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‘Bodyheat’: Godfather James Brown Turns Up The Temperature

The Godfather of Soul met the coming disco era head-on, with a subtly updated groove and a Top 20 R&B hit.

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James Brown 'Bodyheat' artwork - Courtesy: UMG
James Brown 'Bodyheat' artwork - Courtesy: UMG

When James Brown entered the US R&B chart on December 11, 1976 with “Bodyheat (Part 1),” the infectious uptempo number became, almost mind-bogglingly, his 95th song to hit that countdown. The track also signaled that the Godfather of Soul was going to meet the coming disco era head-on, with a subtly updated groove that helped it turn into a No. 13 soul hit in early 1977.

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“Bodyheat” didn’t cross over to the Hot 100 until the end of February 1977, when it became his 92nd entry on that chart. But its failure to climb higher than No. 88 was itself a sign that Mr. Brown’s incredible, long-running sovereignty was no longer beyond question. He would not appear on the pop chart again until the revitalizing smash “Living In America” almost nine years later. In between, there were just two further Top 20 R&B hits, with “Give Me Some Skin” (featuring the J.B.s) in 1977 and “It’s Too Funky In Here” in 1979.

The late 1976 hit, on Polydor, came from an album also called Bodyheat, which followed in December and became his 42nd to reach the R&B LP listing, with a No.20 peak. The “Bodyheat” single made the Top 40 in the UK where, despite widespread respect for his preeminence as a soul and dance pioneer, his chart presence had always been surprisingly meager: it was only his seventh single to make the bestsellers there at all.

Listen to the best of James Brown on Apple Music and Spotify.

The Bodyheat album contained one more R&B Top 40 entry, “Kiss In ’77” and, among its other new material, included the Godfather’s pleasing, uptempo version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s mid-1960s easy listening pop classic, “What The World Needs Now Is Love.” There was also at least one new example of the type of aspirational, social-conscious lyrics that Mr. Brown had become so associated with, in the song “Wake Up And Give Yourself A Chance To Live.”

Buy or stream “Bodyheat” on the album of the same name.

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