As a new Qobuz ambassador, it’s a pleasure to put together this custom James Brown playlist.
It would be much too easy to stack a James Brown playlist with songs that became sampled in hip-hop classics. I feel it’s my duty as not only a Qobuz ambassador, but as an ambassador of the musical legacy of Mr. Brown, to dig deeper than you would usually see or hear on most DSPs.
For starters, James Brown actually made some pretty incredible music long before “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and after “Funky President.” In between those two songs, from 1965 and 1975, respectively, lies the foundation of hip-hop and just about every form of contemporary American dance music. But also in between those two songs (and beyond), lies a plethora of noteworthy “deep cuts” that every jazz musician, musicologist, and James Brown fan should enjoy. I picked a few of those deep cuts.
Let’s get started, shall we?
“Please, Please, Please” (recorded 1956)
I feel obligated to include this. While this is hardly a deep cut, it is, literally, the beginning of James Brown’s legacy. The first song he ever recorded.
“Mashed Potatoes USA” (recorded 1961)
Lyrically, this song is quite similar to his version of “Night Train,” recorded the same year. Brown, basically freestyling about his touring schedule (just like in “Night Train”), gives us a vocal harbinger of the new music he would come to create a few years later into the decade.
“I’ve Got Money” (recorded 1961)
Talk about a harbinger of things to come! Clyde Stubblefield and John “Jabo” Starks have become the most famous, most universally acknowledged drummers of James Brown’s musical legacy. Easy to understand, as they played on the bulk of Brown’s biggest hits. However, they both followed in the footsteps of one Clayton Fillyau. As a jazz historian, let me put it this way, if Clyde and Jabo are Max Roach and Roy Haynes, then Fillyau is Kenny Clarke. The beat that Fillyau plays on this song is a waterspan. If you put this song into a DAW and slow it down, you will hear the seed of “Get On The Good Foot,” “Make It Funky,” “There Was a Time” and more. After Fillyau’s departure from Brown’s band in 1964, one of Brown’s favorite threats to his succeeding drummers was, “I’ll bring Fillyau back here and straighten all of you out!” Washington, DC’s Clayton Fillyau, an unsung hero.
“Oh Baby, Don’t You Weep” (recorded 1964)
When I first heard this song as a kid, my first thought was, “James is SANGIN’ on this!” I’ve always loved when Brown gets into his 6/8 gospel bag. Brown could have easily been a pentecostal minister. His vocals are “sho’ nuff bad” on this one. Contrary to the original album’s title, this track was not recorded live. It was recorded in the studio with overdubbed applause and audience noise added later then slapped on as a last-minute addition to the live 1964 Pure Dynamite! album.
“Sidewinder” (recorded 1965)
Didn’t know James Brown was a hard-core jazzhead, did you? Brown always understood that having musicians skilled at jazz would make his band not an ordinary R&B band. During his concerts throughout the ‘60s, Brown always featured jazz hits of the day in his opening organ set, like Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father” and Lee Morgan’s soul jazz hit, “The Sidewinder.” Brown always did want to be Jimmy Smith.😂
“The Thing in ‘G’” (recorded 1962)
More straight-ahead jazz from the King of Soul. For a so-called R&B band, they are swinging hard on this! Featuring Lewis Hamlin on trumpet, Al " Brisco” Clark on tenor sax, Brown on organ, Les Buie on guitar, Bernard Odum on bass, and Jimmy Robinson on drums. This track was Prestige-worthy! (Prestige was a popular jazz label that leaned heavily on soul-jazz in the ‘60s.)