By 1970, James Brown had already been a star several times over — he’d had his first hit with “Please, Please, Please” in 1956, become the biggest live attraction in R&B by the early ’60s and invented funk with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “Cold Sweat.” His razor-sharp band responded to his impulses instantly. When they quit en masse before a show that March, he flew in a bunch of awkward teenagers, hit the stage with them (a couple of hours late) and shaped them into the even tighter band that would record this indelible groove six weeks later.
As with a lot of Soul Brother No. 1’s hits, “Sex Machine” was half-improvised with the tape rolling. Engineer Ron Lenhoff got co-writing credit as thanks for driving five hours to the recording studio in the middle of the night to capture the newly written jam. The band is the machine, locking into an impossibly taut rhythm, while Brown provides the sex, with longtime collaborator Bobby Byrd as his wingman chanting “Get on up!” at him.
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