…and now Part 2 of the ever exciting thoughts and musings on James Brown – Make it Funky: The Big Payback 1971 -1975. Be sure to check out Part 1!
1. “The Payback” – This may just be the angriest JB vocals on record. His anger in being cheated, lied to, and stabbed in the back, is absolutely seething. This is the James Brown that people feared; the kind of JB that actually would kill you in a back alley somewhere. When he proclaims “I don’t know karate but I know ka-razy” you damn better well believe him. Seriously, the mood in the studio for this must have been tense and I am sure the band was scared as hell to deliver anything but the funkiest grooves. This is nasty…
2. “Stone to the Bone” – A funky laid back affair complete with requests to holler and needing some organ. Of course, the version on The Payback album is somewhat more complete but it’s still nice to hear an alternate version when you don’t have a full 10 minutes to devote to the JB mutterings on the Payback album. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
3. “Mind Power” – A gloriously funky gem unearthed from the JB vaults. This is what happens after the long version of Mind Power fades out on the Payback album. Now, in the Payback version JB makes note of laying things over to the stick player and now you can finally hear what happens in an intensely funky stick and drums breakdown. In fact, this might be the only funky stick and drum break in recorded funk history. With this version and the 12 minute Payback version you can get a 16 minute Mind Power and it still fades out! But I can’t blame them, because they are all cooking the funk and acting on JB’s every word. “Sorry, don’t mean no harm…”
4. “World of Soul” – I can never remember the name of this song because he never actually mentions the name. Instead he takes a page from Larry of Three’s Company and asks if all the Zodiac signs can holler. Or, more correctly, if JB can holler. These are some funky pick up lines that is for damn sure!
5. “Papa Don’t Take No Mess” – Another stunning autobiographical tale of growing up with a hard Papa who don’t take no mess. Jeez, you listen to this and you can understand why JB turned out the way he did. Not only that but this is a beautiful, epic funk jam with gorgeous horn lines and some very funky drumming. And then there’s JB’s piano solo. This solo of his, more than any other, exemplifies his entire musical style. It’s rhythmic, but entirely disjointed and abstract. He plays exactly like he sings, with jabs instead of grunts and rolls instead of “hehs.” At one point he really gets into such a groove that I’m sure the band was holding on for dear life wondering when he’s going to come back in on the one. And then Friendly Fred sails in for some nice trombone relief.
6. “Coldblooded “– The rhythm here is so driving, so insistent, one would almost forgive them for falling apart in a musical train wreck. But of course, these are the JB’s and that’s just not going to happen. JB sounds like a man possessed here and much like Don’t Tell It on disc one the bridge could almost be it’s own mini song. I guarantee you will not see it coming and even JB calls it like it is: “so nice!” The re-intro into the song proper is pure JB’s; tight and concise with not a single missed beat. JB is again borderline angry and he rants about all sorts of very strange subjects including hiding your stash and avoiding the police. Wise words JB.
7. “I Can’t Stand It ’76” – All I can say is that when JB says “it ain’t never been this funky!” he is not exaggerating. This is serious business and in my top 5, maybe top 3, funkiest songs of all time. The band is ON and cooking full throttle with JB laying his usual rants and mutterings over top. The drum and bass break alone is enough to make this the funkiest ever. But then, from about “white lightning” on, it takes on a whole other level of funk. JB warns “it might get funky right here” and I suppose when it’s 1976 and JB gives you a warning like that you better get ready. In fact, things get so funky JB has to “take off my watch and ring.” I’m listening as I write this and I’m having a really hard time even putting it into words. In fact, now that I think about it, you have to make time for this one because it deserves, no, demands, full funky attention. And remember, this is all live in the studio. “Play it like you owe me…”
8. “My Thang” – “Fellas, a brand new funk!” Well, I’m not sure if it’s brand new but it’s certainly funk. Once again Fred’s horn arrangements take an otherwise normal funk song into the realm of regality. And you really can’t beat a funk song that has both cowbell and wooden block. Now that’s funky!
9. “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” – Starting with one incredibly funky drum riff JB rips into a funky political song about getting a funky president onto the scene. Look, there are three “funkys” in that sentence alone so you know it’s going to be funky. What really strikes me about this song is how incredibly telling it is of our current bad times. Of course all you can do is “get on the good foot” and “I need to be the gov’ner!”
10. “I Feel Good” – An incredibly funky remake of one of JB’s biggest hits, this version is completely 70’s and includes some fantastic JB falsettos. The band is incredibly tight here with some remarkable drumming and wonderful stop/start time signatures. Don’t miss Maceo’s very funky, albeit very short, sax break.
11. “Problems” – Again, it took years to figure out what he’s saying in the intro there. Of course, I’ll leave that open to your own interpretation because really he could be muttering anything. This song has fueled me for years. Not only because of it’s extreme funk – just listen to that insistent clavinet a.k.a “funk machine” in the background – but also because of it’s very true message. Wifey and I often use “broken cup” to denote bad times. “How was your day today? Terrible! I’m drinking from the broken cup!” Fantastic funk with a great nod to JB’s mounting tax problems.
12. “Turn on the Heat and Build Some Fire” – Wow. Just wow. You know, this song didn’t quite click for me at first. It’s almost too epic for it’s own good. No, it took Wifey pointing out to me, and constant replays, that this was a funk epic of, well, epic proportions. While it is a bit more laid back than most JB epics, it has an incredibly funky quality with an insanely nice production. The horns, the guitars, that bass! Everything gels and the boss is in fine form delivering words of love and telling you just how hot it really is. The dual guitars, one in each speaker, are too funky for words. Meanwhile the horn lines, those beautiful Fred horn lines, drift in like some kind of funky high that only James Brown and the JB’s could deliver. Turn this one up loud and spend some time with it. Let it grow and it will reward you with immense happiness. By the way, after years of listening I can mimic the Fred trombone line near the end almost perfectly. You’ll know the one when you hear it. It’s the classy mother trombone…
13. “Hot Pants Finale” – This sprints along with such fervor it almost makes the studio version on disc one sound tame in comparison. JB is on top of his vocals with a timing and swagger from another planet. And the band? Well, the band is the JB’s in 1971 and they are doing exactly what you think they should be doing. The break at the end, with the reference to “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” is nothing short of extraordinary. This is the kind of funk that just shouldn’t be. The kind of funk that makes you feel ill. The kind your mother couldn’t protect you from. The real deal live on stage, one time only. Lord bless JB and the JB’s.