Friday, November 21, 2014

James Brown, "I Can't Stand Myself (When You Touch Me)" (1967)

Dec. 30. 1967, #28

The first thing that really intrigued me about this minor '60s James Brown hit is the strange title (in a series of them, a continuing JB specialty, see also "Get Up [I Feel Like Being Like a] Sex Machine"). The way he sings the song, and the way it's typically understood, is the more familiar "I Can't Stand It," meaning that he is overwhelmed by the feeling, presumably sexual. In the verses, at the same time, he goes into more detail about what he can't stand: "your love" (repeatedly), as well as "myself" (per title). Still, the overwhelming sentiment of the song remains not some puritanical rejection of sex but more the usual Freudian / Oedipal / whatnot fear of a woman's sexuality and/or commitment in general. I did not know until very recently that the song is fruit of a collaboration with a white rock band, the Dapps, who acquit themselves all right, though now that I know that I stubbornly hear the song as somewhat "less than" the rest of Brown's catalog in terms of the band. It's interesting and suggestive that the single release was mechanically sped up. I don't know other versions well enough to discern any chipmunk effect in it but I guess it might be there for those who know the song really well. All credit, as usual, goes to Foundations of Funk, Make it Funky, and especially the Star Time box, which introduced me to these deeper levels of Brown's work. He was as restless and searching as anyone in the '60s (and beyond), which is heard here as elsewhere and further confirmed by the experiment with a white rock band, the production manipulations, and a strange penetrating lyric that very nearly makes profound sense in spite of itself.

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