Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Cold Sweat" (1967)

10. James Brown, "Cold Sweat" (Aug. 12, 1967, #7)

This three-minute wonder operates as a kind of machine, with every instrument save Brown's vocal dedicated exclusively to the rhythm, working the beat good and hard, "on the one," and moving with all due deliberation in consideration of its various daunting complexities. Even chord changes, for those keeping track of such things, are minimal—there's only one, at the bridge (though the bridge is not openly discussed here as it is elsewhere in Brown's work). It's all about the rhythms, and even as it attains a kind of status as rarefied, abstract, concrete art, it's music best appreciated on one's feet, moving, and ultimately stands as just another example of how working hard produced memorable results for James Brown. No one was being cute when they tagged him as the hardest working man in show business. The song's writer, alto sax player and nominal bandleader in Brown's funk army, Pee Wee Ellis, has pointed to two sources for the origins of this song. The first is a rhythmic figure that Brown introduced to him in a dressing room one night via his voice and breath—a likely approximation of it can be heard in the second half of the false-start 23-second version found on (the essential) Foundations of Funk. The second, according to Ellis in an interview with "Down Beat" magazine, is the horn line from Miles Davis's "So What," from Kind of Blue. Thus some deep roots, which may account for the variety of versions recorded throughout the breadth of the considerable Brown canon: a seven-and-a-half-minute version found on the album that carries the name, the three-minute hit, a jazzier five-minute version featuring a piano, instrumentals, alternate takes, the historically significant 23-second studio moment, and of course numerous live versions. It's one you really don't want to miss, and probably haven't.

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