Classic Soul Train Album: James Brown’s There It Is

James Brown has made so many great albums, it was hard to decide which one to spotlight this month. But this time around, the spotlight is on his 1972 masterpiece There It Is.

This album is another example of “GFOS Funk” (that is, the Godfather of Soul’s funk). Every track is a standout. Four cuts were released as singles ahead of the album and were huge hits on the soul charts. The first single, the uptempo and funky “I’m A Greedy Man,” was released October 1971 and went number 7 on the soul charts and 35 on the pop charts. The following single, “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing,” went number one soul and number 27 pop in March 1972. “King Heroin,” an anti-drug message song, went number six on the soul charts and number 40 on the pop charts, while the title track of the album, a dance floor stomper (as were all of the Godfather’s uptempo tracks) went number four soul and number 43 pop that summer.

“King Heroin” is one of the album’s most outstanding tracks and one of Brown’s best songs of his career. Written by Brown along with Charles Bobbitt, Dave Matthews and Manny Rosen, it is a bold and honest commentary on how heroin had overtaken many inner city neighborhoods, which was a sad reality at the time. Set to a slow jazzy groove, Brown speaks in the first person as King Heroin, sarcastically bragging about the power he has over people who have become addicted to the deadly drug. In some of the song’s lines he states “I can make a boy forget his school books/I can make a world class famous beauty neglect her looks/I can make a girl sell her body for a five dollar bag/I can make men forget their sex.” Brown had made powerful message songs before such as “Don’t Be A Dropout” and of course “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” but this was the first time Brown addressed the issue of drugs and he did so brilliantly. He painted a picture so clearly and scary about the dangerous use of heroin that it would make a listener addicted to the drug want to stop.

Brown continues his commentary on heroin in “Public Enemy No. 1 Pts. 1 and 2.” He speaks more like a church preacher, narrating in the first person as King Heroin continuing to brag about the power he has to wreck and destroy peoples’ lives. Brown then raps as himself, cautioning heroin users about its deadly use, pleading and encouraging them to stop before it’s too late. Again, Brown created a powerful message addressing the issue of drug use.

The excellent back cover art of the album captures the haunting essence of what Brown rapped about in “King Heroin” and “Public Enemy No. 1.” Illustrated by Abdul Rahman, it depicts a sad James Brown watching helplessly as King Heroin, holding a drug needle in his hand while riding a white horse, drops bags of heroin over a large crowd of addicted black men, women and children.

“Who Am I” is a throwback to Brown’s early blues days with a great vocal by the Godfather of Soul.

“I Need Help,” written by Brown’s son Teddy Brown who tragically died in a car accident a year later, is an uptempo funk jam, while “Never Can Say Goodbye” (not a remake of the Jackson 5 classic) is a bluesy, mellow ballad.

The album reached number 10 on the soul charts and number 60 on the pop charts, and remains one of Brown’s best works.

– Stephen McMillian

Stephen McMillian is a journalist, writer, actor/filmmaker, dancer, Soul Train historian and soul music historian. 

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