The James Brown Covers

You Got to Have a Job (If You Don’t Work, You Can’t Eat)/ Hot Pants.

The first Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars concerts in the UK, from February to May 1972, were a series of small insurrections.

The tour began on 10 February at the Toby Jug in Tolworth (“a gaunt fortress of a pub, on the edge of an underpass,” as described in Alias David Bowie—it’s since been leveled). At Imperial College two days later, Bowie tried to crowd-surf (too few in the crowd, so he fell to the floor) while Mick Ronson let the front row caress his guitar. The band went north to Glasgow, west to Aberystwyth. In the Locarno Ballroom, in Sunderland, kids in wheelchairs rose to their feet when Bowie came on stage, a publicity stunt or a minor, unregistered miracle. In Bristol, they carried Bowie around on their shoulders after the show, as if he had made a winning goal. At the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, where righteous folkies had harassed Dylan six years earlier, Bowie threw an acoustic guitar into the crowd.

The tour was allegedly in support of Hunky Dory, which had been released in December 1971, but as the weeks went on, many Hunky Dory songs were swapped out for as-yet-unreleased Ziggy Stardust tracks. The typical set opened with “Hang Onto Yourself” and other rockers, quieted down for an interlude where Bowie and Ronson sat on stools and played the likes of “Space Oddity” or “Andy Warhol” and revved up for the usual finale of “Suffragette City”/“Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide.”

Bowie interspersed a few covers with his originals, including, for a month or so, a medley of James Brown’s “Hot Pants” and a relative obscurity, the 1969 single (King 6218) Brown had written for Marva Whitney, “You Got To Have a Job (If You Don’t Work, You Can’t Eat).” (Bobby Byrd also cut a version a year later.)

Whitney had been a member of the James Brown Revue since 1967, and like other Brown proteges Vicki Anderson and Lynn Collins, cut a string of Brown-composed singles in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Who knows why Bowie chose to cover “You Got To Have a Job,” one of Brown’s bootstrapping communiques to the American black community: it’s just an excuse for Ronson to play a funk riff, Bowie to deliver a manic saxophone solo and The Spiders’ rhythm section to (leadenly) keep a groove.

The performances linked above are from the oft-bootlegged Kingston Polytechnic (Angela Bowie’s alma mater) concert of 6 May 1972.

Top: the Godfather lost in thought, Oakland, 1971.

One Response to The James Brown Covers

  1. Douglas Wolk says:

    JB returned the favor–sort of: his late-’75 single “Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved, Loved)” is an uncredited note-for-note rip of “Fame”!

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