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#SayItLoud: Five Career Highlights of James Brown

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Monday, Jul 28, 2014
by PopMatters Staff
PopMatters looks back on some of the standout moments from the Godfather of Soul, from his work in film to his identity as a "sex machine".

SPONSORED POST—Calling all music fans, August 1st brings the release of the eagerly awaited new biopic about James Brown, Get on Up. With a stellar cast—Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Craig Robinson, and Octavia Spencer—Get on Up is directed by The Help‘s Tate Taylor and looks to be a major crowd-pleaser. This is also the perfect time to reflect on Brown’s staggering importance within music and our cultural landscape. Join in with Pharrell and Questlove in celebrating your thoughts about the Godfather of Soul’s lasting legacy using #SayItLoud on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr and more. We are celebrating with you in offering up five of Brown’s most important career highlights.
  


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No list could ever truly break down the magnitude of James Brown‘s impact on 20th popular century music; he isn’t called “The Godfather of Soul” for nothing. An artist of his repute, however, certainly has standout moments. PopMatters has taken but five of many feats Brown achieved over the course of his illustrious career.


1. The Godfather Gets His First #1


Brown would top the Billboard R&B chart almost 20 times by the end of his career. With the inimitable “Try Me”, he struck chart gold for the first time, and decades later, it’s easy to see why. Countless R&B artists have aped this song’s smooth, simple formula. Listening to the original, though, only makes it clearer how hard it is to beat the classic.


 




2. Brown Rides the Night Train


The twelve-bar blues standard is perhaps most famous for Oscar Peterson’s version of the song, found on his hallmark 1962 album of the same name. Not but a year prior, however, Brown and his band The Famous Flames cut a version of the song, including a fierce vocal line by Brown (the song is best known as an instrumental). Not only is “Night Train” a fine take on a well-worn traditional, but it also got Brown his first spot in the Billboard top 40.




3. The Invention of the First Funk Song


The moniker “The Godfather of Soul” has certainly stuck in terms of Brown’s legacy, but Brown is just as (if not more) famous for popularizing funk music, something that in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s was a true revelation. As with any debate about the origins of a genre, there are numerous arguments about where funk truly began. One oft-cited example of funk’s true beginnings, however, is Brown’s “Cold Sweat”, which he wrote with his bandleader “Pee Wee” Ellis. Upon hearing the tune’s rubbery bassline, it’s easy to see why many think this the starting-off point for funk—and why the tune was an R&B and pop smash hit.




4. Brown Becomes the Sex Machine


While “The Godfather of Soul” has stuck with Brown more than any other name, a close second (if not a tie for first) is “Sex Machine”, both the title of one of his most distinctive tunes and his classic 1970 double LP. The song’s infectious “Get on Ups!” have inspired Pharrells the world over, and its libidinous funk is a hallmark of Brown’s style as a recording artist.




5. Brown Jumps Into the World of Film Scoring


Given his distinctive sound, it would have been easy for Brown to have stuck to the realm of chart-topping R&B and funk for the rest of his career, even as funk and disco took a dip in popularity in the ‘80’s. But rather than sit comfortably on his laurels, in the early ‘70’s Brown put out a few film scores, most notably for 1973’s blaxploitation flick Black Caesar. Though Brown’s work met mixed reviews upon its release, over time the score garnered critical appreciation, with one critic calling it “a full-frontal funk assault.”




James Brown empowered a generation of activists with his anthem “Say It Loud”. Join the likes of Pharrell and Questlove in saluting the Godfather of Soul and his lasting impact on social culture and popular music by sharing their thoughts about his music and legacy using the hashtag #SayItLoud on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr and a variety of other social media outlets. Chip in your thoughts using the #SayItLoud hashtag!


Watch Brown perform “Say It Loud” below:


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