1. James Brown – The Popcorn (King)
2. Bill Doggett – Honky Tonk Popcorn (King)
3. Hank Ballard – Butter Your Popcorn (King)
4. James Brown – Mother Popcorn Pt1 (King)
5. James Brown – Mother Popcorn Pt1 (King)
6. James Brown – Lowdown Popcorn (King)
7. Vicki Anderson – Answer to Mother Popcorn (King)
8. Charles Spurling – Popcorn Charlie (King)
9. James Brown – Let a Man Come In and Do the Popcorn Pt2 (King)
10. South Street Soul Guitars – Poppin Popcorn (Silver Fox)
11. Lou Courtney – Hot Butter n’All Pt1 (Hurdy Gurdy)
12. Mr. C & Funck Junction – Hot Butter n’All Pt2 (Hurdy Gurdy)
13. Eldridge Holmes – Pop Popcorn Children (Atco)
14. Johnny Jones & The King Casuals – Soul Poppin’ (Brunswick)
15. Juggy – Buttered Popcorn (Sue)
A good day to you all.
This morning I bring you yet another installment of that time honored institution known as Funky16Corners Radio, this time, Volume the Fourteenth, entitled ‘Butter Your Popcorn’. If you haven’t already picked up on the visual clues in the graphic above, or taken a cursory look at the track listing, the theme of today’s mix is Popcorn tunes, i.e. the James Brown and related “popcorn” cycle (which ran roughly from June to December of 1969) and a couple of related/directly influenced (or ripped off if you are in an unkind frame of mid) tracks from the same time period.
Any soul/funk collector worth his/her salt is constantly coming across records that were either starting or capitalizing on a dance craze. It was in the 1960’s that this mini art form reached its apex, with countless variations on the Twine, the Monkey, the Twist (of course) and probably 100 other dances/records.
The cool things about the Popcorn craze are these:
a. The standard bearer of the “movement” was none other than the biggest soul star of the day, James Brown.
b. Brown was not only personally prolific, but had a large and talented stable of stars via whom he proliferated his popcorn product
c. Browns huge popularity and success brought with many musical opportunists, looking to get their own handful of popcorn
d. Thanks to Brown’s success (and that fact that so many of these records were on King) it’s fairly easy to lay out a timeline
Sadly, I cannot present to you the entire James Brown ‘Popcorn Cycle’ (Hey! James Brown and Wagner together again for the first time!). There are a few tracks I have been unable to put my hands on, namely Steve Soul’s ‘Popcorn With a Feeling’ on Federal (a King-associated label), Browns LP tracks ‘Mashed Potato Popcorn’ and ‘Popcorn With a Feeling’, and the 45 side ‘Let a Man Come In and Do the Popcorn Pt1’, which strangely enough was released on the flipside of a different 45 than Part 2 of the same song. If the time comes when my JB crate contains all of those tunes, I will certainly re-do the mix for the anoraks/completists/anal retentives in the crowd.
The Brown-related tracks are – with one exception – presented in chronological order.
The mix starts out with that very exception, James Brown’s ‘The Popcorn’. ‘The Popcorn’ was actually issued after Bill Doggett’s ‘Honky Tonk Popcorn’, but since Doggett’s entry did not chart, we can safely assume that it was the Godfather himself that got things rolling. Released in June of 1969, and peaking at #11 on the R&B charts, ‘The Popcorn’ is a hard charging number with a very funky bass line and some great guitar work. It’s also got some cool chanting by the JB’s.
The next track is that perennial crate digger fave, Bill Doggett’s ‘Honky Tonk Popcorn’. Now if you stop by here on a regular basis, you may be acquainted with my affinity for Hammond sides, especially of the funky variety. While I love this record, and the label says that it’s by Hammond master emeritus Bill Doggett, the music you are hearing is clearly the work of James Brown and the JBs. Sure. Doggett’s there pumping chords in the background, but he never gets the chance to stretch out on the keys (you hear way more guitar than organ on this side), and when the song stops, the sound that you hear is James Brown screaming.
The fact that the next few tracks (and ‘Honk Tonk Popcorn’) were released in the same month as ‘The Popcorn’ suggests that Brown was prescient and knew in advance that he had a hit on his hands, or more likely that the Brown organization worked exceedingly fast in getting product on the market. Hank Ballard was already a hitmaker before he was absorbed into Brown’s stable, where he made some exceptional funky 45s for King in the late 60’s. The very groovy ‘Butter Your Popcorn’ is one of those. Opening with a somewhat incongruous spoken intro, Hank and the band work it on out, suggesting that you butter your popcorn “in an alley” or “behind a tree”. Hmmm. Either way, this is one of my fave Brown-related sides.
