But rather than watch a good impersonations, how about seeing the real thing? The following James Brown video has been called the “most thrilling, compressed, erotic, explosive form, just eighteen minutes long, and is also arguably the most electrifying performance in the history of postwar American music.”
Quite a claim. Check it out:
Source: The New Yorker
Here’s Remnick to explain:
“Brown, who had played the Chitlin Circuit for years, was genuinely incensed that the producers would put him on before pallid amateurs (in his mind) like the Stones. His performance, he later admitted, was a cutting contest that he refused to lose. As Brown puts it in his memoir, “James Brown: The Godfather of Soul,” “We did a bunch of songs, nonstop, like always. . . . I don’t think I ever danced so hard in my life, and I don’t think they’d ever seen a man move that fast.” It was a four-song set: the staccato blues number “Out of Sight”; an astonishing inside-out revival of “Prisoner of Love,” which had been recorded by smoothies like Billy Eckstine and Perry Como; the dramatic centerpiece “Please, Please, Please”; and the closer, “Night Train,” which the boxer Sonny Liston would play to get himself going in the gym…
This was the first time that Brown, while singing “Please, Please, Please,” pulled out his “cape act,” in which, in the midst of his own self-induced hysteria, his fit of longing and desire, he drops to his knees, seemingly unable to go on any longer, at the point of collapse, or worse. His backup singers, the Flames, move near, tenderly, as if to revive him, and an offstage aide, Danny Ray, comes on, draping a cape over the great man’s shoulders. Over and over again, Brown recovers, throws off the cape, defies his near-death collapse, goes back into the song, back into the dance, this absolute abandonment to passion.
Its no wonder that Jagger and Richards, watching from twenty feet away, grew nervous over the thought of following the hardest working man in show business..
James Brown, Godfather of Soul: RIP (December 25th, 2006)
On Film: The Invention of the Moonwalk (April 26th, 2014)
“Mr. Brown, On the road with His Bad Self” New Yorker, July 2002