In between the release of the first collection of James Brown singles by the Internet mail-order imprint Hip-O Select (The Singles, Vol. 1: The Federal Years: 1956-1960) on September 26, 2006, and the appearance of this second volume on March 27, 2007, Brown died on Christmas Day, 2006, at the age of 73. That tragic event doesn't affect the reissue campaign, except to accentuate its importance. The Singles, Vol. 2: 1960-1963 picks up the story of Brown's 45 rpm releases at the point when he switched from the Federal Records subsidiary of Cincinnati-based independent King Records to the main label. The promotion signaled a change in his approach. Now a steadily touring act on the chitlin circuit with a show that showcased his backup band, he treated his recordings as an adjunct to his live work. He helped the company coffers by agreeing to cut songs for which King owned the publishing. He was allowed to record instrumentals on which the artist credit read, "James Brown Presents His Band." And he continued to develop original compositions, although increasingly these seemed to consist of riffs he had worked up with the band during shows, over which he improvised some chanted lyrics. But his days of searching for hits were over; of the 40 A- and B-sides on this album, 13 made the Billboard R&B and/or pop charts, the most successful being "Baby, You're Right" (number two R&B, number 49 pop), "Lost Someone" (number two R&B), "I Don't Mind" (number four R&B, number 47 pop), "Night Train" (number five R&B, number 35 pop), and "Prisoner of Love" (number six R&B, number 18 pop). He was not unaffected by popular trends: "Shout and Shimmy" (number 16 R&B, number 61 pop) was a thinly veiled remake of the Isley Brothers' "Shout," for example. But he was also ambitious. The cover of Johnny Otis' "Every Beat of My Heart" (the B-side of the number 24 R&B hit "Like a Baby") was a jazzy instrumental featuring Brown on organ, one of many such tracks to be found here. "Prisoner of Love," a much transformed cover of a 1931 song that had been a hit for Russ Columbo and Perry Como, featured a string section and a chorus, as did a version of "These Foolish Things" (number 25 R&B, number 55 pop). Still, Brown's future was not as another Jimmy Smith or as a pop balladeer. During the period when he was cutting these singles, he recorded (October 24, 1962) and released (May 1963) his Live at the Apollo LP, which established him as an R&B and even a pop star who was more important than any one song he might perform. Singles like "Night Train" and "Mashed Potatoes U.S.A." (number 21 R&B, number 82 pop) actually pointed the way forward, with Brown reciting tour itineraries in a raspy, excited voice over the dance rhythms. By the end of this period, he was the James Brown who would be familiar to fans ever afterward.
The Singles, Vol. 2: 1960-1963
The Singles, Vol. 2: 1960-1963 Review
by William Ruhlmann