#439: Sex Machine, James Brown
This will be a short review, because I truly feel like I’ve put in my time on James Brown. In fact, this might be more of a grouchy commentary on Rolling Stone’s methodology.
For those that need to be brought up to speed: I am reviewing Rolling Stone’s list of the Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, as published in 2020. Yes, it’s taking forever, thanks for asking. Not every album is a short, hour-or-under affair — we get double albums, we get anthologies and sometimes we get monstrous compilations. James Brown had the unfortunate honor of being the first monstrous compilation I was forced to review. Even more unfortunately, I listened to it for the first time as I was driving through the state of Kansas, the most blah place in the world. (Boo to the Chiefs! E-A-G-L-E-S!) Star Time is just shy of five hours long, and encompasses Brown’s entire career.
So sue me for being a little Browned out. And you know what? I’m bummed about it! Because this album actually mattered. It’s considered his creative high point, and was the first album he recorded with guitarist brothers Bootsy and Catfish Collins. In fact, the recording process was super bizarre — it’s mostly a live album with his new band, but the first song “Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine” was recorded in-studio, then had crowd noises added after the fact.
But TWELVE of these songs were on Star Time. And what a shame! I thoroughly enjoyed hearing “Give It Up Or Turn It A Loose,” the ever-crushing “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” and my favorite hype-up song ever “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I’ll Get It Myself.” But it feels silly to review them all twice.
There are only three here that aren’t on Star Time. So I’ll review these three instead. “If I Ruled The World” is his cover of a showtune (from the defunct musical Pickwick), and Brown sings like he’s trying to remind everyone just how talented he is. “Spinning Wheel” is just a lengthy instrumental cover of a Blood Sweat & Tears song, and is honestly nothing to write home about. I loved the instrumental “Lowdown Popcorn,” though, and especially loved his little speech at the start: We do everything with our hearts, and we do it good.
I actually thought these three were evidence that Brown had even more range than is exhibited on Star Time. But of course, he’s also every bit of the James Brown that I’ve become familiar with. He’s a cult of personality, he’s a literal firecracker, he’s the hardest working man in showbusiness. You can literally hear him sweating.
Ultimately, I’m just annoyed at Rolling Stone for including an utterly superfluous five-hour compilation album. But am I mad for having to listen to James Brown again? Of course not. I’m invigorated.