It's been 50 years since James Brown's first professional recording, "Please Please Please," became the first million-seller in one of American music's most inspiring careers. But while the yearning desperation of his early ballads proved the kid could more than hold his own against the other soul greats, it was when he started getting funky that he really hit his stride. The James Brown album everybody talks about is Live at the Apollo, and it is a classic document of Brown, the live performer, in his element. But so were all his greatest funk recordings, captured live and urgent in the studio with a band that could stop on a dime and count out change without missing a beat. That could be why his most enduring hits from "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" to the funkiest black-pride anthem ever, "Say It Loud I'm Black and I'm Proud" still sound so fresh today. Or maybe it's the fact that even after all these years of trying, no one's figured out a way to get any funkier.
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