THE GREATEST SONGS OF THE 1960s THAT NO ONE HAS EVER HEARD
634) Georgie Fame – “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”
I love Georgie (see #103, 169), and not just because my mother used to call me Georgie! He has always been, per Max Bell, “the coolest of the cool” (https://www.udiscovermusic.com/artist/georgie-fame/) and it’s been way too long, so here is his irresistible and “fantastic” (Bell) intepretation of James Brown’s immortal classic. By the way, who else in the UK would have had the chutzpah to attempt a take on such an iconic number? It could only have been Georgie, because, as Bell says:
Georgie Fame . . . is one of British R&B music’s founding fathers. . . . [with immense] cultural influence. . . . The black music he championed with his band The Blue Flames brought new sounds to Swinging London and bossed venues like the Flamingo Club and the Marquee where he turned the English mod movement on to a whole bag of soul and authentic US urban and country sounds and also the ska and early reggae he heard in the Jamaican cafes and clubs in the Ladbroke Grove area of London. . . .https://www.udiscovermusic.com/artist/georgie-fame/
Steve Huey adds that:
Georgie Fame’s swinging, surprisingly credible blend of jazz and American R&B earned him a substantial following in his native U.K., where he scored three number one singles during the ’60s. . . . Early in his career, he . . . peppered his repertoire with Jamaican ska and bluebeat tunes, helping to popularize that genre in England; during his later years, he was one of the few jazz singers of any stripe to take an interest in the vanishing art of vocalese, and earned much general respect from jazz critics on both sides of the Atlantic.https://www.allmusic.com/artist/georgie-fame-mn0000543055/biography
Today’s song is taken from Fame’s ’66 album Sound Venture with Harry South’s big band — per Bell, “a jazz-pop crossover with a crack horn section”. Uli Twelker notes that “[t]he album shot into the British album Top Ten, peaking at No. 9 and making the album Georgie Fame’s second best seller of all times after its predecessor Sweet Things.” (https://georgiefame.absoluteelsewhere.net/Archives/Reviews/SoundVenture/sound_ven3_reviews.html).
Twelker goes deep:
If you trundle through music encyclopedias, there is still the popular belief that Georgie Fame, of the “Flamingo All Nighters,” disbanded his guaranteed-to-party combo the Blue Flames in order to become a ’serious’ jazz interpreter; as if the fun had gone out the window with his impending big band album Sound Venture. For Georgie, the real, creative fun had started with this attractively orchestrated venture . . . . Rather than suddenly developing ‘an attitude,’ Fame had in fact started recording this eclectic yet breath-taking jazz collection as early as 1964, when his live audiences bopped but his singles still flopped. He had hired a virtual Who’s Who of whoever mattered in the UK, wherever and whenever ‘bebop or swing meant a thing.’ . . . But the young pro had run out of money in the process of putting up his own limited funds to hire his dream team of the British ‘Jazz Cream,’ and the project had been put on hold. Yet when Georgie’s Yeh Yeh–the Mongo Santamaria rhythm oil equipped with words by Vocalese pioneer Jon Hendricks–shot to Number 1, he had the welcome Sterling to finish his heartfelt and ambitious LP. . . . American GIs had given Georgie some serious Bronx Funk by then, and he leads the Harry South Big Band through James Brown’s Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag.https://georgiefame.absoluteelsewhere.net/Archives/Reviews/SoundVenture/sound_ven3_reviews.html
As none other than Elvis Costello recalls:
In 1966 I was 12 and already a big Georgie Fame fan. I’d got “Yeh Yeh” and “Getaway” and “In The Meantime” and I loved the Fame At Last EP. I saved up for a few weeks to buy Sound Venture. I went to this store in Richmond to buy it — the same place I bought my first guitar. It was such a hip record. . . . [T]his was a swinging band and the line-up was a who’s who of the jazz scene. It had a huge impact on me because the songs were all over the place from James Brown to Willie Nelson. He was one of the first British R&B artists to discover James Brown, which was a big deal then because the only pop we heard was Brian Matthew four hours a week on the radio — the rest of the time it was tea-dance music, the Palm Court orchestra and Geraldo. There was no way we could have any personal knowledge of those original artists — and if we did the records were too expensive and I was too young to go to clubs to see them. Every record changes you a little, but Sound Venture knocked a wall down for me. . . . Apart from Zoot Money, nobody else in this country was doing what Georgie was doing. . . . When they write the history of the ’60s Georgie Fame is always left out, maybe because he only ever used guitars as rhythm instruments; he was always so underrated. . . . I’ve still got my original copy of Sound Venture. When I was a young man short of money I sold most of my records, including my Small Faces singles, but I kept Sgt Pepper, Revolver — and Sound Venture. I couldn’t sell it and I still play it.http://www.elviscostello.info/wiki/index.php/Mojo,_October_1999
Elvis did say that “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” “is my least favourite track [on the album] because it sounds really clunky, like they’re reading it off a chart, not like James Brown’s horn players at all”! (http://www.elviscostello.info/wiki/index.php/Mojo,_October_1999)
As to Fame’s early history, Bell tells us that:
[He] depart[ed] to London aged 16 to seek his fortune. He touted his talents up and down the legendary Tin Pan Alley area of Denmark Street just off Soho where he was spotted by impresarios Lionel Bart and Larry Parnes who christened him Georgie Fame – somewhat against his will. Working with touring rock and rollers like Joe Brown, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran young Fame became battle-hardened and was snapped up by Billy Fury in 1961 to lead his backing band The Blue Flames for whom he arranged and sang. The Blue Flames and Fury parted company and so Georgie took over . . . .https://www.udiscovermusic.com/artist/georgie-fame/
Steve Huey adds:
The[ Flames’] budding reputation landed them a residency at the West End jazz club the Flamingo, and thanks to the American servicemen who frequented the club and lent Fame their records, [Fame] discovered the Hammond B-3 organ, becoming one of the very few British musicians to adopt the instrument in late 1962. From there, the Blue Flames became one of the most popular live bands in London. In 1963, they signed with EMI Columbia, and in early 1964 released their acclaimed debut LP, Rhythm and Blues at the Flamingo. It wasn’t a hot seller at first, and likewise their first three singles all flopped, but word of the group was spreading. Finally, in early 1965, Fame hit the charts with “Yeh Yeh,” . . . . [which] went all the way to number one on the British charts . . . . His 1965 LP Fame at Last reached the British Top 20, and after several more minor hits, he had another British number one with “Getaway” in 1966. After one more LP with the original Blue Flames, 1966’s Sweet Thing, Fame broke up the band and recorded solo . . . . At the outset, Fame’s solo career was just as productive as before, kicking off with the Top Ten big-band LP Sound Venture . . . . [T]hanks to its success, he toured with the legendary Count Basie the following year.https://www.allmusic.com/artist/georgie-fame-mn0000543055/biography
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One thought on “Georgie Fame — “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — November 8, 2022”
Had not heard this one, Georgie did a lot of covers, most of them very well. I think I’m in the Elvis Costello camp on this one, Yeh, yeh. One of those UK acts like Cliff Richard and DC5 that didn’t have the same kind of enduring success in North American that was commensurate with their talent.