Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

Consumer Guide:
  User's Guide
  Grades 1990-
  Grades 1969-89
  Expert Witness
Books:
  Going Into the City
  Consumer Guide: 90s
  Grown Up All Wrong
  Consumer Guide: 80s
  Consumer Guide: 70s
  Any Old Way You Choose It
  Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough
Writings:
  CG Columns
  Rock&Roll& [new]
  Rock&Roll& [old]
  Music Essays
  Music Reviews
  Book Reviews
  NAJP Blog
  Playboy
  Blender
  Rolling Stone
  Billboard
  Video Reviews
  Pazz & Jop
  Recyclables
  Newsprint
  Lists
  Miscellany
Bibliography
NPR
Web Site:
  Home
  Site Map
  What's New?
Carola Dibbell:
  Carola's Website
  Archive
Venues:
  Noisey
CG Search:
Google Search:
Twitter:

In Memoriam: James Brown

In 1980 I set myself the task of reviewing every James Brown album of the '70s -- 23 by my count, many borrowed from my neighbor Vince Aletti, who'd had the sense to keep even the soundtracks. To add verisimilitude, I worked in order of release, playing each record until it sunk in, then proceeding to the next. Ten titles I judged good-to-great, but though I home-taped like there was no tomorrow, many of these I never played again.

That job I undertook was part of a book project. Now James Brown's death has occasioned another job, only this time I'm immersing willy-nilly, often streaming albums I still own only on cassette. And so it came to pass that I woke from a brief nap to hear . . . what the hell was that? At first Brown's grunts sounded African, or more African; later I decided maybe he was speaking in tongues. The track was "Time Is Running Out," from 1973's good-not-great The Payback. Seven minutes in it gets really crazy, Brown's tongues and Fred Wesley's trombone dueling over a typically locked-in groove. But it kept morphing and it kept staying the same. I couldn't believe how experimental it was, and how enjoyable.

Out of curiosity, I reread my review of The Payback. Hmmm.

I had noticed it, actually: "a horn-and-voice excursion that shambles on for 12:37," I'd sniffed. What then I'd disdained, now I loved. That's how profound James Brown is. We're still trying to catch up with him. I doubt we ever will.

Los Angeles Times, Dec. 30, 2006

Postscript Notes:

Included in a set of comments compiled by Ann Powers and Geoff Boucher in the Los Angeles Times CalendarLive section, under the title "'We lost a good one, man'." The other comments were by: Ike Turner, will.i.am, Steve Harvey, Charles Connor, Marva Whitney, Cecil Brown, Alan Leeds, Oliver Wang, Steve Jackson, Chuck Philips, Nelson George. The original link we had to the whole piece is broken.