Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Funky Hot Mess?
James Brown, Bobby Byrd and Hank Ballard - Funky Side of Town
Yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of James Brown, and it is sad to hear news reports from Monday and yesterday reminding us that so much drama still surrounds the administration of his estate, adding yet another negative shadow to the immense shadow that threatened to choke out Brown's mainstream legacy during the final decades of his life. But today I choose to leave that mess behind and examine a different kind of "mess."
What I think is neat about a lot of JB's records from around 1969 through to the end of his hitmaking era is that a lot of tunes he recorded were nothing but little jam sessions where the band would get a groove going and then James would strike up little conversations or joke around with various band members. To list them all would be too time-consuming, but tunes like "Ain't It Funky Now," "Make It Funky," and "Escape-Ism" come to mind right away. Today's selection falls within that category, and it was part of JB's 1972 Polydor LP Get on the Good Foot, whose title track was a #1 hit for him that year. "Funky Side of Town" finds JB, long-time right-hand man Bobby Byrd and Hank Ballard (whose JB-produced "From the Love Side" was giving him an increasingly-rare taste of chart success) ad-libbing around with the phrase "let's go to the funky side of town," giving "shout-outs" to various musicians (the usual soul suspects plus Johnny Cash and others!) and joking around with each other (at one point JB announces, "ladies and gentlemen, we bring you now the man that sings 'Hot Pants - I'm Coming,' Hank Ballard," in a dig at Byrd, who had hit with the record). In my opinion, this tune is a hot mess, but it's a funky hot mess. Only James Brown could pull off funky hot mess like this, and I'll let it stand as a quirky anniversary tribute to the man.
A quick postscript - although I say in this post that "Funky Side of Town" is a hot mess, the ultimate "hot mess" in the entire James Brown discography also appears on Get on the Good Foot. In the "Recitation by Hank Ballard," Hank comes forth with a mixture of a spoken-word advertisement for the LP and a testimony of how JB had resurrected his career. Although JB-produced testimonials to James Brown had been recorded before, beginning with Florence Farmer's "Living Legend," there's something disturbing about Hank's "recitation" that puts it at the bottom of my JB list.