Released: August 1970
Chart Peak: #29
Weeks Charted: 31
This two-record album, recorded live in Augusta, Ga., contains some of the best material from the prolific pen of James Brown. Looming larger than life, Soul Brother No. 1 tears into some of his million selling hits with all the vitality and dynamism that have made him a legend among black artists. Included here are "Sex Machine," "Mother Popcorn," "A Man's World," and "Lickin' Stick."
- Billboard, 1970.
Some doubt the claim that this was recorded in concert in Augusta, Georgia, but everyone believes in the music. On "Get Up I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine" he creates a dance track even more compelling than the single out of the same five elements: light funk-four on the traps, syncopated bass figure, guitar scratched six beats to the bar, and two voices for call and response. When he modulates to the bridge it's like the Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters. After that he could describe his cars for three sides and get away with it (hope this doesn't give him any bright ideas), but in fact all of what remains is prime JB except for the organ version of "Spinning Wheel" (horn bands will out) and the cover of "If I Ruled the World" (thought he already did). Side four, with its powerful "Man's World," is especially fine, closing with a soul-wrenching scream that says it all. [Later on Polydor.] A
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Live early-'70s relentless funk groove. * * * *
- George Bedard, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Put on your dancing shoes and get down to the master at the peak of his powers because music doesn't get any more feel-good than this. The first seven tracks are priceless and perhaps without equal in the canon, most notably "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine," while "Give It Up or Turnit Loose" may be the funkiest six minutes ever recorded thanks to the famous rhythm section, featuring bassist Bootsy Collins, reeds player Fred Wesley and drummer Clyde Stubblefield. * * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
The subsequent history of black popular music, from disco to hip-hop, can be laid at the feet of "Sex Machine" with its horizontal cadence, scratchy guitars, and orgasmic bridge where a piano dances across the bar with dynamic call-and-response rhythms. It was on this song that Brown's whole accent-on-the-one rhythmic concept -- which he'd been working on since 1964 -- finally took over completely. The result was a more rubbery type of funk rhythm that loaned itself excellently to lascivious excess. In a few years, there'd be whole disco suites based on such rhythms to supposedly serenade the strains of bed-jamming. "I feel like getting into it / DOIN' it, y'now?" James Brown yells during the intro, and "Sex Machine" was a healthy blast of sexual proselytizing before Al Green and Marvin Gaye made such things commonplace.
Sex Machine was also the first James Brown album to feature a hot new young bass player named Bootsy Collins, who was only seventeen at the time this album was recorded. Songs like "Give It Up or Turn It Loose" and "Licking Stick Licking Stick" were prime examples of the new slap-bass style that would come to characterize funk. It was a short-lived collaboration, however, seeing as Collins soon left James Brown (on less-than-amiable terms) to join the funk mothership, Parliament-Funkadelic. In the meantime, all subsequent incarnations of the artist would exert a more profound funk groove. It all began with this album, which was really James Brown's first attempt to pull off a sustained jam for several minutes, leading to excursions like Revolution of the Mind or The Payback, which were heavy on the extended funk outings.
Although this album was supposedly recorded live in James Brown's hometown of Augusta, Georgia, there was some debate at the time whether it was indeed "live," since there's a chance that some of the live applause was dubbed ("I Got the Feelin'" sounds exactly like the single version). Still, only a ham like James Brown would play Blood, Sweat and Tears' "Spinning Wheel" as an overwrought organ-laden fest with this much aplomb -- audience or no.
Sex Machine was voted the 34th greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.
- Joe S. Harrington, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.
Kicked off by its hypnotic 11-minute title track (a studio jam with fake crowd noise added later), Sex Machine signaled a new funk renaissance for Soul Brother Number One. The rest is a legit live album that further burnished his rep as the greatest showman in pop-music history.
Sex Machine was chosen as the 439th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.
- Rolling Stone, 10/20.
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