Picks and Pans Review: Star Time
Chuck Berry? Elvis? The Beatles? When it comes down to who has had the most profound and lasting influence on pop music, no one can touch the Godfather of Soul.
This anthology (four CDs or cassettes) is the Fort Knox of funk. It chronologically traces Brown's evolution from a poor follow-the-crowd R&B singer from Georgia to the absolutely original, superbad superstar.
Disc No. 1 contains the greatest advances. On the earliest tracks, such as "Try Me" and "Bewildered" from the late '50s, Brown is trying to get over as a cookie-cutter pop singer. This smoothed-out doo-wop music isn't all that far from the Ink Spots. But even in this era, there were hints of genius. Mired in the schmaltzy ballad "I Know It's True," Brown still had a flair for using horns and drums.
By the time he recorded "Think" in 1960, James had discovered the funk, and he never decamped. He became a method singer, and that method was madness. His eruptive delivery was completely unpredictable. With "Bring It Up (Hipster's Avenue)" in 1966, lyrics had really become a moot point. A single phrase would suffice.
Brown was always a character. On "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, Pts. 1, 2, 3," an extended, previously unreleased version of his 1965 hit, you hear the singer exhorting his longtime sax man, Maceo Parker, to play a solo. By the end of the jam, Brown is getting into a dialogue with the horns themselves. (If Brown was, as advertised, "the hardest working man in show business," the guys who worked in his backing bands were tied for second.)
The music is fast and furious the rest of the way. Disc Nos. 2 through 4 present a dizzying cavalcade of hits: "I Got You (I Feel Good)," "I Can't Stand Myself (When You Touch Me) Pt. 1," "Licking Stick-Licking Stick," "Give It Up or Turn it a Loose."
Brown got so far into his grooves that many of his songs were released as two-part singles, including "Money Won't Change You" and "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine." (In 1971, "Soul Power" was a three-purl single.) They're presented here in their original, unedited versions.
There are many collections of Brown's work, but none so deep or well documented. (Polydor)