The “Godfather of Soul,” James Brown, earned the descriptor “the hardest working man in show business” as an inexhaustible singer, songwriter, band leader and unbelievable dancer. Recognized by all the usual suspects, James Joseph Brown, Jr. was one of the most influential performers in music history. He was an essential force for thousands of others he influenced in the industry.
“Godfather of Soul” was just not enough for this man. James Brown had man titles including “King of Funk,” “Soul Brother Number One,” “Mr. Dynamite,” and “King of Soul.” Especially known for his electrifying live performances, since 1956 Brown scored 99 songs high in the charts placing him among the top 10 of all-time successful pop artists.
What many people do not know is that many of his hits were recorded in only two takes.
Following is our list of the top 10 all-time best James Brown songs.
This song was written by James Brown with his girlfriend Betty Jean Newsome. He recorded it on Feb. 16, 1966 and it peaked at #1 on the Billboard R&B chart, #8 on the Billboard Hot 100. It demonstrates Brown's ability to powerfully sing a romantic ballad. It was recorded in just takes and was ranked #123 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
Newsome said the title was a quip on the 1963 comedy movie “It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”
The funky 1968 release reached #1 on the R&B charts and #10 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Brown brought in a children’s choir for the chorus and other backup vocals. "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" became an anthem type song for the of the 1960’s Black Power movement.
This funk recording reached #2 R&B hit and peaked at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2004, "Sex Machine" was listed as #326 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
It was recorded in just two takes.
This funk and soul song reached #1 on the R&B chart and #6 in the Hot 100 in 1968. The song is particularly historical because of its influence on the careers of the Jackson 5. Michael Jackson was the lead vocalist on the group’s audition tape to Motown’s Berry Gordy in 1968. The song, of course, was “I Got the Feelin’.”
Brown’s 1962 recording of “Night Train” peaked at #5 on the R&B chart and #35 on the Hot 100. In his version, Brown exchanged original lyrics with a screaming list of cities on his East Coast tour as sort of an advanced built-in advertisement in the song. James played the drums on the recording.
It reached #4 on the Hot 100 and reached the top on the R&B charts in 1985. "Living In America" was the flagship song on the soundtrack to the movie ‘Rocky IV.’ It was Brown's only top 10 pop single in the UK. He received a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for the song.
4. "Try Me"
"Try Me (I Need You)" was the first song to reach the Billboard Hot 100 for James Brown and The Famous Flames. It was a great debut to the Pop charts in 1958 reaching #48. It hit the #1 spot on the R&B charts, their first one since “Please, Please, Please” on that chart in three years.
It sold over a million copies and saved the group from having their contract dropped.
Written by Brown in 1965, it became his first song to reach the Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten, scoring the #8 spot. It was #1 on R&B and remained on the charts for eight weeks. “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” earned Brown his first Grammy Award, for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording.
In 2010, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" was ranked #71 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
“Please, Please, Please” was James Brown and the Famous Flames first chart hit and debut recording in 1956. Written by Brown and Johnny Terry, it reached #6 on the R&B charts. Just four years before, Brown was released from a youth detention center in Toccoa, Georgia. Bobby Byrd and his family sponsored him for the early release and Brown soon became gospel vocalist with the Ever-Ready Gospel Singers. When a member of Bobby Byrd's group, the Avons, died in 1954, he asked Brown to take the deceased spot in the group. By 1955, after performing as the Five Royals, they evolved into the Flames.
Brown became the lead vocalist after he overcame Byrd in an onstage "fight." Soon Brown befriended rising rock'n'roll musician Little Richard, who had given the young singer a napkin with the words ‘please, please, please’ written on them. Brown carried the napkin with Little Richard’s writing and became determined to write a song about it.
In 2004, "Please, Please, Please" was ranked #142 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
Released in 1965, this monster escaped from the top to become an international feel-good-funky-soul-rock anthem. Even today, “I Feel Good” is played in arenas, domes, and stadiums across the land at sporting events to without doubt bounce the crowds into an instant pick-me-up.
"I Got You (I Feel Good)" actually evolved from “I Found You,” a song written by Brown and recorded his by backup vocalist Yvonne Fair and released as a single (King 5594) in 1962. Her version had little success. When he tried to release a first version in 1965, Brown had to withdraw it because of a contract dispute and court order from King Records.
"I Got You (I Feel Good)" peaked at #21 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs in Rock and Roll in 2000. It ranks as #75 on VH1's 100 Greatest Rock and Roll Dance Songs. In 2004, it became #78 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.