There have been many instances of musicians appearing on records without credit or fanfare; Eric Clapton noodling across the top of While My Guitar Gently Weeps on The Beatles’ sprawling White Album. Lennon and McCartney themselves singing backing vocals on the Stones’ version of their own I Wanna Be Your Man. Mick Jagger somewhat ironically providing backing vocals on Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain. Lennon trading vocals with Bowie on the latter’s Fame, itself a track cribbed from James Brown (or perhaps it was the other way around). David Bowie surfing low under the radar on Arcade Fire’s disco stomping Reflektor…….. these examples are the tip of a very deep and very incestuous iceberg.
One of the first examples of musical skullduggery though must surely be the case of James Brown and the recording of (Do The) Mashed Potatoes. In 1959, Brown was coming to the fore as a sweat-soaked, soul-wracked, heart-bleeding bawler of gospel-tinged r’n’b. The darling of King Records, it seemed Brown and his Famous Flames band could do no wrong, until that was when Brown tried to cash in on the dance craze that was currently sweeping his neck of the woods. Despite his burgeoning fame it was apparent that no-one wanted to hear his stomping 12 bar instrumental espousing the joys of the doing the Doodle Bee. When the trend moved on to a new dance, James went to his label boss and suggested they cash in by recording (Do The) Mashed Potatoes.
Once bitten, twice shy, King Records refused to put it out so Brown took his idea to the rival Dade Records. They agree, on the condition that it was recorded under an assumed name (Dade boss Henry Stone was terrified of King Record’s Syd Nathan, the Peter Grant of the deep south soul scene), which is why along with seeing the track credited to James Brown and the Famous Flames you’ll also find it credited to Nat Kendrick & The Swans. The same band, the same line-up, the same record.
Nat Kendrick & The Swans – (Do The) Mashed Potatoes
(Do The) Mashed Potato is nothing you’ve never heard before; a standard 12 bar r’n’b instrumental, it’s a 3-button mohair suit kinda record, punctuated now and again by whoops and hollers and ridiculous potato-themed war cries;
Mash’ Pa-Tay-Das, yeah!
Hash Brown Pa-Tay-Das, yeah!
French-Fried Pa-Tay-Das, yeah!
I’ve no idea what they shout in the last part, but they sure sound excited.
It is, of course, thrillingly terrific. A primal slice of tribal us v them floorshakin’ soul. You’re either with us or against us is Brown’s underlying message and by the end of Part 1, I, you, us and them are definitely with him, one nation under a groove. Frustratingly I don’t have a version of Part 2 but I can imagine exactly how it goes.
Of course, when the record proved a success, the steely Syd Nathan insisted on future copies being issued on his label. He also bowed to Brown’s superior knowledge of fads and fashions by allowing him and his Famous Flames to record such future ‘classics’ as Wobble Wobble and The Dish Rag. Good throwaway pop records, it should be said, but neither as thrilling nor as plain daft as (Do The) Mashed Potato.