Treasure Map

Are you listening? Because I'm about to show you the way to a priceless fortune, a forgotten cache of riches buried under years of disco, grunge, aguilerica and other residue sedimented by the decades.

Start by going to the iTunes music store. Once you get there, turn into the "R&B/Soul" genre. Then find the path to performers. Feel around in the dark until you reach James Brown, and sort through the many albums you'll find there. Pull out "JB40: 40th Anniversary Collection." Pause. Look quickly over your shoulder; make sure you haven't been followed.

Now, locate track 14. It should say "Cold Sweat (1967)." Got it? You're almost there.


Cold Sweat is a song about a woman's effect on a man. Only it's more about the man, though, and not just any man: it's about James Brown. Cold Sweat is a seven-and-a-half-minute excuse for James and his band to strut around the stage and play the bejeezus out of their respective instruments, one at a time, all leading up to the crescendo, when the final instrument will be flogged mercilessly for all to see.

From the outset, James takes the lyrics as mere suggestions, freely interjecting his own gasps, cries and coughs wherever the mood strikes him. The band - a handful of immensely talented musicians relegated to their leader's towering shadow - struggles to keep up, each waiting his turn, when James will step aside for a moment, give the signal, and reluctantly, temporarily, turn over the spotlight.

The horn player goes first. On command, he "put(s) it on 'em," soloing over the bassline for several seconds as James jumps and grunts and exhorts him to "blow!" At one point, James yells "so much soul!," and excuses himself to do the boogaloo.

Then comes the drummer, after James suggests it and asks the group to second the motion. At first no one answers, not sure if The Godfather really wants them to respond out loud. "Let's give the drummer some. Wanna give the drummer some?" he repeats. Slowly, muffled shouts of assent rise over top of the rhythm. Permission granted, the drummer goes off. The rest of the band fades back as he pounds the snare and the cymbals relentlessly, even doubling up on 'em when he's told to.

Of course, James steals the spotlight back at every opportunity, accompanying the beat with barks and counts. "One!...Two!...Three!..." On four, the band comes back in, and James pretends to return to the song. It's just a prelude, though, to what he's got planned. "I don't care...about your past..." he sings. "I just want...our love to last."

Six minutes, thirty seconds in, already having continued the song twice as long as the average take would require, James, most likely shining with sweat under the studio lights, launches into *his* solo. He holds the high note in "When you kiss meeee...Oh!" three times in a row, increasing in intensity and pitch, then instructs the band to "keep it right there," setting the stage for himself and his inimitable voice. This is where the treasure map leads. This the X.

Suddenly comes a frenzy of shrieking and wailing, repeating himself, daring himself to go higher and louder with each line, surprising himself, jumping, and glowing, and screaming: "Nooooo! Ohhh! Oww!" He sounds possessed, like a man being ecstatically torn inside out by his own force.


And he's just showing off. He knows it; the band knows it; everyone knows it. James is out to prove himself, to earn his reputation, which is exactly what's happening. After nearly a minute of this, he even blurts out a new lyric, the truest line in the song.

"I just...I just...I just...I can't stop singing!"

It's actually quiet for a second when he finally admits it. Just a second, though - then he's back at it. "I can't stop singing, no! I can't, I can't stop singing, baby! Ah-oww!"

Slowly, the song fades out, trails off, James still going strong as the recording engineer pushes down the sliders. After seven minutes, twenty-six seconds, it's over. And somewhere, in your mind, he's still going - he hasn't stopped singing. He won't.

He can't.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You the bomb diggity, yo.
I just can't stop singin'!