Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Sampled

Big Brown Bag

The mid 60s was an extremely fertile period for James Brown. By then he’d moved away from the tear-soaked, down-on-his-knees gospel/soul that defined much of his early career. Relatively straightforward 12 bar song structures were replaced instead by jerky, jagged one-chord grooves. Brass stabs emphasised the first beat – “On the one!” as he’d instruct his musicians, and the tracks would tick along with well-timed metronomic precision. No-one knew it at the time, but the Godfather of Soul was inventing funk.

To be in James’ band then must’ve been terrifically exciting, yet extremely stressful. Here you were, creating this new form of dance music, all the while unable to enjoy playing for playing’s sake, lest you miss the beat and risk a fine from the boss. James Brown records are littered with phlegmily barked instructions; “Horns! (Bap! Bap!) Maceo! (Toot! Toot!) Pee-ann-er! (rinky dink dink dink) – every musician hitting his part with laser precision. Miss the beat and you’d find your pay packet a wee bit lighter come the end of the week.

When you strip the records down into their component parts, they’re extremely simple affairs. Take 1965’s Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. Individually, there’s fairly little going on; a rickety-tick drum beat played by Melvin (brother of Maceo) Parker, a repetitive, a see-sawing, octave-hopping bass line, a simple horn section, blasting ‘on the one’, a chicken scratching guitar, stuck forever on a Major 9th chord (I think it’s Db, though the released recording was sped up half a tone to make it faster and more energetic, so this, muso minds, would in effect make it an E major 9th) and James’ gravel-throated lyric about an old guy who’s discovered he likes the new dance all the kids are doing.


James Brown’s Star Time box set – one of THE essential additions to any serious music collection features the complete, unedited take of Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. When the track was originally released as a single, it was edited so that ‘Part 1’ became the a-side, and the extended funk workout that followed was renamed ‘Part 2’ and featured on the b-side.

James BrownPapa’s Got A Brand New Bag (Parts 1, 2 and 3)

The box set includes James Brown’s declaration that, “This is a hit!” before a note is even played, and for the next 7 or so minutes, the band follows their leader with an unnerving mechanical rhythm. The whole recording sounds tight and taut, lean and mean, stripped of unnecessary excess and flab. It fair packs a punch.

A favourite dancefloor filler in this part of the world, it can make my pal Greg move in ways a white man from the west of Scotland has no real right to. Soul of a black man, feet of a rhythmically-challenged Glaswegian. Right on.

You know this already, of course, but James Brown’s influence goes far and wide. Early 80s DIY punk/funk collective Pigbag named their signature instrumental Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag in clear homage. An instantly catchy 8 note riff, it failed to chart initially.

PigbagPapa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag


Nowadays, Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag is ubiquitous with over-zealous, celebratory football chants and montage soundtrackers who think they’re still making yoof programmes for the TV, thanks in no small part to Paul Oakenfold’s ‘monsta!’ souped-up makeover around 20 years ago, but Pigbag’s original version took 2 or 3 goes before it went chart-bound. The Jam, in particular their keen-eared, sticky-fingered bass player Bruce Foxton, must’ve been blushing slightly when it eventually started gaining airplay.


By this time their own Precious, out as a double a-side with A Town Called Malice was starting to get played on the radio and you couldn’t help but notice the (cough) similarity between the two tunes.

The JamPrecious (12″ version)

The Jam even went as far as naming their posthumous live album Dig The New Breed, a line from the James Brown tune that kicks off this post. Which just goes to show, what goes around comes around.


Alternative Version, Cover Versions, demo, Gone but not forgotten, Live!

Sound Affects

The Small Faces were the perfect group; a pint-sized pocket dynamo of r’n’b and soul, windmilling guitars and swirling Hammond. They dressed the same, sported the same haircuts and were a walking, talking, living and breathing advert for Carnaby Street and Swinging London. None of the four of them stood taller than 5′ 6″ (it was the 60s, therefore imperial units of measurement counted) and were mod to the core. In the street parlance of the day, a ‘face’ was the most respected, sharpest looking mod about town. The band name wrote itself. 

small faces

With disparate roots in American blues and soul and cockney music hall (thanks in part to Steve Marriott’s training at the Italia Conti stage school), The Small Faces cooked up an original brew of heady mod pop.

