James Joseph Brown, Jr. (May 3, 1933 - December 25, 2006) was one of the biggest music stars of all time. This singer, dancer, and bandleader left his mark on rock, R&B, and soul, and practically invented funk music. His live performances were extremely memorable, and Live at the Apollo is considered one of the best albums, let alone live albums, of all time. He was also famous for his social activism, solidifying his influence on African-American culture. Brown's accolades include a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Kennedy Center Honors, and inductions into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (as part of its initial class of 1986) and Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Brown's musical output is… prolific, to say the least. Brown actively recorded from 1959 to 1981, with varying amounts of live albums coming out every so often. During his heyday in the late '60s to mid-'70s, he put out anywhere from six to nine singles, and two to four albums, per year. His stage show and presence were bombastic and always brimming with energy. Live recordings became more and more prevalent when Brown stopped recording in the studio.
Brown's music is also the most sampled music catalogue ever. The drum break from "Funky Drummer" is the most sampled song of all time with over 900 tabulated uses of the song on the site WhoSampled. Several other songs have his, including "Funky President (People It's Bad)", "The Payback", "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved" and "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" have each been sampled several hundred times.
He was Michael Jackson's greatest idol when he was a child, as seen by how much his music and dance styles are influenced by James Brown, and Michael paid tribute to him many times throughout his career. James Brown later invited Michael onstage in 1983.
Sadly died of pneumonia in 2006, on Christmas Day no less. But his legacy lives on and in 2014, a biographical film, Get On Up, was made about his life.
Albums with trope pages:
"Papa's got a brand new trope":
- Amicable Exes: After he divorced his first wife, they maintained a friendship that lasted until his death.
- Anthropomorphic Vice: "King Heroin," recorded from the perspective of an actual syringe of heroin talking to a crowd.
- Audience Participation: Was a master at this skill, able to inspire an audience to dance, sing, and scream along with ease. Some of his songs, however, add in overdubbed audience noise to suggest they were recorded live.
- Bad to the Bone: "I Got You (I Feel Good)" has been used in many movie scenes with happy people. It is also a Standard Snippet in comedy trailers.
- Call-and-Response Song: Spends a good portion of "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine" doing call-and-response singing with Bobby Byrd.
- The Cameo: Made a memorable one in the movie The Blues Brothers as the Reverend Cleophus James. Made another famous one in Rocky IV.
- Careful with That Axe: HUUOOWWAAUUUAAAORGGHAAAGGOOOWWWW!
- Concert Film: Appeared in 1964 all-star concert film T.A.M.I. Show. In a lineup filled with heavy hitters—Chuck Berry, The Supremes, The Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, a British group called The Rolling Stones just then hitting it big—Brown's spectacular performance is universally regarded as a highlight of the film.
- Cult of Personality: James Brown was bestowed with various honorific titles, many of which he invented himself. In the 1960s he was the most "black" Afro-American singer and dancer you could imagine, making him the black consciousness embodiment in music.
- Dance Sensation: In the 1960s and 1970s he was the embodiment of catchy dance music for parties.
- Dancing Is Serious Business: Brown embodied the art of dance in his athletic live performances.
- Drugs Are Bad: Touched on sometimes, such as on the somber "King Heroin." Sadly, drugs would wreak havoc on his own life (especially angel dust and cocaine) from The '80s onward.
- Epic Rocking: Some of his funky tracks last several minutes.
- Funk: Not the earliest example, but definitely a Trope Maker.
- Gorgeous George: Developed his stage persona after being inspired by the original. Brown was also an amateur boxer before devoting his career to music.
- Greatest Hits Album: Star Time is by far the superior one: four discs full of Brown's greatest and essentials hits. In fact, it has won much acclaim and many awards.
- I Am the Band: Brown was a notorious perfectionist, and ran through backup band members like water.
- I Have Many Names: Just look at all of those Stage Names.
- Indecipherable Lyrics: Many songs of his have barely any intelligible lyrics except for "Hey!"
Murphy: James Brown's been singing 20 years. I don't know what the fuck James is talking about. I don't understand shit James says. I met him once at Saturday Night Live. I walked up to him, "James, I love your stuff." And he said "SEBABADOODEH!"
- As a Memphis radio host put it, "James Brown didn't need any lyrics sheets. He had PCP!"
- Maybe Eddie Murphy said it best:
- Intercourse with You: "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine," "Doing It To Death", "Lickin' Stick" (actually about a stick to give someone a lickin', but the innuendo was probably intentional),...
- Japandering: He made a commercial for instant miso soup in 1992.
- Large Ham: Brown's live shows were some of the most athletic and demonstrative of any popular music performer.
- Listing Cities: "Living in America" and "Night Train."
- Location Song: "Living in America" is a Patriotic Fervor song about all the good things about livin' in the USA.
