Cheering you up for a dreadful Wednesday, one song at a time
For those of us taking care of business during the regular work week, I guess it’s safe to assume we’ve all felt that dreadful Wednesday blues. Sometimes, that middle point of the work week can be a true drag. But help is on the way!
With the fourth post on the fourth Wednesday in a row, it’s starting to look like I might be able to sustain The Hump Day Picker-Upper as a weekly recurring feature.
My pick for today is I Got You (I Feel Good) by James Brown. Written by the hardest working man in show business, the song first appeared on Brown’s album Out of Sight from September 1964. An alternate take was released as a single in October 1965. The song also was the title track of a compilation album that came out in January 1966.
The above single version of I Got You (I Feel Good) became Brown’s highest charting mainstream hit in the U.S., reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was his third no. 1 on the Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart. It’s hard to believe that none of Brown’s other gems like Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World or Cold Sweat ever topped the Billboard Hot 100.
Happy Hump Day, and always remember the words of the wise George Harrison: All things must pass!
While I wouldn’t call myself an all-out Thin Lizzy fan, I dig many of the Irish rock band’s songs I know and definitely feel they would have deserved getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Also, how many rock bands can you name that were fronted by a kick-ass black bassist and lead vocalist? Wikipedia calls Phil Lynott the “first black Irishman to achieve commercial success in the field of rock music.” While I’m not sure how many other black rock artists come from Ireland, Thin Lizzy were more than just a multi-cultural band. They also transcended religious division, featuring both Catholic and Protestant members during the period of the Northern Ireland conflict. Before getting to some of Thin Lizzy’s music, a few words about their history are in order.
Thin Lizzy were founded in December 1969, when former Them members guitarist Eric Bell and keyboard player Eric Wrixon met drummer Brian Downey and vocalist and songwriter Phil Lynott in a Dublin pub. Downey and Lynott were performing there with their band Orphanage. Wrixon exited before Thin Lizzy released their debut single The Farmer. After the band (then a trio) had signed with Decca Records at the end of 1970, they recorded their eponymous debut album that appeared in April 1971. Subsequently, except for Lynott and Downey, the band had many different members that notably included guitarist Gary Moore from 1974 to 1977 and 1978 to 1979.
In November 1972, Thin Lizzy scored their first hit with the non-album single Whiskey in the Jar, an Irish traditional song that had first been popularized in 1968 by Irish folk band The Dubliners. I still remember that song received a good deal of radio play in Germany during the ’70s and for a long time was the only Thin Lizzy tune I knew. After their initial success, the band lost momentum, and it took them three more years to have their first charting album in the UK, Fighting, released in September 1975. The follow-on Jailbreak from March 1976 finally brought commercial breakthrough and chart success in both the U.K. and the U.S. where the album peaked at no. 18 on the Billboard 200.
Until their breakup in August 1983, Thin Lizzy recorded six more studio albums. Lynott who had released two solo records in 1980 and 1982 went on to form rock band Grand Slam. They didn’t manage to secure a recording contract and folded in late 1984. On January 4, 1986, Lynott passed away at the age of 36 from pneumonia and heart failure due to septicemia. In 1996, John Sykes, one of the guitarists in Thin Lizzy’s final lineup, decided to revive the band as a tribute. They conducted various tours over the years until Sykes’ departure in June 2009. Shortly thereafter, Scott Gorham who had played guitar with Thin Lizzy since 1974, started putting together another lineup. In 2012, Thin Lizzy offspring Black Star Riders was formed to record new material. Thin Lizzy has continued to gig occasionally, most recently last summer. Time for some music!
Let’s kick it off with Whiskey in the Jar. The song’s great twin lead guitar parts were one of the features that attracted me to Thin Lizzy. I still dig that sound. Apparently, the band wasn’t happy about Decca’s release of their cover of the tune, feeling it did not represent their sound.
Here’s a nice rocker appropriately titled The Rocker. Co-written by Bell, Downey and Lynott, the song was included on Vagabonds of the Western World, Thin Lizzy’s third studio album that came out in November 1973 in the wake of the Whiskey in the Jar single. Unlike that tune, The Rocker only charted in Ireland where it went to no. 14.
Next up: Rosalie, the great opener to Thin Lizzy’s fifth studio album Fighting. The track was written by Bob Seger who first recorded it on his 1973 album Back in ’72.
The follow-on album Jailbreak became Thin Lizzy’s best-selling record and also their highest-charting in the U.S. Undoubtedly, that performance was fueled by the classic The Boys Are Back in Town, which remain a staple on classic rock rock to this day. Written by Lynott, the band’s most successful single is another beautiful example of their seductive twin lead guitar sound.
The soulful Dancing in the Moonlight (It’s Caught Me in Its Spotlight) is another Lynott tune I dig. It appeared on Thin Lizzy’s eighth studio album Bad Reputation from September 1977. The saxophone part was played by Supertramp saxophonist John Helliwell. Call me crazy, I can hear some influence from Irish fellow artist Van Morrison.
Black Rose: A Rock Legend, released in April 1979, was the only Thin Lizzy album featuring Gary Moore despite his two stints with the band. Here’s opener and lead single Waiting for an Alibi written by Lynott. I like the tune’s driving bass line, and these twin lead guitar parts never get boring. It became one of the band’s most successful singles, reaching no. 9 in the UK and no. 6 in Ireland.
