Growing up in the 1960s, I saw a lot of the Sunday night television program, “The Ed Sullivan Show.” I was eleven years old when James Brown appeared on the variety show in 1966. I’d never seen anyone perform like him before. He just came all apart on stage. He sang and sweated and scooted around the floor like he was on fast skates. But the part I couldn’t believe was when he became so overwrought with emotion – pleading, crying – that a fellow musician saw fit to intervene, come on stage, throw a cape over Brown’s shoulders, and escort him offstage.
At first, he looked like he was going to take the suggestion and leave. He’d take a few steps then throw off that cape. He’d fall back into his frenzied song, falling to the floor. Again the man would come – with a different cape each time, always fancy, sometimes leopard-printed, and, again, try to take Brown offstage before he became completely unglued.
The two videos here are from the days before James Brown hit the big time. They’re poor quality; you can’t really see Brown’s face well. But the footwork and raw energy in both performances is unsurpassed. In later performances, everything is so polished, and the costumes so over the top, the band and dancers so distracting, that you can forget to just keep your eyes on the great James Brown.
In this first video, James Brown sings “Please, Please, Please.” You’ll be able to see the full theatrics of the cape routine. Note how short Brown’s pants are.
In this video, you can see the fancy dancer Michael Jackson emulated. Go, James, go! “I Feel Good”
James Brown was recognized by numerous titles, including and foremost The Godfather of Soul, Soul Brother Number One, Sex Machine, Mr. Dynamite, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, The King of Funk, Minister of The New New Super Heavy Funk, and Mr. Please Please Please Please Her.
Comedian Eddie Murphy did a parody of James Brown on Saturday Night Live,
strutting around a hot tub in a robe singing:
Sometimes it make me break out in a cold sweat!
One two three four!
Hot tub! Ha! Da!
Ah-full of water!
I say hot tub! Ha!
Day! Ba! Very, very hot… Very hot! Da!
Hot tub! Gonna get ya hot-a!
Gonna make ya sweat! Hey! Say!
Hot tub! Rub a dub in the hot tub!
Rub a dub with me!
At the end of the routine, “Brown” takes off his robe and reveals a very taut and muscular Eddie Murphy – in a gold lamé bikini. Click here to see this hilarious video.