James Brown SamplesJanuary 13, 2013
So, the most surprising, genuinely uplifting and fist-pumping pop moment of this week was, of course, the sneaking-out of the new David Bowie single with all the silence and stealth of a top-secret Radiohead campaign. And with an album to follow too! I like Where Are We Now?, it kinda reminds me of Wild Is The Wind or Loving The Alien or Always Crashing In The Same Car or any other of those other slow-burning beauties of his that appear fully-formed and worm their way into your head forever.
By sheer coincidence, about 10 minutes after hearing the Bowie single on 6 Music, the iPod threw up an old James Brown tune as I drove grudgingly to face the day. Not a tune that I had played very often (never?), I had to check as I drove what it was actually called. Turns out it was called Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved) and by the sounds of it was a classic example of mid 70s funk-period Brown. Y’know, not the pop-soul James Brown of Sex Machine or Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, rather the big girl’s blousey James Brown of velvet flared suits and Rumble In The Jungle moustache. Less than a minute into it and I was asking myself where I’d heard it before. A classic stabbing Blaxploitation brass intro replete with Brown grunts before breaking down into the instantly recognisable groove – all super-slinky rinky-dink riffing and fluid, four-to-the-floor bass, conga breakdown and electric piano. Had I been trying to sleep, this would have caused me a sleepless night. Where had I heard it before? Where?
It came to me in the middle of the afternoon. Bowie! Fame! Fay-yame! Fay-yame, makes a man think things over. Fame fame fame fame fame fame fame fame fame! Bully for me! Bowie had nicked the riff to Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved), added some bitchy lyrics with the help of John Lennon (who sang the backing vocals and may or may not have played additional guitar, depending on what and where you read), changed the melody and passed it off as one of his own. Even the wee high chord that punctuated the verses was there. Bowie, in his mid 70s plastic soulboy incarnation had appropriated every tiny bit of it from James Brown! He even had the nerve to go on Soul Train and sell coals back to Newcastle.
Or so I thought…..
Checking the credits later on that night, I notice that Bowie’s Fame is credited to Bowie, Alomar and Lennon, and following some detective work on that last outpost in truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, Wikipedia, I discovered the track was built around a Carlos Alomar riff. Aye right, I thought. James Brown is the most sampled man in music. You’ve just gone one further, Bowie and ripped the whole thing off. Then I dug deeper. Turns out Carlos Alomar was in James Brown’s band for a bit in the mid 60s. Not only that, but that last outpost in truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth claims that James Brown based Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved) on David Bowie’s Fame. He ripped off Bowie! There’s no mention of a Bowie credit on the James Brown version (not on my Star Time, Disc 4 info at any rate), so if Wiki is to be believed, James Brown turned from funky gamekeeper to funkier poacher. And got away with it.
Both tracks, it turns out, were recorded sometime in 1975 at Electric Lady Studios in New York, Bowie’s in January and Brown’s later on in the year. Carlos Alomar, having played with many of the band still backing James Brown at this time was, by all accounts, absolutely livid by the steal. Bowie was a bit cooler, agreeing to sue if the track became a hit, which it never did. It’s interesting to note that in the fully comprehensive booklet that accompanies the James Brown Star Time Box set, where recording personnel are meticulously listed, under Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved) it just says ‘backing by unknown personnel’, which, for me, is just about as good an admittance you’ll get that James Brown took the original Bowie track, dubbed out his voice and sang his own melody across the top. Just my theory, at any rate.
Contrast and compare:
David Bowie Fame
James Brown Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved)