James Brown – Down and Out in New York City

JBdownandoutinNYC

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

In 1973 James Brown provided the score for the blaxploitation film Black Caesar. The single released from this soundtrack was Down and Out In New York City – my favorite James Brown song of all time. What I love about the song is that it has a deep soul foundation, but also displays the hardcore funk that Brown was enamored with in the early 70’s. The melody is positively infectious and the grooves make you want to get up and dance. Vocally, this is one of the best performances that Jams Brown ever delivered. The verses delivered right around the 1 minute mark bleed with passion “So you try hard or you die hard / No one really gives a good damn / You try hard and you die hard / Nobody gives a damn”. Around this time period is when James Brown started calling himself “The Godfather of Soul”. The single charted at #13 on the R&B charts and #50 on the Pop charts. The 7″ included the stunning soul lament, Mama’s Dead. Truly, an extraordinary release from James Brown at what can arguably be considered the peak of his creative powers.

Shuggie Otis – Strawberry Letter 23

StrawberryLetter

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Sad to say, but I first became aware of Shuggie Otis with the 2001 David Byrne assisted reissue of 1974’s Inspiration Information. The CD cover hinted at some hip world of unheard acid jazz soul power and the music followed through on that promise (though the 2001 reissue cover wasn’t the original sleeve). As much as I loved the entire record, the track that I had instantly had to play over (and over) again was “Strawberry Letter 23”. The song was originally a part of Shuggie’s 1971 record, Freedom Flightbut was tacked onto the reissue as a “bonus track”. The song effortlessly encapsulates exhilaration, melancholy, and longing all within the span of its 4 minute run-time. The music breezes along on a ridiculously catchy groove making the moment when everything fades away with Shuggie singing “If you arrive and don’t see me / I’m going to be with my baby / I am free, flying in her arms / Over the sea” resonate all the more deeply. The track has been covered by quite a few acts (notably, The Brothers Johnson version hit #5 and is the version most people have heard). It was also featured in the Quentin Tarantino film Jackie Brown as well as the hit TV show Six Feet Under. This is one of those songs that gets under your skin the 1st time you hear it and never wears out its welcome. The lyrics quoted just above hint at the way the words effortlessly flow in poetic fashion. Truly, a masterpiece in words & music.

Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle

Part 34 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays

The early 90’s were a very strange time period. As someone who was in high school from 1991 to 1995 (yes, I graduated) I saw the mainstreaming of the Grunge era as the G-Funk era simultaneously exploded on MTV and radio stations. You would think that these two very different genres (fuzzy rock n roll VS gangsta rap) would also have two very different fan bases – but it wasn’t quite like that. My friends and I would listen to all the latest CD’s – it was very common for me to swap out my Nirvana and Pearl Jam CD’s for Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg. Personally, I’d listened to a bit of N.W.A. a few years earlier and had really loved what I heard – it couldn’t prepare me for the 1 -2 punch of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle. I love both records, but I slightly prefer the paranoid world that inhabits Snoop’s record.

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