Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

The Flaming Hips

James Brown. Mr Dynamite. The Godfather of Soul. Funk Brother #1. The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.

In the 1950s, long before he had earned any of these tags,  he was a Little Richard-worshipin’ R’nB performer, playing drums and dragging his band of black musicians around the safety of the chitlin’ circuit in the southern states of America. The influence of Little Richard on the young James Brown cannot be underplayed. James idolised Little Richard. He copied his shiny black, oil slick-pompadoured quiff, perched atop his head like a Mr Whippy ice cream. When Little Richard gave up Good Golly Miss Molly for the Good of our Great God Almighty, James inherited some of his backing musicians, transforming his own group into a crack blues/soul/r’nb/gospel-tinged outfit that had an unmistakable groove beating at it’s heart. Shows were now billed as James Brown and the Famous Flames, the Famous Flames being the smooth-voiced backing singers who provided the foil for James’ more impassioned drop-to-the-knees moments. They also provided an understated dance routine that would allow the super-flash Camel-Walkin’, Mashed Potato jivin’ Brown to show off in his own unique hip-swivellin’ style. He might not’ve been the Godfather yet, but he was certainly the Boss at this point. It was said that Brown carried around an old napkin on which the words ‘Please Please Please‘ had been scrawled by Little Richard and that the young James was determined to turn those 3 words into a song….

….which he certainly succeeded at. In 1956, Please Please Please was James Brown’s first ever recording and went on to sell over one million copies, although interestingly it didn’t even make the Billboard Hot 100, stalling at #105. The pop audiences didn’t yet know about James Brown. In fact, they wouldn’t ‘get’ him until much later, although James has the distinction of having the most-ever hits on the Billboard Hot 100 without ever hitting number 1. *Pop quiz time – who holds that unique record for the UK charts?

Brown acknowledged the importance that Please Please Please held in his grand scheme of things and peformed it throughout his career. It was usually during this song that he would do his famous ‘cape routine‘, where he would fake to collapse, emotions exhausted, and his manager would come on from the side of the stage and usher him off, soaked in sweat, seemingly spent and severly in need of resuscitation. Pure vaudeville for sure, but I for one lapped it up on the only occassion I saw him live, inbetween the costume changes and the magician who sawed someone in half. But if you’ve been reading Plain Or Pan for a while, you’ll know all that already.

Those early James Brown records are electric. Full of rolling guitar riffs and call and response Famous Flames vocals, brass stabs act as musical full stops that allow James to simply breath, or drop to his knees and holler, yelp or let out one of those involuntary phlegmy grunts that Lenny Henry thinks he’s good at doing. He’s still finding his musical feet here but I bet this is when he had the idea for fining his musicians who missed a beat or played a bum note. His band on those early records are water-tight and pompadour-slick, playing yakkety-yak sax and the one-chord groove unperpinned by a solidly swinging backbeat. Hip huggin’, finger clickin’ soul, they’re the sort of mod-sharp records that would have me reaching for a 3 button mohair suit, if only the girth that has crept up on me over the past few years wasn’t there. If all you know of James Brown is Sex Machine, Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag and I Feel Good, dig deeper brothers and sisters, dig deeper. The tracks below are all from his first three albums and are a very good place to start. No fake emotions here, just pure, raw uncomplicated soul. You dig?

Please Please Please

Try Me

There Must Be A Reason

Why Do You Do Me

I’ll Go Crazy

This Old Heart


*Pop Quiz Time

I think this honour goes to Depeche Mode, who, according to Wiki at any rate, have had 49 of their 56 singles released to date make the UK Top 75 wthout once having had a Number One single. I’m sure if I’m wrong though, someone out there will correct me.

1 thought on “The Flaming Hips”

  1. Great songs! Thanks so much for posting. My personal favorite JB songs are Cold Sweat and Night Train, which are later ones, but you see the beginnings in the songs you posted. Now excuse me while I do the boogaloo…

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