James Brown's Early 70s Chart Domination!

posted by Mike Eiland -

In the early years of the classic record countdown radio show American Top 40, hosted by Casey Kasem, a lot of songs that played on jukeboxes conjured up sales for many of the songs heard on the show. Not all of the songs on AT40 back then were widely played on the radio. But they did sell well. And big sales served as the rite of passage for entry into the American Top 40. Whether from radio airplay or songs you heard on jukeboxes, or perhaps from in-store play or movies, there is a certain familiarity with some songs that are now heard only on 70s and 80s AT40 reruns broadcast on Sunday mornings on 93.3 The Bus. 

We have seen many great Facebook posts and emails in particular about the early James Brown hits and how they have been discovered and re-discovered thanks to the AT40 reruns. Brown, who was called "the hardest-working man in show business" had quite a bit of output as he burned up the jukeboxes and club DJ turntables, but not necessarily the pop radio airwaves. Brown had a raw soul and funk sound that some radio stations shied away from back then, but the record-buying public ate it up enough to give him an unprecedented number of songs on the AT40 chart, especially during the period 1970-1972. The 2015 hit "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson (with Bruno Mars) is perhaps this generation's best recognition of the early 70s James Brown sound. Many rappers from the 80s up to today have sampled his music. We are very familiar with his more contemporary 60s sound with "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag." And even his "Living In America" single from 1986 is a widely played patriotic hit, best known for its inclusion in the 1985 film "Rocky IV."

Brown had a total of 31 weeks on American Top 40 in 1971 alone with 6 songs. According to show experts and those involved directly with the program whom I have become acquainted with over the years, the show's staff members back then could hear producer and AT40 co-creator Tom Rounds complaining that a James Brown song was on the countdown every week. While host Casey Kasem obviously loved Brown's music and often seized the moment to tell a James Brown story, program historians have noted that Brown's singles hitting so frequently, and only at mid-chart for the most part, caused a plethora of headaches in trying to sell AT40 to some radio stations. As it turned out the show was too good to pass up. Audiences wanted to hear how the songs were ranked as Casey counted backwards. They also wanted to hear his fantastic story-telling style along with the regional hits that were not playing on the very stations presenting the shows. 

Brown's 1970 hit "Get Up I Feel Like Being Like A Sex Machine - Part 1" was in a Michelob Ultra beer commercial in 2015, with a little bit of "Part 2" of the song included where he and band member Bobby Byrd harmonize on the line "shake your money maker." The commercial put the song into discovery and re-discovery mode that year. 

It should be noted at this point in our article that record releases were a lot more frequent by an artist back then. One of the hardest-working bands in show business---Led Zeppelin---released the albums Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin III and a 4th untitled album between February 1969 and November 1971! 

Here's how James Brown dominated AT40 starting in 1970 (Note: Almost all of his songs were "Part I" and "Part 2" hits):

Brown's first AT40 appearance happened on episode #4 the last weekend of July 1970 with "Get Up I Feel Like Being Like A Sex Machine." It debuted at #30 and made it as high as #15. It was followed in the fall by "Super Bad" which entered the chart at #34 on the show's October 17, 1970 edition. The chart run kept up the following year in a big way. 

"Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved" lasted 5 weeks after its debt on the 1/16/71 chart and made its last appearance on 2/13/71. "Soul Power" debuted on 3/13/71 and played for 6 weeks until its final appearance on 4/17/71.

Then this amazing streak happened:

"Escape-ism" entered at #37 on the 6/26/71 chart, followed by the debut of Brown's next single "Hot Pants"---which came in as "Escape-ism" left the chart---on 7/17/71. "Escape-ism" can be regarded as an unlikely and surprising hit, and it lives up to its name. Although it sounds very much like the hits listed here thus far, its primarily an instrumental jam with no singing at all. But in a very entertaining fashion, Brown talks to each of his band members. It sounds very much like you were able to listen in on a rehearsal where everything went according to plan. And at times he talks right on the beat, making many music fans and historians regard "Escape-ism" as an early rap recording. 

With "Escape-ism" followup and replacement "Hot Pants" still on AT40 at #37, the next single "Make It Funky" entered the chart on 9/11/71 at #30. "Make It Funky" would have its last appearance on AT40 with the 10/16/71 edition with no new Brown tune coming in for the moment. That gave him a continuous 17-week run on AT40 in 1971! Then "I'm A Greedy Man" rounded out the year with a 12/4/71 debut at #39 and had its final appearance on the 12/18/71 show. 

With minimal interruption James Brown owned AT40 in 1971 for a total of 31 weeks!

And what about 1972? It started out with "Talking Loud And Saying Nothing" early in the year. Then came the only song up to that time without a "Part 1" attached to its name, "King Heroin" which was his anti-drug message. His only other 1972 AT40 hit was "Get On The Good Foot" in the summer of that year. 

Browns only billed 1973 appearance on the AT40 chart came via "I Got Ants In My Pants (and I want to dance)." However, later in the year he was featured prominently in a summer 1973 AT40 hit called "Doing It To Death" by Fred Wesley & The J.B.'s, the group that played behind him on many of this article's list of hits. In listening to "Doing It To Death" one would have to consider it a James Brown record, in that his is the dominant voice, singing and sometimes talking to the band members, similar to how he did on "Escape-ism." 

The year 1974 picked up with the fun song "The Payback." Later that year came "My Thang" and "Papa Don't Take No Mess." There were no more Brown hits on AT40 until 1986's "Living In America." 

An incredible chart performance by an incredible artist. This article lists only the hits on American Top 40. As you can imagine there are numerous R&B and dance chart hits to add to the list which didn't make it all the way to AT40. That's pretty much a book which I don't have time to write. However, you can look that information up on the Internet or read his very interesting autobiography "The Godfather Of Soul" which was published in 1986.

Hear Classic American Top 40 shows from the 70s and 80s every week from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00noon on 93.3 The Bus and 24/7/365 on the free iHeartRadio app's Classic American Top 40 with Casey Kasem channel.

Article source: My own chart tracking along with James Brown records purchased during the run of American Top 40, which I listened to on WNCI in 1971 to this very day, along with the current Classic AT40 70s and 80s reruns on the station where I am Music Director and Assistant Program Director, 93.3 The Bus. So yes, I was one of the many young AT40 fans who wrote down the songs on AT40 and kept hold of those lists! 


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