The recent release of the James Brown biopic, Get On Up, features a handful of the late singer’s hit songs used for its soundtrack. The title itself is in fact not the title of a song, but is derived from the lyrics from the 1970 classic Get Up ( I Feel Like a) Sex Machine. Many of the tracks used in the movie were handpicked by producer and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. Actor Chadwick Boseman portrays the late “Godfather of Soul” and he had to dance and lip sync a few times to drive himself into the role. Aside from Sex Machine, the biopic also features Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag and Get Up Offa That Thing.
Get Up (I Feel Like a) Sex Machine is the James Brown track that helped give the film its title. It was the title track of the album released back in 1970. By that time, he had already been a star several times previously and had become the biggest live attraction in R & B (rhythm and blues). Also, in the 1960s, he had invented the musical genre known as funk with such songs as Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag and Cold Sweat, both of which are also on the film’s soundtrack. Sex Machine came about after a handful of Brown’s band members left while on tour. Very quickly, he was able to get two young musicians, brothers William “Bootsy” Collins and Phelps “Catfish” Collins, to join him on the tour. “Bootsy” was the bassist and “Catfish” was the rhythm guitarist.
While in the recording studio in Nashville, Tennessee, the Collins brothers started to improvise with the band. With the tape still rolling, Brown came in and everyone started a jam that lead to the composition of Sex Machine. Engineer Ron Lenhoff received a co-writing credit as a thank you for letting the tape roll for five hours to the recording studio in the middle of the night to capture the song. The band is the machine, bringing out an incredible rhythm, while the ‘Godfather of Soul’ brings the sex with longtime collaborator Bobby Byrd chanting the phrase “Get on up!” at him.
In March of 1965, Brown had settled some legal issues with his record company King Records. Both parties had settled to a new contract and Brown’s own publishing company, which gave him total control of his artistic endeavors. Soon after, he went into a recording studio and laid down the track titled Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag. The original cut was about seven minutes long, had a slow tempo, and featured a catchy intro. After the song was done, Brown re-edited the intro, and increased its speed so that it could be played on pop radio.
Though there was once an instrumental version that was released through Brown’s own publishing company, a vocal version got on pop radio and reached number eight in the U.S. It was his first top 10 hit and it began his departure toward his signature sound. Percussive effects come from the horns, and the overall instrumental jam is tightly attached to Brown’s vocals. The vocal version of Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag is the one used for Get On Up in addition to the other selected James Brown songs.
For the title, the term “bag” is not about a handbag or trash bag. The term is a term used to describe a way of doing something or a lifestyle. In the song, Brown is singing about how he has come up with something new for himself.
Get Up Offa That Thing was released in 1976 during the decade’s disco era. During this time, Brown had been experiencing a long, dry spell without having many hits. The track was the lead and title track of the album. The album itself reached number 147 on the Billboard 200 chart and reached number 14 on Billboard’s R & B Albums chart. Years later, it would be one of the classic tunes used for television and film. Get Up Offa That Thing can be heard in the 1996 film Harriet the Spy, as well as in the animated feature Robots from 2005.
Though the ‘Godfather of Soul’ has been deceased for nearly eight years, his music is still very much alive. Get on Up is a film that gives audiences the chance to learn more about the man behind the music. The film and songs used for Get On Up serve as the opportunity for a new generation to get their feet dancing to the greatness of James Brown’s life and music.
By Andrew Cerecedes