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Great Moustaches in Rock: James Brown

After a post on Barry Manilow, I think we need to get the funk on! So let’s not worry ourselves about the fact that JB went through almost all of his very long career clean-shaven but recall the short period in the mid-70s when he sported a sub-pimp’s moustache (to compensate for his tatooed eyebrows, possibly).

Unlike some perpetrators of the ‘tache in rock, Brown quickly discovered that the caterpillar-lip looked silly, especially when combined with his middle-aged ladies’ coiffure. Tellingly, facial growth reappeared only in the one famous picture in which JB’s hair does not look like Aunt Agnes’ do:

Brown bore a striking resemblance to my sister-in-law’s ex-mother-in-law, whom we shall refer to as Mrs D. Indeed, when Brown sported his moustache, they looked virtually identical. Even in personality, they sometimes seemed like doppelgängers, for Mr Brown was known for some callous and poor behaviour. Keep those flaws, and subtract any bit of benevolence, charm and generosity in spirit Brown may have exhibited, and you have Mrs D. What James had in abundance, and Mrs D none, was talent.

Brown’s impact on modern music is undeniable. It was JB who introduced the idea of the ostentatious entourage (for best use ever of sidekicks on stage, witness the antics in this fantastic video), thereby paving the way for loads of people in the world of rap to obtain honest employment as paid Official Sycophant. Without JB’s moves, Michael Jackson might have stuck to the Jackson 5 dance routines, and there’d be no moonwalk. And JB’s blistering pre-fight entertainment distracted Appollo Reed so much that he ended up being killed by a Russian boxer, thereby paving the way for Rocky to win the Cold War.


Brown’s music was important, too. I’ve read that “Funky Drummer” is the most sampled track of all time, though to me Maceo Parker’s tenor sax is the star of the song. Brown could be a gospel-tinted shouter (Please, Please, Please), straight soul singer (1963’s Prisoner Of Love, Brown’s first pop hit, a 1930s song on which he sounds like a woman; It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World; the ubiquitous soul-funk of I Got You), and of course the Godfather of Funk (arguably Papa Got A Brandnew Bag in 1965 was the first real crossover funk hit); and helped along rap with spoken tracks such as the utterly stunning King Heroin (1971), which fed into the work of Gil Scott-Heron and the Funky Poets. It is puzzling then that Brown won one of his only two Grammys for a song which he didn’t even write, Dan Hartman’s Living In America.

With that, the part-time Republican Brown acquired a song which serves to symbolise the contradictions in the man’s message: the man who once raised his fist by declaring his blackness loudly and proudly was now singing a funky hymn to Reagan’s America “You might not be looking for the promised land, but you might find it anyway”. Ugh!

All songs deleted after Blogger DMCAed this post. All my posts featuring James Brown songs have been zapped that way. Well, JB has to live somehow…

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