Evidence of his broad appeal and ability to appropriate new elements into his music is clearly heralded in his 1965 hit single Papa’ s Got a Brand New Bag: Since very little art is produced in isolation, it is impossible to evaluate Brown’ s music and his influence on the American music scene without also looking closely at the tumultuous changes that were straining the cultural fabric of 1960’ s America. Much has been written about this remarkable decade and of the social movements that characterized it. In the short span of ten years, Americans made their first flights into space, took dramatic strides toward ending segregation, became mired in a costly and unpopular war in Vietnam, and assassinated would be easy, upon a cursory examination of his music, to dismiss Brown as nothing more than an animated singer of soul music, but he was, in fact, both a voice for and a force within the movements for social change at work in America during those years.
For the most part, popular music in the ‘ 60’ s took one of four forms— rock roll, rhythm and blues/soul, folk and, late in the decade, acid rock— and each of those forms served its unique role in both commenting on and fueling the social changes characteristic of the decade. Folk was most vocal in its social criticism and demands for change.
Civil and workers’ rights, equality for women and the growing dissatisfaction over the war in Vietnam were all given voice by folk musicians. Rock ‘ n roll, more and longer than any other popular musical genre clung to the fading positivism of the 1950’ s, but eventually itself in the “ turn on and tune out” nihilism of acid rock.
More than any other form, it was soul— evolved from R& B and powered by skyrocketing sales at Motown Records— that served as common ground for American youth of dissimilar backgrounds. Inner city black kids joined suburban white kids in dancing and singing to the hits of James Brown and other soul musicians.
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