Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Mellowing Out With JB
James Brown - Have a Happy Day
Today is my last day at work before a long-awaited and much-needed vacation. For the next six days my wife and I will be enjoying Los Angeles and the company of my brother and his wife. I don't know if I'll do any posts while in L.A., but I will have internet access and my laptop with me, so I'll probably squeeze a couple of posts in at least. But for a lot of the time, I plan to just enjoy myself and, hopefully, have a nice and mellow vacation. Accordingly, I'd like to do a mellow post featuring James Brown.
I know that last sentence sounds like a mistake, because JB's legacy, of course, rests mainly on his funky masterpieces. But to ignore JB's balladry is to ignore a lot of his recording and performance history: Brown's first hits were ballads; the legendary Live at the Apollo album is made up mainly of ballads that show off JB's abilities to wreck an audience (and his version of "Prisoner of Love" on his second Apollo album shows that he was still wrecking crowds with the slow stuff even by the time he had started to give up the funk); and he did lots jazzy, bluesy, and mellow stuff both in live performance and on vinyl, usually by sprinkling ballads and standards throughout his albums and on various 45s. As his chart dominance began to wane in the mid-'70s, JB's records upped the non-funk quotient not only in attempts to get on the disco bandwagon but also by the inclusion of a wide range of ballads. Despite scoring minor hits like "Kiss in '77," the concept of Brown the balladeer did not abate his career's downward turn, but it did result in several interesting and sometimes fantastic records. "Have a Happy Day" was paired with "Love Me Tender" for a 1978 Polydor release, and it is absolutely stunning. Here, JB is back in town and is aware that his woman has moved on and that it's his fault. He'd like to have her back, but he also wants her to be happy. The lyrics really lay this out, and Brown's vocal really captures the feeling of the song. The background singers also provide excellent support to make the tune work. Have a happy day, y'all - I hope to have six of them in a row, starting tomorrow!