- Live Album: Live at the Apollo is the most iconic one.
- Lyrical Tic: Brown may well be the Most Triumphant Example of a musician who uses this trope. He was famous for going "ow!". He was also famous for variations of "Hunh!", "Heh!", "Whoa", "Ooh", and (as noted in the page quote), "Hey!"
- A short-lived Twitmeme, "Radio 4 Minus One Letter", defined "From Our Ow Correspondent" as "a series of reports from across the world delivered by our reporters, interspersed with their impressions of James Brown".
- Mangst: An official animated music video for "It's A Man's Man's Man's World", showcases the struggles and sadness of African-American men throughout history exclusively with the women the song's lyrics appreciate only appearing as eye candy.
- Mating Dance: You could call several of his funky and sexy tracks inspirational in this realm.
- New Jack Swing: Yes, James dabbled in funk's hip hop-infused descendant in the latter years of his career, which culminated in the album I'm Real. Unlike his disco outing, this was fairly well-received, and even spun off two of his last hits on the R&B charts.
- No Indoor Voice: "HHHEEEEEEYYYYYYY!!!" James' unrestrained singing style is legendary. By the end of "Cold Sweat" (the full version, mind you), he's letting out screams that would give some Heavy Metal singers a run for their money.
- Not Quite Dead: A staple of his live act. Brown would collapse to his knees from apparent exhaustion, and one of his backup singers would drape a cape around his shoulders and help lead him off stage. But after a few steps, Brown would throw off the cape and stagger back to the microphone in triumph and new energy.
- The Perfectionist: He demanded extreme discipline, perfection, and precision from his musicians and dancers – performers in his Revue showed up for rehearsals and members wore the right "uniform" or "costume" for concert performances. Maceo Parker, a former saxophonist in Brown's band for most of the 1960s and part of the 1970s and 1980s, offered his experience with the discipline that Brown demanded of the band:You gotta be on time. You gotta have your uniform. Your stuff's got to be intact. You gotta have the bow tie. You got to have it. You can't come up without the bow tie. You cannot come up without a cummerbund ... [The] patent leather shoes we were wearing at the time gotta be greased. You just gotta have this stuff. This is what [Brown expected] ... [Brown] bought the costumes. He bought the shoes. And if for some reason [the band member decided] to leave the group, [Brown told the person to] please leave my uniforms...
- Rags to Riches: James' life in a nutshell, and his scratching and clawing his way to stardom informed his music ("I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothin'" for example). He made this speech during his famous 1968 concert at the Boston Garden:James: In Augusta, Georgia, I used to shine shoes on the steps… in front of a radio station called WRDW. I used to shine shoes in front of that station. I think we started off- I used to get three cents, then up to five cents, then finally I got to six cents. But now, I own that station. You know what that is? That’s black power.
- Revenge: "The Payback" is all about this.
- Sampling: Brown's music has been sampled so much that the Guinness Book Of Records considers him to be the most sampled musical artist in the world. Take him away and the entire Hip-Hop genre would lose a lot of its catchiness.
- Serial Spouse: He was married four times and fathered somewhere between nine and thirteen children.
- Shaking the Rump: Near the end of the song "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine," Brown and Bobby Byrd sing the main hook of the Elmore James blues classic "Shake Your Moneymaker."
- Shout-Out: He enjoyed referencing titles from his own back catalogue in his new releases.
- On the extended version of "Livin' In America ": "Eddie Murphy! Eat yo' heart out!"
- Soul: The Godfather Of Soul, of course! Not the Trope Maker (that might be Ray Charles or Sam Cooke) but his early career embodied the style like few others, and even after he more or less invented Funk, soul is what informs his entire body of work.
- Three Chords and the Truth: He was a major influence when it came to emphasizing groove over melody in music. One simple groove could last for minutes, but you never doubt its excellence. "Cold Sweat" in particular was considered radical in its day since it's almost entirely a single chord (with a slight drop down for the bridge).
- Totally Radical: James Brown usually averted this by sticking to his roots and making straightforward, relatively unchanged old-school Funk in his entire career. But seriously, when his 1979 album "The Original Disco Man" got onto the scene with, of course, Funk's watered-down, polished, more easily danceable cousin Disco, it pretty much ruined James' career until the mid-'80s, when "Living In America" came out.
- 12-Bar Blues: It's not noticeable until it's pointed out to you, but "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" has this structure, despite not sounding blues-like at all.
- Verbal Tic:
- "Get in love with yo' bad self!"
- "Can I take it to the bridge?"
- "Ain't it funky now?"
- "Hit it!"
- "Hit me!"
- "Can't pass the people! Can't pass me! Hit me!"
- "Play it on me now!"
- "One more time! Can I hear it one more time?!"