James Brown: The Bells/And I Do Just What I Want (King 45-5423, 1960)

When James Brown’s pre-1970 discography is considered, certain records stand out:  “Please, Please, Please”, “Try Me”, “Think”, “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”, and “Cold Sweat” are the most remembered.  But in this period, Brown easily released over 100 records.  That means there is a lot of filler, especially in the early years as he desperately tried to follow up the success of “Please, Please, Please”.

DJ Gunga's copy of
The Bells – 1960 King US Release

The three years between “Try Me”, his “comeback” hit of 1958, and”Night Train” are different.  This is the period where the James Brown sound starts to evolve.  There are a number of forgotten gems where Brown tries something new.  And while it may not have resulted in a hit, Brown kept each new trick in bag for future use.

Why did I buy this record?  This is the first record that one can hear the distinctive James Brown sound, the emergence of “Mr. Dynamite”.  The A-side is a ballad, and Brown sings it like he is pleading with the Grim Reaper for his life.  This is the first studio vocal performance where he really brings the energy from his live shows.

The B-side is equally fantastic.  For the first time one can hear what would soon become trademarks of James Brown funk:  breaks, horn riffs, shouted vocals that are more about making a rhythm than they are about melody.  These motifs are not yet fully formed.  But here he is, toying around with them in the structure of a traditional R&B number.

The world was not ready for this new sound.  “The Bells” was a minor hit, peaking at 68 on the charts.  The record was the first harbinger of what was to come.

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