Friday, December 19, 2014

James Brown - Soul Power - 1971

Got-ta have it!
VVer #1 found this pathetic-looking 45 while crate digging at a cavernous used book store in the South Street area of Philadelphia.  The place resembled an old auto body shop and smelled about the same.  Scouring crates of 45s is not the usual thing, but VVer #1 was in the process of doing some traveling (sans car) and didn't want to load down too much with LPs.   Also it seems as of late that stacks of inexpensive 45s are everywhere these days.  Is this because so many of the jukeboxes of the world have been decommissioned in favor of those awful internet ones?  BARFFF!  The store in question had at least twelve milk crates full of these little guys just stacked to the gills.  Unfortunately "stacked" means literally vinyl to vinyl with no sleeves to provide protection between the little slabs.  BARRRFFF AGAIN!!!  After a good bit of persistent digging and some level of prayer, James Brown popped out with "Soul Power."   The somewhat faded paper label on it had a nice little logo "A James Brown Production" with Mr. Brown's trademark crooked grin at the center.  Alright.  Smashing Pumpkins did a super fuzzed-out cover of this song in the waning days of the original line-up of the band so this was at least a sort of known quantity, but not the JB original.  The disc was scuffed and scratched up pretty badly, but no deep gouges.   Looked pretty rough, but hard to say how deep the scratches were.  Would it ever play again?  What the hell?  After all that digging it made sense to shell out the dollar and walk out with at least a scrap of a thing.

After giving it several goings over with a brush and some cleaning fluid the scruffy 45 is as good as it's going to get.  Surprisingly, it plays and sounds pretty decent aside from a little pop and hiss here and there.  Are 45s built to take more punishment than LPs?  Records of this size and from this era typically had a weight of only forty grams (compared to the typical 120-gram weight of an LP) which doesn't really give you a lot of groove (don't tell Mr. Brown that!).   Maybe that's less surface area to get damaged?  Maybe all those years in the relatively safe confines of a jukebox lessened the potential for the accidental scratch?  Who knows, but the dang thing plays and that is all that matters.  In fact, the natural wear of repeat playing and poor storage actually lends a gritty sound to this type of music that works in its favor.

"Soul Power" is a ripping tune with a tight chugging bass; ready for booty shaking.  James Brown sings about soul power "we got to have it," "we want it," "we need it," and some other stuff he raps in his gruff shout/singing voice.  Most of it isn't particularly interesting lyrically; it's the way he performs it that makes the big impact.  James is throwing himself at this full force with the righteous assistance of his band, the original JBs.  The call-and-response between Mr. Brown and the band mirrors that of the back-and-forth within the horns section on this track.  All of that is ferried along nicely by a persistent blues guitar riff.  This single has a pretty slick B-side, "Soul Power Parts 2 & 3."  Are the parts really that different from one another?  Well, no but there is plenty more "let's take it to the bridge one more time!," "AAAOwwww!," "good god!," and "houuugh!."  Apparently there is a twelve minute complete version out there, but you'll never fit that onto a 45 for jukebox use.  At that speed you can only squeeze four and half minutes max onto a side.  That's rough for any musician who wanted to release an extended jam as a single.  Not happening.

Though Mr. Brown is the godfather of soul, these VVers admit that they are often mystified when they come across this soul/funk category, be it a record shops or a DJ night, mainly because it is unexplored territory.  Exploring it through a little crate digging seems like a reasonable approach.

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