As the sixties progressed and trouser legs widened, The Small Faces’ sound drifted away from the cor blimey Pearly stomp of the mid phase Faces to a more pastoral, whimsical and expansive psychedelic sound, but by 1968 the band were brought back to terra firma when Marriott penned Tin Soldier.

tin soldier 7

Small Faces  – Tin Soldier

Tin Soldier was a no quibbles return to their r’n’b roots – an off-mic count-in gives way to piano and Hammond before Marriott’s stinging electric guitar and rallying cry of “Come on!” lead into the verses. It builds and drops before building again into a wonderful crescendo of tumbling toms, grinding riffs, gritty soul adlibs and a hysterical female (PP Arnold) hell bent on raising the roof. If The Small Faces are the perfect group, this is the perfect record. If you listen really carefully, you’ll hear a little scratching noise in the background – that’s Paul Weller writing his crib notes.

Sound affects, indeed.

Jenny RylanceJenny Rylance. Whatever did Rod Stewart see in her?

Steve Marriott wrote Tin Soldier for the beautiful yet unattainable Jenny Rylance, a leggy model who was at the time Rod Stewart’s girlfriend. He intended to give the song to his current beau PP Arnold, but on completion, realising he’d created such a brilliant track, he gave Arnold If You Think You’re Groovy instead and kept Tin Soldier for The Small Faces. A wise move, as it turned out. When Randy Rod finished with Rylance, Marriott ended up wooing her and married her a year later. Like the Artful Dodger he once played on stage,  Marriott ended up with both the song and the girl. The perfect ending.

I usually steer clear of sticking YouTube clips in posts, but this is fantastic – a top of their game Small Faces on French telly, live vocals, mimed instruments and with a little help from a somewhat sparkled PP Arnold. Check the eyes! Oh to have seen them in concert.


* Bonus Track 1!

Here‘s a live version of Tin Soldier from Newcastle City Hall in November 1968.

I get the impression the screaming and incidental crowd noise has been mixed in afterwards to create a more ‘live’ sound, though I may be wrong. Either way it sounds like The Small Faces are playing in a cave to 20,000 appreciative ace faces, and not the sweaty box bedroom-sized r’n’b club you might’ve expected. (Newcastle City Hall being neither, as it turns out.)

* Bonus Track 2!

Here‘s PP Arnold doing If You Think You’re Groovy

pp arnold nme

Cover Versions, demo, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Who’s Nicked

A few years back, as a mature student in desperate need of income, I ran a wee guitar group. Obviously, far better than working a shift in B&Q, I was my own boss and set my own rules. 30 folk of all ages and abilities formed 3 groups of 10 who came to the local community centre to learn the difference between a b-minor and a blues lick and play along to a wide selection of recognised classics, with the odd personal favourite thrown in. Not only that, but along the way these eager students were educated in the ways of guitarists and guitar playing. Steve Cropper was more important than Slash, I’d tell them. Johnny Marr was better than Eric Clapton. Jimi Hendrix played guitar behind his back with his teeth. Try it! First person to play an E minor gets a mini Mars Bar. The beginners loved shaking their hair to The Ramones Surfin Bird, even if they had difficulty changing from an A to a D and back again at the same speed as Johnny and Dee Dee. Over time though, they managed to do a spot-on version of These Boots Are Made For Walking, complete with their own wee choreographed foot dance when Nancy asks, “Are you ready boots? Start walkin'”. The best players in the ‘top group’ could replicate Stairway To Heaven note for note. Well, almost. But my greatest achievement was with the ‘middle group’. Accomplished enough that they could play blues licks in b minor, but not yet fluid enough to think they were Slash, I taught them to windmill like Pete Townshend through the opening bars of The Who‘s Baba O’ Riley. It was a magic sight. 10 arms windmilling round in perfect time. Wind Out -mill! here Wind in -mill! the Wind fields -mill! Some nights we played it 3 or 4 times, such was their joy at playing it. What’s that Roger? Teenage wasteland? Not in here! Happy days!

