Monday, September 1, 2014

Song of the Day: James Brown - Down and Out In New York City (1973)

The biggest change in my taste over the last five years is undoubtedly how much more soul/blues/jazz/rap I listen to now, or for lack of a better term, black music. I had always liked soul, with Otis Redding and Sam & Dave having been amongst my favorites since my early-20s, but I hadn't fully gotten into James Brown until more recently. Sure, I owned Live at the Apollo and a hits compilation, because those are mandatory if you love pop music, but I didn't start fully immersing myself into his catalogue until the last few years, and now I just can't get enough. He's absolutely my all-time favorite African-American artist now, and I've amassed a pretty substantial collection of his music. To be fair, a lot of Brown's music is startlingly similar. He basically had three phases of his career: the early soul years, the years from about '65-'70 when he pretty much invented the future trajectory of black music, and then everything since, which mostly held to the formula. But Brown is one of those artists for which digging through the stacks and dustbins of his recorded output will always yield a lot of rewards, because he recorded so much material, and maintained such a consistently high standard of quality. 

Down and Out in New York City is my favorite Brown discovery of the last few years, a song so good that I still can't fathom why it appears on so few of his Best Of compilations. It was recorded for the soundtrack of the film Black Caesar in 1973, which was one of a handful of hugely successful Blaxploitation soundtracks from that era (with Shaft and Superfly being the two most notable). It actually sounds somewhat dissimilar from a lot of Brown's other work at the time, probably because he didn't write this song (a major rarity for him), and it's more of a pure soul song for the era. But Brown still adds just enough funk to make it clearly his own, and the result is stunning. That someone can release a four disc box set of his best work, and this song didn't even make the cut, will forever amaze me. For those of you hearing it for the first time, I hope it blows your mind just as much as it did mine.

This was originally written and posted on Facebook on May 21, 2014

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