Album of the Week: James Brown’s There It Is (1972)

The Godfather of Soul has an overwhelmingly huge discography, and I’ve heard relatively few of his studio albums, live albums or compilations. The guy basically invented funk music, and many fans point to records like Sex Machine and The Payback as essential collections of his energetic funk mastery.

There It Is is a bit different. It contains some tracks that are outside the sound of James Brown’s typical oeuvre. “King Heroin” is amazingly surreal: over a laconic groove, Brown describes a dream about a “strange weird object” talking to people. Turns out it’s heroin, and Brown (as the anthropomorphic heroin) recites the dangers of the deadly drug. This one must be heard to be believed! Ultimately, James Brown’s anti-drug PSAs feel hypocritical, as he would go on to abuse PCP and other drugs for years. “Public Enemy #1” follows the example of “King Heroin”, but packs less of a punch.

There are a few classic funk cuts here, most notably “Talkin’ Loud and Saying Nothin'”, “I’m a Greedy Man” and the title track. “Who Am I” is a rare James Brown ballad, and his voice isn’t exactly tailor-made for the style. Nevertheless, I like it. The closer “Never Can Say Goodbye” has a laid-back beat similar to “King Heroin”, but there’s no proselytizing on this song. It’s a nice way to end a strong outing from the prolific James Brown.

Listen to There It Is here.

Album of the Week: The Gap Band’s Gap Band IV (1982)

Elementary school gym class, 2003. It’s a beautiful day in suburban Pennsylvania, and I’m ridin’ dirty:

The scooter board experience was fun even for a chubster like myself. At least until you sat too far back and the thing flipped upwards in front of you and you landed on your ass. Or you had to race 30 other kids and got some shoes in your face or whatever. I liked the free time to just glide around the gymnasium floor like a roomba. And on these days, there’s one song I remember the gym teachers blasting over the speakers repeatedly: The Gap Band’s “You Dropped a Bomb on Me”.

Maybe not the most appropriate track given the “you turn me on” line, but damn if I didn’t love this one as a kid. The synth tone is too funky, and of course what makes it is that cartoonish bomb-dropping sound effect. Fucking sick. And it’s just as electrifying today.

“You Dropped a Bomb on Me” is probably The Gap Band’s biggest hit in terms of chart position, but Gap Band IV also features “Outstanding”. This one is a proven smash at any party, and younger listeners might recognize the melody from Tyler the Creator’s “911”.

I have yet to listen to a lot of Gap Band albums, but I can tell you that this is one of those records where every song is good. I love “Early in the Morning”: it begins with a rooster cawing and an ominous synth tone, before the piano shines some sun on the track. It’s an upbeat jam that’s as good as any to start your day to. Charlie Wilson would reuse the “I was young and foolish…” bridge 23 years later on Snoop Dogg’s “Signs” (another classic from my childhood). “Season’s No Reason to Change” has a Stevie Wonder vibe to it, while “Lonely Like Me” is conceptually similar to “Call Me Maybe”: hey, I just met you, but maybe we have something in common!

“Talkin’ Back” is such a clear P-Funk track that it almost feels like George Clinton should receive royalties. This wasn’t totally new for The Gap Band (see 1980’s “Humpin'”), but it’s the only track on IV that fits the description. Nevertheless, it’s so good that it doesn’t really matter. As a closer it makes it clear that The Gap Band’s party is just getting started, and indeed they would keep releasing numbered albums up through 1987’s Gap Band 8 (their… 11th album?). I’ll have to get back to you on the rest of those records, but IV is a funky 80s gem.

Listen to Gap Band IV here.