Sunday, January 6, 2008
It's A Man's Man's Man's World, James Brown and the Famous Flames (1966)
One of the rawest soul songs ever to be recorded, It's A Man's Man's Man's World was nothing short of a masterpiece. It was the closest thing to a spiritual one was likely to hear on the radio in those days, and it has lost none of its gripping luster in 40+ years. See this Village Voice piece for some backstory on the song's creation.
As uninhibited as James Brown was capable of being, and that was certainly one of his primary assets as a performer, as with so many songs I admire, it's the dramatic orchestration surrounding and combined with the main vocal event that made it so noteworthy and effective. Known for demanding his band be as hard-working as he was, they delivered big time on this. But credit should also be given to the song's arranger, the legendary big band/r&b conductor and arranger Sammy Lowe, who brought production values to the table that will forever keep this song in the soul music pantheon of perfection.
At no point in the song, if you were merely listening to it, would you visualize anything other than a man all but prostrating himself in naked acknowledgement of his need for a woman. Pretty heady stuff for a 14-year-old! But as with so much soul music, songs like this reached out and seized me to the very core of my being despite my complete and utter immaturity. They always have and always will.
If you haven't seen it, check out Christina Aguilera's 2007 Grammy performance of the song to see someone channeling James to the very best of her ability. I had to pick myself up off the floor after this; to attempt this and, in my opinion and that of many others, succeed, was truly something to behold. Just one demonstration of the power this song has over people.