There were few performers as dynamic and exciting as James Brown was during his prime. The multi-talented singer, dancer, songwriter, and bandleader had a reputation for shows that were as thoroughly engrossing for the audience as they were for Brown himself. Every time he would sweat, he made sure the audience was moving. When he shouted, he expected a response.
The wider world of pop culture, especially in America, largely saw Brown for the first time when he made his legendary appearance for the concert film The T.A.M.I. Show. In just four songs, Brown and his Famous Flames wiped the floor with all the other legendary performers on the bill, including The Beach Boys, The Supremes, Chuck Berry, and The Rolling Stones, who had to follow Brown’s high-energy performance.
By the time the ’60s began to transition into its second half, Brown began to fortify his signature sound of heavy rhythms, impromptu arrangements, and groove-based composition into a sound that was being referred to as “funk”. Before he fully embraced the style with songs like ‘Cold Sweat’, ‘Funky Drummer’ and ‘Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine’, Brown sang his last signature ballad, ‘It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World’.
Brown was at his best when performing his uptempo numbers in concert but shows always had a section dedicated to slower ballads. Brown’s vocalisations became famous for their focus on direction and rap rather than pitch or intonation, but Brown was always a gifted singer. His ability to convey pleading emotion was almost impossible to match, and it’s the secret sauce that keeps ‘It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ magnanimous instead of slipping into direct chauvinism.
The video below features the studio version of ‘It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ overlaid on top of live footage of Brown and his band performing the song in 1966. Although the sound isn’t live, the video still gives a fantastic insight into the slower and more restrained moments of a James Brown live show, and how they could be equally as captivating as the bombastic dance numbers.