dolph Lundgren to play the Russian. It’ll be great!”
Casting Guy: “Um, I’m pretty sure he’s Swedish, not Russian.”
Studio Guy: “Sweden. Russia. Who cares! He’s a foreigner, right? No one will notice!”)
Released in 1970, Sex Machine includes live performances from Augusta, Georgia, right in Brown’s backyard. It includes a number of the obligatory hits like “Get Up (Sex Machine)” and “It’s a Man’s Man’s World”, plus a few songs written by other artists like “Spinning Wheel” and “If I Ruled the World”. Each of the four sides includes the MC announcing James Brown’s arrival on the stage, which seems a bit egocentric until you remember that this is James Brown we’re talking about. The man was 100% ego.
The sound quality of Sex Machine is very good, and Brown’s band is of course excellent, so the album provides some great versions of those James Brown classics you know so well. Definitely a fun one to spin when you’ve got some company over and are hanging out with some food and drinks, as Brown never disappoints. Unless you’re my wife…