‘Mother Popcorn Pts 1&2’ was the biggest of Brown’s popcorn hits, reaching the #1 spot in late June of 1969. It’s probably the best know 45 in this mix, and for good reason. JB and the band lay down an absolutely deadly groove, with a couple of the finest breakdowns in their long and amazing catalogue. The popcorn-like guitar motif shows up in slightly reconfigured form in some of the tribute sides by other artists, and Brown’s vocal is spot on. If Brown ever laid down a single worthy of the number one position, this is certainly it.
Brown must have been coasting on the success of ‘Mother Popcorn’ (or maybe touring) because there’s a gap of more than two months before the appearance of the next popcorn record, his own organ workout ‘Lowdown Popcorn’ which was a Top 20 R&B hit in September of 1969. ‘Lowdown Popcorn’ is an extremely laid back tune, with a lazy groove, JB soloing on the Hammond over a repeated horn motif.
The next tune was also released in September, but despite its undeniable power failed to chart. Vicki Anderson – who’s praises I sang last week – throws down the double whammy (combining a dance craze tune with an “answer” record) with ‘Answer to Mother Popcorn’. Anderson’s record is marked not only by its inherent kin-ass-ness, but because it’s the only side in the mix by a female artist. While funky, the instrumental backing on ‘Answer to Mother Popcorn’ isn’t particularly distinctive, but that doesn’t matter much when a singer as powerful as Vicki Anderson is laying it down. While I don’t know for sure, the law of averages suggests that somewhere out there, some other female singer/group made a ‘popcorn’ record, but if so, I haven’t heard it.
I have to admit that I know little about Charles Spurling. He wrote and recorded a number of sides for King records, but aside from that, I can’t tell you much. ‘Popcorn Charlie’ has a relaxed funk about it, and some nice twangy guitar in the background.
The last James Brown “popcorn” side in this mix is ‘Let a Man Come In and Do the Popcorn Pt2’ which reached #6 in December of 1969 (Pt1 previously having made it made it to #2). The tune has a tight groove and a lengthy trombone solo from Mr. Fred Wesley.
It’s hard to say why James Brown stopped going back to the popcorn machine after 1969. Was it too much of a good thing? Was he unwilling to have the title ‘Senor Popcorn’ added to he already long list of nicknames? Was he out of ideas? The world may never know.
What I do know, is that this is the part of the mix where we take a look at some of the people that were hopping onto the popcorn bandwagon. This is in no way a comprehensive list, reflecting only those records present in my personal crates.
First off is ‘Poppin Popcorn’ by the South Street Soul Guitars on the Silver Fox label. Hailing from either October or November of 1969 (judging by other records on the label), the tune is quite funky, but strangely the opening organ riff (which I guess is supposed to suggest the sound of popping popcorn) is in fact a lift from a Maxwell House coffee jingle. I don’t know anything about the band, but to my ears there’s a certain twang here that suggests the possibility of a white, Nashville based session group.
Despite my deep and abiding love for the work of the master James Brown, the next record (and its instrumental flip side) may be my favorite of all popcorn records. I speak of the mighty ‘Hot Butter n’All’ by Lou Courtney. I’ve gone on at length in this space about the greatness of Lou Courtney, and the many amazing records he made in the late 60’s (including the break-heavy ‘Hey Joyce’). ‘Hot Butter n’All’ is one of the funkiest, heaviest records ever made, with a genius performance from Courtney and a performance by the band that sounds like the insane asylum marching band bus plunging down the side of a mountain. I know that I’ve said this many times, about many records, but if you slap this record on the decks, and it doesn’t make people want to get up and shake their asses, there’s something wrong with the very fabric of the universe, and the world may in fact be nearing its end. The flip side (credited to Mr. C and Funck Junction), while lacking Lou’s stellar vocal manages to reveal an even deeper level of madness, especially in the wildly free/out of tune sax-o-ma-phone skronk at the very beginning. The instrumental track was later recycled – also on the Hurdy Gurdy label – with a new vocal by Donald Height, and a new title ‘Life Is Free’.
Eldridge Holmes is another brilliant and underappreciated soul singer that has appeared in this blog many times. His most collectable funk 45, ‘Pop Popcorn Children’ was recorded in 1969 during a Meters session in Atlanta. The instrumental breakdowns contain some extremely deranged horn charts, and the drumming (by Zig Modeliste?) is also off the hook.
Johnny Jones and the King Casuals were a Nashville based group that recorded some excellent funky 45s for the Brunswick and Peachtree labels, including an infamous cover of King Casual’s alumnus Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’. ‘Soul Poppin’ has a wild guitar/horn intro that takes a tip from the theme from the Magnificent Seven.
The last track in the mix is ‘Buttered Popcorn’ by Juggy on the Sue label. Juggy was in fact Sue label co-founder Juggy Murray. ‘Buttered Popcorn’ has some hard drums and cool guitar, with a blaring horn section keeping up the momentum. If you get a chance, pick up his other funky 45 ‘Oily’.