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Recommended Listening: James Brown - Star Time

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

Like most of us, I was constantly going through my parents' record & CD collection when I was a kid. Although he has never played a musical instrument or sang, I think my Dad had great taste in music and I still find myself listening to those same records all these years later.

There were quite a few records & CD's in the 'music cupboard' that never made their way back there. Today I'd like to talk about one in particular. Actually, it's not one; it happens to be a 4 CD Box Set which was released on Polydor Records.... James Brown 'Star Time'.

James Brown Star Time

This boxed set means everything to me. It came in a really classy box with a booklet which credited all of the musicians along with loads of extra info & photos - very cool!

The set, of course, features most of the tracks that we all (should) know.. 'Mother Popcorn' 'Papa's got a brand new bag' 'Funky Drummer' 'Sex Machine' 'Doin' it to death' 'Cold Sweat' 'Get up off of that thing' 'The Boss' 'The Payback' 'Super Bad' et al..

I could say so much about the above tracks. I've been obsessed with them for years. The groove is so strong. I really feel that if James Brown's music is playing and you're not moved by it, you're not human! It's Heavy!

As with most legendary artists, there are a few (perhaps) lesser known tracks that for some reason aren't celebrated enough. In fact, I'll even risk some criticism here and say that sometimes the music of James Brown can be a little overlooked! People can often be looking for something new to listen to. There's nothing new. This is still some of the hippest music around and you're reminded of that every time it's playing.

There's not a James Brown tune that I don't love. On the Star Time box set, there are a few tunes which completely kill me that maybe people might have missed on their journeys, so I'd like to reference them in this post. These tunes will hit you hard, I'm sure.

Devil's Den

This is one of the most mesmerising shuffle grooves you'll ever hear. It's so damn cool. Prepare to feel warm. The vibe & the orchestration is incredible - the guitar part and the horns just put you in a trance and it builds & builds, on & on whilst remaining so cool. Just seriously cool. Cookin'! You dig?

King Heroin

Now this is heavy. It hits me hard every time. The lyrics are incredible; they illustrate perfectly how the drug, heroin, will take a persons life completely off of the tracks to the point of no return. It's a haunting tune. It'll give you goosebumps and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Again, I absolutely love the orchestration on this tune and the 12/8 groove is mesmerising. Interestingly, perhaps to some, the drummer is Billy Cobham. I always thought it was Bernard Purdie. Go listen!


This wonderful tune, recorded & released as a single in 1960, is an unbelievable example of an 'in-between' straight & swung groove but it's so natural and it's completely amazing. I'm astounded by this feel every time I hear it. Go check it out and try to play along to it!

A little story for you, I once did a few deps for a jive band and they had this tune as part of their incredibly large repertoire. In the lead up to the gigs I was given a demo which they had recorded, it was a great band but the feel on this tune just wasn't right. The drummer played it completely straight. It's not!

I did two enjoyable rehearsals with the band before a nice run of festival gigs one summer. When we got to 'Think' on the rehearsal, before the tune was counted off I raised my feeling about the feel on the demo. The band weren't sure what I meant. It took them a while to come round to the 'in-between' feeling on this track but when they got it, it worked great! I think it would of been a complete tragedy to have played it straight like the demo and I think it was simply overlooked which can happen with a lot of cover versions of James Brown tunes. You only have to hear most function bands play 'I got you - I feel good' and you'll know what I mean. After the run of gigs, the bands regular drummer phoned me to ask about 'Think' and we arranged to sit down together to check it out, I think that unfortunately due to the band's large repertoire, he had simply just followed the chart and not listened to the record as it's really quite a straightforward tune, so an easy busk. Always listen to the records!

I hope you've enjoyed my musings on the music of James Brown and if you have the urge to listen to more James Brown then my job here is done! I really haven't even scratched the surface though. To pick just a few tunes was so hard. 'Talkin' loud and saying' nothin' 'Papa don't take no mess' 'Lickin Stick Lickin Stick' are also standout tunes and I love them all dearly.

Interestingly, the drummer on 'Devils Den' & 'Think' is a gentlemen by the name of Nat Kendrick. I'm not familiar (knowingly) of anything else Mr. Kendrick has played on, but after writing this, he'll be under further 'investigation' and I'm sure we'll become fast friends!

The beauty of music is that you'll always discover things you haven't heard, I've always found this completely amazing!

Finally, I mentioned that the 'Star Time' box set was one of the things that never made it's way back to my parent's music cupboard, it has stayed with me. This is the only thing my Dad still asks me if he can have back to this day; 30 years later!

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