Today is all about the Godfather of Soul. Mr. Dynamite. Soul Brother #1. James MF Brown.
Let’s just say this now–James Brown is black music’s most important figure from the 20th century. He was significant in the transition from R&B to soul, and he followed that up by leading the transition from soul to funk. And as funk began to run its course, James’ music became an important influence to hip hop.
Just this simple–he might be the baddest man to walk the face of the Earth. You might not think he’s the best, but it’s hard to say he ain’t the baddest.
That’s why he gets a list from me. I must admit that my knowledge of his catalog isn’t as encyclopedic as my knowledge of the folks I’ve done other lists of, but I’m gonna do 25 anyway. As always, use the comments to tell me where I got it wrong.

And as far as I know, these are all James Brown songs. I didn’t put in cuts by Bobby Byrd, Clyde Stubblefield, or the JB’s. I forget about #2, though. So, save your anger for me not including “Funky Drummer.” That’s Clyde. Also, no Christmas songs. James does have the definitive version of “Merry Christmas, Baby,” though.
And no albums will be listed. These are too hard to find on albums. Start with the Star Time boxed set and work from there.
25.Mother Popcorn. Just like James, I like ’em proud. And when they walk, they draw a crowd. Gotta have a mutha for me, baby. Know dat.
24.Get On the Good Foot. “Ain’t nothin goin on but the rent/a whole lotta bills and my money’s spent/and that’s on my bad foot.” Such an underrated songwriter.
23.Please Please Please. You’ll find that I’m much more partial to funky James than singing James. This one’s dope as all get out, though. Oh, and this is one of the songs that’ll get the dude to come out from the back and put James cape on for him. If I get famous, I’ll pay someone $25,000 a year to do that and that alone. No bullshit.
22.Hot Pants. Probably the greatest influence for SNL’s “James Brown Celebrity Hot Tub.”
21.Let Yourself Go. You know, I’m not sure I’d heard this one until I started going back through the songs to put this list together. But lemme tell ya…this is all you could ask for.
20.Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved. Just in case you didn’t know, JB has always had the greatest rhythm section on the planet. Just listen to the drumming on this and try tell me otherwise.
19.Make It Funky. Gotta have parts 1, 2, and 3. Check Star Time for that and nearly everything else on this list. Anyhoo, can anyone confirm whether he’s saying “smothered steak” or “smothered snake” on this song? Steak makes more sense, but snake is way more fun.
18.Public Enemy #1/King Heroin. These two cuts are so similar sonically and thematically. But James sings the hell outta “Public Enemy #1” and does a spoken word sorta thing through “King Heroin.” Both are smokin, but “PE” gets points for his repeated use of the phrase, “lookey-heyuh.”
17.Papa Don’t Take No Mess. “Papa didn’t cuss/didn’t make a whole lotta fuss/but when we did wrong/Papa beat the hell out of us.” You know, I hope he got in a better mood when he got his brand new bag.
16.I Got a Feelin’. Has anyone ever had better bridges than JB?
15.The Spank. It’s just funky. That’s all I can say.
14.Cold Sweat. Baby baby baby. Baby baby baby. Baby baby baby…lip synched wonderfully by Keisha Knight Pulliam in 1985.
Speaking of her, she really doesn’t like to be called Rudy. That was the word that circulated around Clark when I was there (I got to school the same year she got to Spelman.). However, she walked around the Hyatt in Atlanta during NABJ weekend with a shirt that said, “don’t call me Rudy.” The irony–I didn’t know it was her until I read the shirt. I almost called her Rudy outta spite.
13.Licking Stick. One of those important James funk records. A somewhat vulgar hip hop song with the same title and a well-worked sample is begging to be made from this song.
12.Stoned to the Bone. First, this is the song from which the vocal sample on DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “Brand New Funk.” Next, this gets up way way high on this list because James actually says, “dope all on the ground/you got to get down, down, down, down, down.” And the old folks try to act like drug references are something new.
11.Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud). Okay, this isn’t higher for two reasons. First, there’s a lot of corniness in this song (and yes, I realize this was released at a time when the last thing black folks needed to do was be subtle). But the other loss comes because most of those kids on the hook are white and Asian. Just sits funny.
10.Woman. I find that this cut isn’t as well-known as it should be. JB’s ballads tend to be dope as hell, and they dispel the common notion that James can’t sing. That’s just false, and this song proves it.
9.The Boss. Paid the cost to be the boss. Used to great effect in “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.”
8.I Got You (I Feel Good). White folks love this one, and they should. Gotten played to many, but that doesn’t change the fact that the groove on this is that fie fie delish.
7.Give It Up or Turn It Loose. Specifically the version on Sex Machine. One of hip hop’s building blocks.
6.Down and Out in New York City. Never heard it? You need to. I must admit, though, that it’s hysterical that James would even try to pretend he was born in New York City. You don’t get an accent like that across 110th, I guarantee.
5.Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine. Nymphomania has never sounded so cool. Great line–“the way I like it is the way it is.” Unfortunately, that’s an excuse lots of cats use to justify having ugly women.
4.Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag. This is one of the songs that showed that James had made the transition into funk. It’s gotten cliche because it is easily white America’s favorite James Brown song, but it’s still smokin. Gets this high of a placement because of historical significance, even though these lists are largely just my personal tastes.
3.It’s a Man’s World. There’s a chance you’ve never heard this song before. If you haven’t, you can listen to the very popular remake of the cut that Alicia Keys did. She called it “Fallin'”. “Fallin'” is a straight jack, and I have no idea why more people don’t call her out for that. “It’s a Man’s World” is absolutely unreal, a manual for how to put everything you’ve got into a song.
2.Doin’ It to Death. There’s an amazing live version of this in “When We Were Kings.” If you have that in a digital format, let me know. I can’t seem to find that version of this anyway. And man, what a title.
1.The Payback. You know, there may be better songs in the catalog, but few have a groove as strong as this one. This is a seriously gangsta record. If you don’t believe me, just look at its of cited line, “don’t do me no dern favors/I don’t know karate/but I know ka-razor (yes he do).” Only JB. Only JB.