JAMES BROWN (Digital Johnson Mix) / “I Got You (I Feel Good)”
I have two remix CDs of James Brown songs. As far as I am concerned only one cut on one of the remixes reflects the JB funk-feel, the others tend toward disco and house styles, both of which dispense with the syncopation that is the underlying bounce of funk. But before I get to that here is an alternative version of “I Got You,” the greatest “I feel good” song of all time.
JB is at his maximum of funky syncopation on this version, which sounds so different from the original that it is virtually another song altogether. On one of the breaks where we might expect a funky drummer break, JB drops a scandalous scat offering another peek down the deep well of Godfather funk. It is probably unfair to both the original and this alternative version to compare them, because from the compression of the original melodic line in the alternative to the hard as hell syncopation of the original, so much is changed, one can only marvel at the seemingly uneding ability of JB to twerk his beats.
It was either late 1967 or the spring of 1968. As a semi-professional drummer (I was in the army, moonlighting in R&B and jazz bands), I was hating on James Brown. That new superbad funk he was dropping was fiendishly difficult to count and keep the flow going at the same time, and if you couldn’t catch the feeling of it, you got laughed off the stage. (As might be expected, an audience of fellers drafted into the army can be rather cruel.) Mr. Brown’s crew, especially Clyde “Funky Drummer” Stubblefield were my nemesis. It was utterly frustrating. People expected us to play the latest hits. James Brown was hotter than a fifty-caliber machine gun rattling off five thousand rounds. “Play that new James Brown song,” the young, gung ho recruits would holler. I wanted to shout back, “Shut the hell up.” Eventually, I was able to do a knock-off version that bore the same resemble to the original as government cheese does to smoked Gouda from Holland, which is to say there was a world of difference even though they both would be recognized as cheese.
All of which is to reinforce my assessment that funk is not as simple as it may seem from a purely technical consideration of its harmonic and melodic elements. When you try to play it (especially when the “it” you were trying to master is James Brown's dead-on-the-one, superbad, new-breed beats), well, that’s when you find out just how complicated and damn near impossible it is to imitate James Brown. Keep the children back and don’t try it at home. JB is nothing nice to mess with.
Which brings us to the remix. I like how they use various samples on top of samples to achieve the sound of JB’s vocals, both falsetto and gutteral. Those most sacramental screams and God-like grunts (by which I mean, the sound the creator must have made when casting the planets, Unghhh! Good God.). On the other hand, I don’t like how they flattened-out the drumbeat, dropped the syncopation and went with a straight backbeat, but, hey, you can’t have everything. For now, let’s just be thankful for small moments. And grateful for copious amounts of the original. In fact, all praises due James Brown.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Funk for advanced listeners
This version of "I Got You" might as well be sub-titled 'Funk For Advanced Listeners.' It's just that funky. Between the guitar, the horns, the bass, the drums and James himself, there are so many polyrhythms flying in so many directions, that the beginning (or even intermediate) funk fan will be forgiven for hearing nothing but noise. The Godfather is in fine form, the new arrangement is swinging and the band is tight like gnat-booty. I'm feeling that. ... As for the remix, Kalamu already described why I don't like it, so I don't have to. J.B.'s best music is imbued with the highest levels of rhythmic sophistication. This mix, by contrast, is far too simple-sounding (rhythmically) to interest me. Especially since I just finished listening to "I Got You" v. 2.0. Matter of fact, I think I'll go listen to that one again.
—Mtume ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Saturday, April 22nd, 2006 at 11:44 pm and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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