First, I must note review copies of new releases are usually sent out well in advance of the sales date or are shipped when publicists get their quota of copies to distribute. In this case, the soundtrack to the James Brown biopic Get On Up became available on July 29, three days before the August 1st arrival of the film in theatres. But this reviewer’s copy didn’t appear in my mailbox for whatever reason(s) until October 4. So while I’ll have to be well behind the curve for the disc’s major marketing campaign, I can at least alert slowpokes this is a not to be missed collection. Or perhaps I can give James Brown fans a hint about possible holiday gift giving.
Now, as many of you already know, listeners shouldn’t be misled by the title of this collection. Past soundtracks for musical biopics like The Runaways or Jersey Boys are often mixes of original material along with new versions of songs especially recorded for the film. But you don’t need to have seen Get On Up to dig the soundtrack as actor Chadwick Boseman lip-synched his part over Brown’s original studio and live recordings in the movie. Other than the photos in the accompanying booklet, it’s easy to hear the twenty songs on their own without visuals and consider the disc the best best-of edition of the James Brown canon to date. Hah! Uh!
There are only two reasons why the soundtrack can’t completely replace previous greatest hits packages. First, the songs aren’t presented in chronological order so you don’t hear Brown’s progression from early r&b arrangements into his invention of funk. For example, the set opens with Brown’s 1970 “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine” and “The Payback. Pt. 1” (1974) before we really go back in time to 1964’s “Out Of Sight.” We don’t hear the studio version of Brown’s first hit, the 1956 Little Richard inspired “Please Please Please,” until 19 songs into the program. Some numbers, like “Night Train,” first recorded in 1962, and “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” are live versions, so we don’t get the original hits. As the program ends with “Get Up Offa That Thing” from 1976, we don’t hear Brown’s final single of note, 1986’s “Living in America.” Whah! Uh!
Despite such omissions there are, well, 20 good reasons to own this soundtrack. For example, previously unreleased live tracks recorded at Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory in Tampa, Florida on April 23, 1966 include the previously mentioned “Please Please Please” and “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” For those who don’t already treasure the 1963 Live At the Apollo, we get a sample with “Night Train.” Good God! Heh!
No Brown retrospective, of course, could leave out “I Got You (I Feel Good)” (1965), “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, Pt. 1” (1965), “Cold Sweat, Pt. 1” (1967), and “Say It Loud-I’m Black And I’m Proud, Pt. 1” (1969). I’ve noticed other reviewers praising the sequence of the live “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine,” “Super Bad,” and “Soul Power.” Such praise is well founded. In the midst of all the other ’70s live offerings, I found the earlier “Try Me (studio version appeared in 1958) very affecting as it was Brown being soulful before his heyday. In a similar vein, I liked Brown’s version of the Louis Jordan hit, “Caldonia.” Brown recorded the song in 1964 although this version is one of five “recordings with new production and arrangements by The Underdogs.” That’s what the press release claims, but I wonder exactly what that means. The booklet offers very limited information.
Only two songs, “Get Up” and “Please Please Please” appear in both studio and live versions, which means any serious Brown fan will need more than Get On Up – The James Brown Story in their library, and probably already do. For everyone else, the collection is just too chockfull of the magic of “Soul Brother Number One” not to add this soundtrack to your collection. JB’s appeal is multi-generational, multi-racial, and an indispensable part of our cultural history. Hah! Uh! Good God, get down, get up, get funky! Get on board—the night train![amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00KTFJ8Z4]