Along with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and a handful of others, Brown was one of the major musical influences of the past 50 years. At least one generation idolized him, and sometimes openly copied him. His rapid-footed dancing inspired Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson, among others. Songs such as David Bowie’s “Fame,” Prince’s “Kiss,” George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Sing a Simple Song” were clearly based on Brown’s rhythms and vocal style.
If Brown’s claim to the invention of soul can be challenged by fans of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, then his rights to the genres of rap, disco and funk are beyond question. He was to rhythm and dance music what Dylan was to lyrics: the unchallenged popular innovator.
“James presented obviously the best grooves,” rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy once told the Associated Press. “To this day, there has been no one near as funky. No one’s coming even close.”
Brown’s classic singles include “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” “Out of Sight,” “(Get Up I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine,” “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud,” a landmark 1968 statement of racial pride.