James Brown

Prisoner of Love

Composed by Clarence Gaskill / Leo Robin / Russ Columbo

Song Review by

James Brown is most known for uptempo sweaty funk workouts. But as with every great artist, he was more versatile than he's often given credit for, and recorded quite a few ballads during the early part of his career, particularly in the first part of the 1960s. "Prisoner of Love" was the most successful of these, and in fact was Brown's first pop Top Twenty chart hit in 1963. It was also the result of Brown's first session with strings. As a string-laden cover of a popular standard, it has been suggested that Brown was influenced by the then-recent mammoth success that Ray Charles had enjoyed with his string-coated productions of standard ballads and country and western songs. "Prisoner of Love," unlike almost all of Brown's other material up to that point, did not originate with gospel, R&B, or the blues. It was a pop song that had been recorded as early as the 1930s, and versions had appeared by artists such as Mildred Bailey, co-writer Russ Columbo, Perry Como, Billy Eckstine, the Ink Spots, and Lena Horne. Regardless of the motivation, "Prisoner of Love" was an excellent recording, one which was soaked with soul despite the pop source of the material and the decision to add strings. Those strings are certainly inescapable, the track starting with a dizzying upward swell of violins. But actually, other than the strings and some pop choral background vocals, the arrangement is a pretty earthy if basic R&B one, with a low grunting sax and an even doo wop-like tempo. Too, Brown's vocal is impassioned gospel-soul, delivered with enough nuance to prove that he was capable of effective restraint as well as all-out shaking. In the last half minute or so, he starts to get more heated and improvised-sounding, the track unfortunately fading when he seems to be starting to get really into it (the point where he starts pleading "you...you...you"). This part of the song would be milked far more heavily in live performance, where Brown stretched this section and the song itself out, as he did with much of his repertoire. He still had it in his set, in fact, in the late 1960s, as its inclusion on the classic Live at the Apollo Vol. 2 demonstrated.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Prisoner of Love 1963 Cornbread
It's a Man's Man's Man's World 1966 Universe / Universe 9:17
Live at the Garden 1967 Hip-O Select/Geffen
The Roots of a Revolution 1984 Polydor 2:24
The CD Of J.B: Sex Machine & Other Soul Classics 1985 Polydor 2:27
No Image 1986 Sony Music Distribution
Soul Jubilee 1990 Magnum (UK) / MagMid 2:20
Live in Berlin 1991 Universal International
Star Time 1991 Polydor 2:24
Is Back 1992 Hollywood 7:06
Live at the Apollo 1995 1995 Sbme Special Mkts. 1:38
The Essential Blues [House of Blues] 1995
Various Artists
A&M
The World of Soul [ZYX] 1996
Various Artists
ZYX Music 2:19
40th Anniversary Collection 1996 Polydor 2:22
James Brown's Golden Classics 1997 Intercontinental Records 4:50
Funky Goodtime 1998 Prism Platinum 9:01
Sex Machine [Masters] 1998 Intercontinental Records 2:19
Prisoner of Love [Madacy] 1999 Madacy 6:17
20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection 1999 Universal Distribution
No Image 1999 Polydor 7:33
Ballads 2000 Polydor 2:32
Best of James Brown [Japan] 2002 Universal Distribution 2:24
Super Bad: Live 2002 Orpheus Records 9:20
Live at Chastain Park 1985 [Video] 2002 Galaxy Music
In Concert 2002 BCI-Eclipse Distribution 2:18
James Brown Ultimate Remixes 2002 Universal Distribution 3:29
Rhythm, Love and Soul: The Sexiest Songs of R&B [WQED] 2003
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution / Shout! Factory 2:23
Rhythm, Love and Soul: The Sexiest Songs of R&B [Shout] 2003
Various Artists
Shout! Factory 2:23
Ultimate Collection 2003 Universal Distribution 2:22
The  50th Anniversary Collection 2003 Polydor / Universal 2:22
Soul Survivor 2004 Polydor
Universal Masters 2004 Universal International 2:23
Try Me [Mojo Music] 2004 Mojo Music (Independent) 9:20
Old School Oldies, Vol. 2 2005
Various Artists
Thump Records 2:21
Live at Montreux 1981 [Video] 2005 Eagle Vision
Best of James Brown [Music Brokers] 2005 Music Brokers
Golden Legends: James Brown Live 2006 Madacy 5:06
Old School Oldies Set 2006
Various Artists
Thump Records 2:21
And I Do Just What I Want 2006 UMVD 2:25
Most Famous Hits [DVD] 2006 D & I
Colour Collection 2007 Polydor / Universal Music 2:23
Living in America [Delta] 2007 Delta / Delta Distribution
Godfather of Soul [Madacy] 2007 Madacy 5:06
Live Performance 2007 PHV
Gold 2007 Universal International 2:22
Soul Patrol: Soul's Greatest Hits 2007
Various Artists
Hudson Street
Best of Soul & R&B 2007
Various Artists
Madacy 5:00
Live [Forever DVD] 2007 Forever DVD / Musicpro
The 50 Greatest Songs 2007 Universal / Universal Distribution 2:27
Best of Hits 2008 St. Clair 5:06
Cold Sweat Live 2008 Goldenlane / Cleopatra 5:07
Live [Diamond] 2008 TGG 2:20
Playlist Plus 2008 Polydor 2:24
No Image 2008 Hear Music 2:24
No Image 2009 Spectrum/Polydor 2:23
Introducing: James Brown 2009 Ear Music
Icon 2010 Polydor 2:23
The Soul Legend 2014 Wagram
50 Shades of Music For Her
Various Artists
Golden Stars / Goldies 3:17
Best of the Sexmachine: Live ZYX 4:53
No Image
Various Artists
X5 9:17
Sex Machine Live EMI 9:19
Sex Machine [Excalibur] Excalibur 9:20
Soul Collection [Music & Melody]
Various Artists
Music & Melody 4:53
blue highlight denotes editor's pick