James Brown

Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, Pts. 1-3

Song Review by

"Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" is arguably the most seminal and influential moment in all of James Brown's vast catalog, rivaled only by the funk touchstone "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine." Perhaps the only reason "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" wasn't called funk is that there simply wasn't yet a word for what Brown was doing. The song marks a crucial turning point for black music in America, one where it moved decisively back to its deepest African roots. "Papa" expanded the groove-centered innovations of Brown's "Out of Sight," from a year previous, but had plenty more time to germinate, since Brown had spent about a year off-record due to legal wrangling. "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" was spare and lean, more rhythm-oriented than any previous soul record, and filled with precisely calibrated interlocking parts that required a jazz-like level of sophistication from the musicians. Brown chants slangy, barely decipherable lyrics over the top, with only the slightest hint of melody; he's more of another element in the rhythmic mix, as well as the personification of the track's attitude and energy. The result is an intricate, polyrhythmic groove that could be extended and vamped upon far beyond the conventional verse-chorus song structure. Indeed, the original version of "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" (included on the Star Time box) was nearly seven minutes long, and was edited down to a two-minute single A-side. It rode the top of the R&B charts for eight weeks in 1965, and also became Brown's first Top Ten pop hit, climbing to number eight. And this was only the beginning of Brown's run of genius.