Hip-O Select, the Internet mail-order arm of Universal Music Group's Hip-O reissue subsidiary, begins a James Brown series with The Singles, Vol. 1: The Federal Years: 1956-1960, which presents the A- and B-sides of Brown's 45s in chronological order by release date as issued originally on Federal Records, a division of the Cincinnati-based King Records label long since absorbed by Universal. Included are 18 regular Brown singles, along with an instrumental disc, "Doodle Bee"/"Bucket Head," credited to James Davis (Brown's saxophonist J.C. Davis); an experimental stereo single of two previously released songs, "I've Got to Change" and "It Hurts to Tell You," turned into stereo by shoving the original music onto one track and adding overdubs on the other; and a very scratchy demo of "Try Me," the song that revitalized Brown's career after a series of commercial flops. The start of that career as a recording artist is heard on the opening song, "Please, Please, Please," which Brown, Bobby Byrd, Johnny Terry, Sylvester Keels, and Nashpendle Knox thought they were recording on February 4, 1956, as the Flames, a vocal group with Brown on lead, only to find that when it was issued on March 3, 1956, it was credited to "James Brown with the Famous Flames." The result was a Top Five R&B hit, and the credit stayed for the next five non-charting singles until the four other vocalists left and one single, "Messing with the Blues"/"Love or a Game," was credited to Brown alone. Then, starting with "You're Mine, You're Mine"/"I Walked Alone," the credit was "James Brown & the Famous Flames," the secondary name now arbitrarily applied to whatever singers and musicians were backing Brown. None of this had any impact on the charts until "Try Me" came out on October 13, 1958, and hit number one R&B. That song comes at the start of the second disc here, so most of the first finds Brown looking for another hit to follow "Please, Please, Please," sometimes by simply copying it ("I Won't Plead No More," "Begging, Begging"), sometimes by aping other popular styles such as early rock & roll ("Chonnie-On-Chon"), the story songs of the Coasters ("That Dood It"), or doo wop ("That's When I Lost My Heart"). With "Try Me," Brown began to figure out his own sound, although his chart success remained hit-or-miss, with "I Want You So Bad," "I'll Go Crazy," "Think"/"You've Got the Power," and "This Old Heart" achieving placings, but other discs failing. Some of those discs were worthy, notably "Good Good Lovin'," but this collection, which contains all but five of the tracks Brown cut during the four-year period (the others turned up later on King 45s and LPs), remains a collector's effort, which makes sense given the price and limited availability.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2
feat: Bea Ford