Arts + Life
10:26 am
Tue August 5, 2014

The Amazing Mr. 'Please, Please, Please' Himself: James Brown

Originally published on Sat August 2, 2014 6:25 pm

Depending on whom you talked to, it was either the "Teenage Awards Music International" or "Teen Age Music International."

An early precursor to today's youth-centric awards shows, the general idea on that night back in October 1964 was to take teen-oriented music from near and far, throw it all together and see what happened. Rock 'n' roll mixed with R&B, Brits with Americans. In Los Angeles. With a Civic Auditorium full of screaming teens.

What resulted, in this particular instance, was a concert film to end all concert films: the T.A.M.I. Show.

Most of which is pretty pro-forma unless you're a music fan who gets jazzed just getting a gander at early concert footage of the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, the Supremes, the Rolling Stones and James Brown, complete with The Famous Flames in tow. But when giants get together, things are bound to roil under the surface and bubble forth, which is what happened when director Steve Binder cajoled, urged and insisted on having The Rolling Stones play last — also known as "headlining" — over James Brown.

It's what Gen. George Custer would have called a tactical error of the greatest order, and what Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones later said was the biggest mistake of his career. It soon became incontrovertible truth: No one tops James Brown.

Brown hit the stage and whipped out The Cape Routine during the Sturm und Drang of his signature hit, "Please, Please, Please." The Cape Routine was a show device Brown lifted from faith healer and larger-than-life personality Sweet Daddy Grace (as if the name was not a giveaway), and involved him passing out on stage, being helped up by one of the Famous Flames, cape draped over his shoulders, and taking a few steps before breaking free, fighting his way back to the mic, singing a few measures and then dropping to the floor again.

Wash, rinse, repeat. And leave the audience dead and spent.

Sweat flowing freely from under his process hair-do, knees dirty from his falls, and even the outrageousness of the cape itself all sealed the deal, and when Mick Jagger stepped to the mic after this performance, he looked like he needed a cape. And some help off the stage.

You want to know what we mean when we say something is "badass"? This:

Copyright 2014 Ozy.com. To see more, visit http://www.ozy.com/.

Transcript

ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

There's a new James Brown biopic out, "Get On Up." But arguably, the greatest James Brown video is his real performance at the 1964 TAMI Awards, a predecessor of today's Teen Choice Awards, and everyone was anyone was there.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1964 TAMI AWARDS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We'd like to start it off tonight with a fantastic act. The guy who started it all back 1958 - Chuck Berry. The fantastic miracle - the dynamic Marvin Gaye.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S MY PARTY")

LESLEY GORE: (Singing) It's my party and I'll cry if I want to.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SURFIN USA")

BEACH BOYS: (Singing) Surfin USA.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIME IS ON MY SIDE")

THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) Time is on my side.

WESTERVELT: Huge act after huge act. The last band to play that night in '64 was a popular new group, The Rolling Stones. But not before the Godfather of Soul stole the whole show.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1964 TAMI AWARDS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: James Brown and his Famous Flames.

WESTERVELT: Eugene Robinson writes about what happened next in his latest article for the online magazine OZY.

Eugene, hello.

EUGENE ROBINSON: Hey, how are you?

WESTERVELT: So set the scene for us here. I mean, you write when giants get together, things are bound to roil under the surface. Roiling this night in 1964 -James Brown doesn't open for anyone, let alone some kids from England, right?

ROBINSON: Yeah. It's just great to imagine, you know, that conversation where the producer of the show cajoled them into saying look, it'll be great. The kids come for The Rolling Stones. They know them. You know, James, this will be good for you. And you can just kind of feel James go I'll show you who it'll be good for.

(LAUGHTER)

WESTERVELT: Right.

ROBINSON: It'll be good for James Brown, that's who it'll be good for. It - really, really major miscalculations, up there with General George Custer, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE")

JAMES BROWN: (Singing) Please, please don't go.

WESTERVELT: So Brown's second song that night his big hit at that time, "Please, Please, Please." The video of this is nuts, you know. He goes wild. The crowd's losing it all because of the cape routine. Describe what's happening on stage, Eugene.

ROBINSON: James would drop to his knees in the middle of "Please, Please, Please." One of the Famous Flames would kind of come and pat him on the back to see if he was OK, help him to his feet, put the cape over his shoulders. James would take a couple steps, shuck the cape off, make the break back to the mic, finish, drop again. And it would repeat this thing like two or three times. And at one point during like the apex of it, he's repeating one word for about five measures - just I, I, I.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE")

BROWN: (Singing) I, I, I, I, I.

ROBINSON: And the cape is - I mean, it's electrifying from every single vantage point. It's a really phenomenal performance. You need to see this.

WESTERVELT: And by the end of this, Brown can barely walk. He's danced so hard. The crowd is going hysterical. And, you know, The Rolling Stones have to follow this. I can almost see a young, you know, Mick and Keith standing in the wings just looking at each other and saying man, how do we follow that?

ROBINSON: Well, Keith Richards himself has gone on record as having said that this was the worst career mistake he had ever made. Mick and Keith they look shell-shocked. Shell-shocked. (Laughing) You know. I mean, could you imagine standing back there in the wings and watching James Brown drop to his knees three or four times during "Please, Please, Please." I mean, it's electrifying to watch now. And I can't imagine having been there. I'd have lost my mind, most assuredly.

WESTERVELT: Eugene Robinson of the online magazine OZY remembering James Brown's legendary performance at the 1964 TAMI awards ceremony. The new biopic about the singer's life is called "Get On Up." It's out this weekend. Eugene, thank you.

ROBINSON: Hey, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE")

JAMES BROWN AND THE FAMOUS FLAMES: (Singing) Please, please, please, please. Please, please, don't go. Please.

WESTERVELT: James Brown was one of many pop and soul singers who came out of the gospel tradition. In the next part of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we'll introduce you to another one. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.