How about two more songs? First is Killer on the Loose, another Lynott composition released in September 1980, just ahead of Thin Lizzy’s 10th studio album Chinatown that appeared the following month. Perhaps not surprisingly, the song’s lyrics and video, in which Lynott took the persona of a Jack-the-Ripper-type serial killer, created controversy. It probably didn’t help that the single coincided with a string of murders by an English serial killer called the Yorkshire Ripper. But one thing is for sure – chart performance didn’t suffer. The band scored another top 10 hit in the UK and a no. 5 in Ireland.
The last tune I’d like to call out is Cold Sweat. Co-written by Lynott and Lizzy guitarist John Sykes, it was included in the band’s final studio record Thunder and Lightning from March 1983. Here’s a clip from Thin Lizzy’s supporting farewell tour.
Splitting his legs, bouncing his knees, shaking his body, profusely sweating and at times seemingly screaming off the top of his lungs – they didn’t call James BrownMr. Dynamite or The Hardest Working Man In Show Biz for nothing. I was reminded of his incredible performances recently, when my music streaming platform served up one of Brown’s great live albums at the storied Apollo Theater in New York’s Harlem. And voila, an idea for a new blog was triggered!
Brown was born James Joseph Brown on May 3rd, 1933 in Barnwell, S.C. to a 16-year-old mother and a 22-year-old father. The family lived in extreme poverty, and from a young age, Brown essentially took care of himself with hustling to get by. He dropped out of school after sixth grade and began singing at talent shows as a nine-year old. In 1954, Brown joined a gospel group that had been founded by singer Bobby Byrd, which evolved into The Famous Flames. By 1957, they called themselves James Brown and the Famous Flames.
In 1956, The Famous Flames signed a deal with Federal, a Cincinnati-based subsidiary of King Records. In March that year, they released Please Please Please, which eventually became their first hit single reaching no. 6 on the Billboard R&B charts. Co-written by Brown and Flames backing vocalist Johnny Terry, it also was the title track of their debut album from December 1958. A series of follow-up singles went nowhere, and it wasn’t until October 1958 that Brown and his band stroke again with the ballad Try Me – the first of 17 singles topping the R&B chart. According to Wikipedia, Brown has the distinction to be the artist with the most singles on the Billboard Hot 100 without hitting no. 1 – not only do I wonder who comes up with these stats, but I also find this hard to believe, given all the music Brown prolifically released over his 50-year recording career, including so many well-known tunes!
During the late ’60s, Brown started to move away from gospel and soul and became instrumental in shaping funk music. Often referred to as The Godfather of Soul, perhaps a more appropriate title would be “The Godfather of Funk.” In fact, some music critics consider his 1967 tune Cold Sweat to be the first real funk song. Brown continued to record and perform through the 70s, 80s, 90s and early 2000s. He passed away on December 25, 2006 at age 73 from congestive heart failure, resulting from complications of pneumonia.
Let’s hit it with footage from some of Brown’s legendary performances. This clip of Please Please Please is from the T.A.M.I. Show, a concert held in Santa Monica, Calif. on October 28 and 29, 1964. It featured top artists from the U.S. and the U.K., who in addition to James Brown and the Famous Flames included The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Gerry & the Pacemakers and The Rolling Stones, among others. The concert was captured in a movie that appeared in December 1964. It’s just mind-boggling to watch Brown in action, repeatedly dropping on his knees and being lifted up by his band mates while seemingly singing himself into a trance-like state.
I Got You (I Feel Good) is one of Brown’s signature tunes. Written by him and first recorded for his 10th studio record Out Of Sight released in September 1964, it also became Brown’s highest charting single on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 3. The following clip apparently is from a concert in Paris, France in 1966.
Another incredible performance happened in Boston on April 5, 1968. Brown’s show at the Boston Garden took place just one day after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Apparently, the mayor had planned to cancel all public events including Brown’s concert, but in the end the local authorities were more concerned a cancellation could trigger unrest and allowed the event to go ahead. Here’s the above noted Try Me, a beautiful soulful tune written by Brown, which like Please Please Please appeared on the debut album. Check out Brown’s moves at around 1:30 minutes into the song. You can literally picture him starting to launch into the moonwalk at any moment!
Next up: A great medley of Cold Sweat and Ride The Pony (Mother Popcorn) from the same 1968 gig in Boston. Cold Sweat was co-written by Brown and the leader of his backing band Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis. It also became the title track to his 21st studio album released in August 1967. It’s simply impossible to listen to this tune without starting to groove, especially when watching Brown’s dance moves.
A post about James Brown’s live performances wouldn’t be complete without one of his biggest concert staples: Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine. It’s perhaps the ultimate funk tune. First released in July 1970 as a two-part single, Sex Machine was co-written by him; Bobby Byrd, who by then had become the keyboarder of Brown’s new band The J.B.s; and Brown’s recording engineer Ron Lenhoff. The guitar part is performed by Phelps “Catfish” Collins and one of the coolest funk riffs in my book. It’s also propelled by the terrific rhythm section of Phelps’ brother William “Bootsy” Collins on bass and drummer John “Jabo” Starks. The following footage apparently was captured sometime in 1971.
To me James Brown is in the same group of extraordinary artists like Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson who pushed stage performances to a new level. Brown has received many honors, including inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame. He’s included at no. 7 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. According to the music magazine, Brown is also the most sampled music artist of all time.