Thursday, October 28, 2010

October 28: James Brown, "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine"

Artist: James Brown
Song: "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine"
Album: "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine" (single)
Year: 1970

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CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (LIVE VERSION) (will open in new tab)

Though they are very rare in the overall history of music, there are a few songs that not only define an artist, but an era and style as well.  These elite songs are almost always known worldwide and have become definitions onto themselves.  While there are a few instances where these songs are "one off" hits for an artist, there is at least one case where a bit more justification may be necessary due to the artist in question being so pivotal in the development of music.  There is at least one case where a song of this nature was recorded by an artist whose name defines an entire era of music, and that is why one cannot overlook the rest of the catalog of the late, great James Brown.  Call him "The Godfather Of Soul," call him "The Hardest Working Man In Showbiz," but at the end of the day, Brown completely re-wrote the books on music a number of times throughout his career, and from the sound of the band behind him to his own stage presence, there is truly no other performer in history worthy of being mention in the same breath.  Over the course of the six decades in which he was recording, Brown released a massive amount of songs that have become iconic, and yet there is one song that defines him above all others.  Signifying the "next stage" in his career on a number of levels, there is simply no other song in recorded history that can even remotely compare to James Brown's monumental 1970 single, "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine."

The most significant difference between "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine" and all of the previous recordings of James Brown is that this was one of the first he released with his (then) new band.  By the time 1970 rolled around, nearly all of the members of Brown's previous band had left for other groups, and longtime member Bobby Byrd helped Brown recruit a group of musicians from Cincinnati, Ohio that called themselves The Pacemakers.  Led by the Collins brothers, it is their playing that makes "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine" such an amazing song, as it injected an uncanny amount of funk into Brown's legendary soul sound.  This is largely due to the playing of William Collins, better known as "Bootsy," as he works all over the fret-board, and it would be due to his work here that he would become a legend in his own right.  His brother, Phelps Collins, better known as "Catfish," lends an almost ska-style riff to the song, and this is the signature sound on "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine."  John "Jabo" Starks adds to this "sting," with his brilliant work on drums, and the brief piano interludes from Byrd provide for a perfect change in pace.  The fact that the horns are not nearly as prominent here is one of the main differences from Brown's previous recordings, and this is also where one can hear the "new" style of soul that Brown would pursue over the decade that followed.

Yet even with this new group of phenomenal musicians in tow, there is still nothing that can outshine the presence of James Brown himself.  There may be no other singer in history with as recognizable a voice as Brown, as both the sound of his singing, as well as the way in which he delivers the word have become the basis for countless artists that followed.  Always bringing an almost overwhelming amount of energy and emotion to every song, "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine" is no different, as Brown works the entire vocal range, and one can almost feel the sweat coming off of the track.  Often ignoring traditional spacing for the lyrics, "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine" is very much about "feeling" out where the words best belong, and there is also a great deal of improvised singing and shouting across the nearly six-minute original recording, as well as the shorter single release.  These improvised moments are in many ways the spirit of this new soul sound, as Brown lets the groove carry him and simply lets loose.  The shouting back and forth that opens the song, as well as leads into the bridge stands as one of the most recognized moments in music history, and during live performances, Brown was able to work these points to an almost dizzying level, creating a mood and energy that remains largely unmatched to this day.

Truth be told, while the studio recording of "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine" is nothing short of iconic, it is in the handful of live recordings that one can experience the true majesty of this song.  While there are others that are better known, the version Brown released as Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo Volume III contains without question the most high-octane performance, and it is truly something that must be experienced firsthand to be properly appreciated.  It is also in this live version that one can completely grasp why many refer to his band at the time as the "most dangerous" band in history, as the precision and skill with which they play is absolutely unmatched anywhere else on any recording.  The band seems to be able to turn on a dime as a single unit, and there seems to almost be a competition to see who will break first, the band or Brown himself.  On both the studio and live versions of "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine," it is clear that this new lineup has revitalized Brown, and he rarely sounded better or more into the recording process than he does here.  As he shouts and sings across the track, the overall sense of joy cannot be denied, and it becomes even more clear when compared to other songs in the Brown catalog.  While it is difficult to point to a "definitive" song in a career such as that of James Brown, one cannot deny the historical significance, stunning performance, and lasting impact of his 1970 single, "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine."

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