Anyway, after what I’ve just said, you may be surprised to learn that I never totally got The Who. I thought Keith Moon was pretty special, although who doesn’t? Always entertaining to watch. But the others? The Ox, in his later days wore a red leather blouson jacket that was about as close to ‘mod’ as  Alex Turner’s Olympics haircut. And he played his bass at throat height, which, no matter what you’re playing on it, is never a good look. Roger Daltrey always seems like a wee guy trying too hard to be macho. Always taking his top off and baring his chest. And he had a haircut like Barbra Streisand for about 20 years during the 70s and 80s. Which, again, is about as close to ‘mod’ as Alex Turner’s Olympics haircut. Pete Townshend? Great windmills (yeah!), great Clockwork Orange boiler suits ‘n Docs combo on the stage ‘n all that, but those child porn allegations from a few years back have tainted him forever for me. I dunno. I like the big singles that everyone likes. But as an album band, their first album excepted, they never really did it for me.  I suppose for a live album, ‘Live At Leeds‘ makes all the right noises, and The Who ‘Sell Out’ has some pretty good tracks on it, Armenia City In The Sky, to name one, and I like the pirate radio concept but really, that’s about it. The problem I have is that everything they’ve done seems to have been, aye, a ‘concept’ album. Not just ‘Sell Out’Quadrophenia is a concept album. Tommy is a concept album. Pete Townshend’s doomed Lighthouse Lifehouse project was another concept. A Quick One was a rock opera fergawdsakes! Everything seems just a bit too calculated and pre-conceived. I like my rock bands to be unpredictable and raggy round the edges. Which is why the only Who album I truly like from start to finish is their first.

What I like even better than The Who’s first album is the few tracks they recorded as The High Numbers. They’re nothing extraordinary, really just rehashed 12 bar blues-based R’nB tunes so beloved of the early 60s mods. But the sound they made! Big, booming, compressed-sounding mono tracks that jump out the speakers. The bass sounds like it’s playing under the floorboards next door. Ironically, given the advances in technology, it’s a sound that modern studios just can’t seem to replicate. Just ask Jack White (although he’s made a good fist of it) or long-lost La Lee Mavers, if you can find him.

I’m The Face was the B-Side of The High Numbers first single, Zoot Suit. Designed, at the insistence of  manager Peter Meaden, to appeal to the local pilled-up mods who got their kicks from American R’nB, I’m The Face was practically a cover of Slim Harpo‘s I Got Love If You Want It. Actually, practically a cover is being kind. This is daylight robbery long before Jimmy Page got his first copy of Down At The Crossroads with Robert Johnson and Some Other Blues Guys No-One’s Heard Of Yet. Slim’s tune stayed the same, although the band played it with a feral garage band intensity lacking in the original’s nasal reediness. On The High Numbers’ version, the harmonica wails just that bit more out of tune. Keith Moon’s drums clatter in time to Townshend’s reverberated chords and perfectly executed solo (did the afore-mentioned Page play this part? After all, he played everyone else’s around this time) and the Entwhistle bass runs divebomb to the very centre of your purple-hearted heart.  In keeping with the A-Side (I’m the snappiest dresser right down to my inch-wide tie) manager Meaden changed the lyrics to be more mod-friendly, I’m the face baby is that clear? and referencing Ivy League jackets and wild buckskin shoes along the way.

With all this studied contriving going on you could be forgiven for thinking Zoot Suit/I’m The Face was some sort of UK smash. It wasn’t. Like a gazillion other life-affirming effervescent pieces of 7 inch 60s plastic, it flopped. A disheartened High Numbers went back to the drawing board, changed their name to The Who and tried again. This time, things seemed to work out a wee bit better. Proof? Here‘s the st-st-st-st-stuttering m-m-m-m-mono version of My Generation. Sounds like a tank. (Winks). Some of you will get that reference, some of you might not.

*Bonus Tracks!

Taken from an Abbey Road session, October 1964, here’s The High Numbers doing their re-hashed r’nb 12 bar blues again:

Smokestack Lightning  Instrumental pop-art crashing proto-Who.

Memphis Tennessee  Instrumental. Big. Booming. Bass from under the floorboards.