4:22pm

Wed February 2, 2011
Funk Archaeology

Ballads For The Dance Floor, Inspired By James Brown

An existential crisis swept over soul bands in the late '60s. James Brown's funk blew the world apart after the release of "Cold Sweat" in 1967 and forever changed pop music's rhythmic base. While Brown never gave up on the slow tempo that best allowed the gut-wrenching heartbreak of his ballads to bleed through, it was his funk that made him a worldwide phenomenon. Thus, those soul bands interested in sounding relevant after the "Cold Sweat" shock waves subsided had to make a choice: Would they follow Brown's funk? Whether or not the bands that chose to follow were listening to Brown himself — and virtually every progressively minded late-'60s band in the world was — mattered little. There came a time around 1968 when the soul ballad found funk.

In my mind, at least, some of the best ballads from that era of funk-before-disco were those made with this formula: Bands took the tried, true and often trite soul-ballad themes — as always, revolving around love and all its offshoots — and embellished them with the best of Brown's funk. The result is that ballads were transported from basement hi-fi systems to the world of the clubs. Funk, of course, is music for dancing, and these songs of heartbreak, remorse, fear and failure have probably led to a few new love connections themselves. For by the early '00s, when a new faithful dug these songs from obscurity and played them in clubs once again, those selectors allowed these magnetic minor chords to pull together, even as their creators sang of being pulled apart. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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