Music: God is in the Details
THE INDEPENDENT'S GUIDE TO POP'S FIDDLY BITS. NO 6: GET UP (I FEEL LIKE BEING A) SEX MACHINE
Friday 28 May 1999
But the brutal simplicity of the music belies a kind of perfection. Every note is intended; nothing is wasted. "Guard your intervals; treat them like dollars," Stravinsky said. James Brown may not have been thinking of Stravinsky, but he knew all about dollars. The details of "Sex Machine" still show up, sampled in hundreds of rap and hip-hop records.
Brown, who had first made his name with searing soul ballads like "Please, Please, Please", made "Sex Machine" after firing his previous band and replacing them with teenagers who used to hang around the studio in Cincinnati. A young bassist called "Bootsy" Collins and his brother Phelps "Catfish" Collins were responsible for the textures of the record: a dark, bubbling cauldron of bass and a dry, scratching, insistent guitar riff. Over this spacious, almost atonal backing Brown grunts and calls; the words ("Get on up", etc) are almost irrelevant. It is almost 50 seconds into the record before some blues piano establishes a real key centre (E). The momentum builds and builds; there is no harmonic movement, no escape from the imperative to release the tension by dancing.
Then Brown calls out to his band: "Shall I take it to the bridge?", and the one harmonic shift of the record takes place: up to the fourth, like the first chord change in a blues. And the musicians sit there for 16 bars, riding Phelps' riffing until at Brown's insistence the band "Do it like we did at the top!" and crash down on seven staccato quavers. Everything, and everybody, is subservient to the rhythm. The record returns to the E chord and the blues piano interjections until Brown eventually calls things to a halt.
There is a danger of over-analysing records like these, but Brown's achievement was considerable. At the end of what had been a songwriters' decade, he dared to go further than anyone in stripping the music to its bare bones. It took pop music more than a decade to catch up, but at a time when pop was flirting with ever greater complexity and ever grander "concepts", records such as "Sex Machine" provided a blueprint for the future.
James Brown: Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine - Polydor, 1970 (released as a single in Britain 1972)
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 All Blacks Aaron Cruden misses New Zealand flight after drinking session, has brilliant excuse
- 2 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 3 'F*ck it, I quit': TV reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 4 Alicia Keys leaks nude photo 'to create a kinder and more peaceful world'
- 5 Clothes store Joy angers mental health campaigners with Twitter exchange on bipolar disorders
Downton Abbey fans outraged at Kindle sponsorship adverts
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since TV series ended in 2004
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, ITV, review: There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning
New Tricks: Dennis Waterman to leave drama after a decade of crime-solving
Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned PR disaster
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God