Tired of PA systems blaring sappy holiday pap? Well, then, it's time to get down with Mr. James Brown.
James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, had a particular fondness for Christmas albums--done, of course, in his own inimitable way. He released James Brown Sings Christmas Songs in 1966, A Soulful Christmas in 1968, Hey America in 1970, and The Merry Christmas Album in 1999 (yes, James Brown was still around to pen a song for Y2K, called "Funky Christmas Millennium"). Listening to these albums, or to the various compilations made from them, is like going into another holiday dimension--a Twilight Zone indeed. Forget the standards; these are stockings stuffed with James Brown originals, from provocative songs like "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto" and "Hey America" to earnest pleas like "Let's Unite the Whole World at Christmas" and "Don't Forget the Poor at Christmas." And I don't even know what to make of songs like "Clean For Christmas," "I'm Your Christmas Friend, Don't Be Hungry," or "Believers Shall Enjoy (Non Believers Shall Suffer)." Good God!
This track, "Soulful Christmas" -- the title track of the 1968 LP -- encapsulates everything I love about James Brown. There's the funky strut of its tempo, that tight R&B combo keeping it all together, and Brown's stream-of-consciousness vocals inviting us all to his own personal holiday party. It's a pretty amazing full-fledged rap for 1968, long before today's rappers were even born.
At first it sounds as if it's a seduction song -- "I ain't talkin' just to tease / People like you, you don't grow on trees / Look at you, that's what it's gonna be / Have everything I need / Around my soulful Christmas tree." But eventually it becomes clear that it's his fans that he's seducing, and by the end it's a shameless fan-club plug: "You bought my records, come to see my show / That's why James Brown love you so / You come to see my show / That's a debt that I'll always owe." But the thing is, it was sincere: he really did love those fans, and entertaining them was his reason for living.
And his joy is infectious. "Got my baby, my precious love / Happiness, good God, I got plenty of / Would you believe I got peace of mind / And I'll be groovin' at Christmas time."
So will we JB -- thanks to you.