Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

I Got The Feelin': James Brown In The '60s

Sometimes you can see the moments when history could have turned one way or another. Late in James Brown's Boston concert on April 5, 1968, fans start to rush the stage. They're mostly excited kids, but it's the day after Martin Luther King's assassination, and tensions are high, to say the least. Across America, other cities have already erupted into riots. Boston mayor Kevin White—a recently elected progressive who narrowly defeated his crypto-racist opponent—heard conflicting views about whether he should let the show go on; ultimately, he roped in the local PBS station to broadcast it, in hopes of giving black residents in the heavily segregated city something to do other than destroy Boston in anger. It worked, until the chaotic stage-rush. Then Brown stops the show, with a lot of desperate calls of "Wait a minute!" What he says isn't eloquent, but it works: "We're black. Don't make us all look bad."

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It was quiet in Boston that night. The Night James Brown Saved Boston, the excellent VH1-produced documentary that serves as the first disc of the three-disc set I Got The Feelin': James Brown In The '60s, places the concert in context, complete with recollections from Brown's band, Mayor White, and the observations of the always-sharp Cornel West. That's no simple task. Brown had his differences with King, and mixed feelings about the concert itself, not the least because he worried about losing money on the date.

Those doubts aren't there in the performance, filmed by a crew more used to shooting The Boston Pops. (The show is featured in its entirety on disc two.) Having a subject as animated as Brown didn't hurt. Still, Brown plays to the camera a bit too much in the 1968 Apollo Theater concert, taped as a television performance, on disc three. It focuses on Brown's softer, croonier side until its final minutes, though scenes of Brown surveying inner-city neighborhoods and a recovering Watts serve as a fascinating time capsule. Nothing, however, captures the full measure of Brown's talent like the opening moments of the Boston show, when he plants himself center stage in front of a crowd still reeling from King's death, and launches into a version of "That's Life" that substitutes defiance for resignation without changing a word.

Key features: More interviews and performances.