WFMU Ichiban, Rock and Soul with Debbie D

Thursday, May 17, 2012

James Brown Month: THINK

Of all the songs James Brown covered, he returned to none as many times in so many different ways as he did the "5" Royales 1957 classic "Think", written by the great Lowman Pauling.  Tracing versions of the songs gives us a window into the ever evolving Brown sound.

It's not hard to hear why this was such a fine tune for JB - the performance is mesmerizing, Pauling's guitar is great, the lyrics are fantastic both rhythmically and thematically - so many wonderful lines that shoulder and deflect responsibility for a broken relationship in such a smart way. And deflecting blame in a smart way was a JB specialty! "Think of all the bad things I tried not to do!" is just one of those lines that says it all.

Brown's initial single version, recorded in 1960, removes much of the melody and the finger-snapping stop-and-start rhythms from the tune and adds a great horn chart/riff, turns up the drums, and speeds it way up. The result is to my ears his first step towards creating funk - complete with Maceoesque sax solo.

The next version appears on Live at the Apollo, and is as wilder than the single version as the single version is from the "5" Royales, even as it interestingly reincorporates some of the elements from the Royales version JB's initial version jettisoned. Guitar returns to the mix to scratch out the rhythm (Les Buie really chanks it up), and the Flames clap along for dear life, since the speed of the thing is almost ridiculous. 

Next up came a single version in 1967, this time recorded in a duet with Vicki Anderson - slowed down and funked up, with a bit of "Money Won't Change You" in the horn part and drum beat.

Although Vicki Anderson was out of there by the time it came to record Live at the Apollo V. 2, Marva Whitney came in and took on the duet role to keep the arrangement "current". The tempo is back up to "live appopriate" velocity. Think Link

Can't stop thinkin'!

The song came out again in 1973. This time the arrangement is full on mid-tempo funk, with the 5 Royales background "thinks" being brought into a JB version. In fact, this version in some ways, with its relaxed drive and reflective mood, is maybe closest to the original of all the versions JB cut.

And although it's technically not the same tune, there are definite lyrical similarities between the JB penned/produced Lynn Collins almost-a-hit "Think (About It)" and the mighty "Think", particularly in the outro vamp.