"somebody... funked up the air!"

1979. A James Brown single. 7" 45 and 12" available. I chose the latter, at my local independent record retailer. I hadn't given JB much thought in years - he was the late-60s icon, yes, and I got "shut your mouth" reactions to my habit, as a four-year-old, of aping James' "Good Gawd!" shout. But after "Payback" and a few other early-70s hitlets, he just disappeared for many people, submerged first by the legion of young funkateers whom he'd inspired, then by the disco music that those funkateers had helped birth.

Polydor gave this a big "James is Back!" push (he hadn't left, of course), and he got airplay like he hadn't had in years. But there were some troubling signs. The song was from an album entitled The Original Disco Man. Et tu, JB? He was not only hopping the disco bandwagon, he was making pronouncements in the press about how he invented the thing (he would later do the same with rap).

Troubling sign #2: this music was done with an outside producer (Brad Shapiro) and session players. "Too Funky in Here" was an attempt to find a middle ground between the JB sound and the prevailing sound of the day, but the disco-dolly background vocals and the four-on-the-floor thump was a little unnerving. Still, pretty good stuff. It flopped.

Years later, it was done "right": "Living in America", from the Rocky XVIII soundtrack (did Dan Hartman produce this one?). It took the Polydor/Shapiro plan further by just casting James as a mere actor on someone else's stage; listen closely, and you might catch a whiff of the funk, but essentially it was freeze-dried James, right down to the video, where the senior citizen JB (making a good living as poster boy for Fat Elvis Syndrome, when not serving time in prison) could only approximate the flash of his young, cat-like moves through the magic of film editing.

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