Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Tribute to the Godfather: N-A-T-U-R-uh-E

James Brown - Nature

The rise of disco in the mid-'70s did in many of the soul legends of the '60s, whose more rough-hewn styles and Southern-inflected vocals didn't mesh well with the "four-on-the-floor" groove and chic aesthetic (no pun intended) that the disco dancers preferred. These fading stars didn't go out without a fight, but for most it really didn't work out. Joe Tex fared best, scoring a major hit with "Ain't Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)," and Joe Simon snared a few hits, with "Get Down, Get Down (Get on the Floor)" leading the way. James Brown would not adapt to the new style as well as they did, as his "new, new super heavy funk" was too singular for the disco groove or the newer funk sound coming out of the P-Funk camp (whose personnel now included former-JB's Bootsy Collins, Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker). From 1975's Sex Machine Today and The Original Disco Man to Jam/1980's (from which today's selection comes), Brown's albums started focusing on putting a disco slant to the groove. Although he did manage to get hits out of "Bodyheat" and "It's Too Funky In Here," the late-'70s JB singles started regularly missing the pop and R&B charts (Brown wouldn't regain any chart momentum until "Living in America" in 1986). Unfortunately, this era is politely ignored in the overview of JB's legacy, but in doing so, some pretty good recordings are overlooked.

Today's selection was released as a two-part Polydor single, which failed to chart. It is, however, one of my favorite recordings from the "disco" period. "Nature" is a nice disco-funk strut with a wickedly infectious guitar lick, over which James talks about "if I didn't have nature - I wonder where would I be" (it's not clear to me, though, if he's talking about the Good Earth or about something else) and getting the band to give up the funk. Before the dancing starts, however, James does a little preaching about nature in the song's long, churchy intro (dig the line "When I rub up 'gainst my baby, yeah, ah, it makes me feel hot! Makes me feel hot! Ah, my body gets warm!") - the intro is really over-the-top, but I love it. On the 45 edit, the tune is started about halfway through, with a short chanted intro ("ohhhhh back to nature now!") spliced onto the top (I suppose disco patrons wouldn't want to stand around to hear the long intro); Part 2 of the tune is the churchy intro and a bit of the beginning of the tune. I think the whole of "Nature" is much better than the sum of its parts, however, and from the opening guitar licks to the vamping ending (dig where the guitarist actually trips up on his little lick after one of the vamps), it's proof that JB still had something to offer, even if the market didn't accept it.

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