Aug 272012

This one puts me in a Cold Sweat…or…makes me wanna put your ray gun to my head. Either way you figger it, someone seriously ripped someone off here and the guilty party is either David Bowie or James Brown.

A couple of weeks ago Mr. Moderator made a west coast trip to The Back Office to discuss some Q3 RTH ventures. As part of this company retreat we attended a taping of Conan, complete with VIP tickets (true story).



  33 Responses to “Once and for All: Did The Thin White Duke Stick it to The Godfather of Soul, or David Bowie vs James Brown”

  1. ladymisskirroyale

    Sammy, your secret is safe with me and Seu Jorge. Since Mod has sworn off Anderson movies, he’ll never know.

  2. Oh, I saw enough of that turd! 🙂

  3. Hi Mr. Moderator Who are you refer to as a turd. I happen to like both Bowie and Brown. Though I certainly disapprove of how “The Godfather of Soul” treated his women. I think if you want to compare James Brown to any other singer its Roy Head. If you go “Treat Her Right” clean video I think you’ll see what I mean. OTOH I don’t recall any other entertainer touching their thigh as much as Head does in that video there.

  4. The turd in question is Wes Anderson’s The Life Acquatic. Just my opinion, but I’m sticking to it.

  5. You have a right to your opinion. I know he’s a director. If you don’t mind me asking why such a low opinion. Hope you don’t think I’m a turd for asking that question.

  6. Not at all, mugwort. I thought you had my comment confused with some criticism of Bowie and Brown.

    In short, I find Anderson’s films (Bottle Rocket excepted) to be infantile and overly controlled: the perfect framing of every shot; the long shots of his beautiful misfit characters looking off in the distance while sitting beside a close-and-play record player loaded with some incredibly hip vinyl release; the quirky relatives… It’s too much. He tries too hard. He’s too cute. I can’t stand his movies. I’m all for lovable losers, but his movies are set up to deny the fact that anyone’s lost.

    I know his films work for some people. I won’t hold that against anyone.

  7. Slim Jade

    Air did an entire soundtrack for Melies’ “Le Voyage dans le Lune”.

    I am currently the last man standing – – on the MOON!

  8. Slim Jade

    Oh shit, wrong thread! I’m lost in orbit!

  9. Not knowing that JB song, I would have assumed it was a modern mash-up with Fame. The guitar riffs, bass line, and just over all sound/mix are dead ringers for Fame. Someone has some explaining to do.

    I think Fame is co-written by Lennon, so I’m going to say JB ripped off Bowie and Lennon as payback for buring down the White House in the war of 1812.

  10. STRONG Comment of the Month contender!

  11. Regarding this topic, I started reading up on the derivation of this riff and saw it attributed to an old song called “Footstompin'” Bowie and his band were clearly using the riff in their cover of the song:

    But I don’t hear a trace of the riff in the original recording:

    Here’s one of the pieces out there that provides a tale of overlap with Alomar and speculates that Brown stole from Bowie:

  12. misterioso

    My sources inform me that “Fame” was recorded in January 1975 and released in August; I cannot lay my hands on reliable information about when “Hot” was recorded but was released in 1976. I would say it is almost a lock that JB ripped off Bowie.

  13. trigmogigmo

    Here’s my guess. Since “Fame” is co-written with Alomar (and Lennon) and I think at the time Alomar was Bowie’s main guitar dude (pre-Fripp, pre-Belew, pre-SRV, etc.), and if as you say Alomar was working with JB at the same studio / same time … then I’ll guess that the guitar licks were Alomar’s creation, and both Bowie and JB heard ’em and liked ’em and co-wrote different songs around them. In which case you can almost think of Alomar’s guitar work there as a fresh sound sample that both guys used.

  14. cherguevara

    I was reading the thread about this on the stevehoffman and I’m inclined to believe those folks, they’re pretty eggheaded:

    Went to a workshop with an engineer who worked with Brown a lot in the 70’s. He told a story about Brown being unhappy with the way a song sounded at a mastering session. He insisted his acetate sounded better, so the engineer goes to Brown’s home, to hear what he is talking about. Turns out, Brown’s turntable run a little bit fast, so everything was brighter, faster and Brown sounded a tad “younger.” So he started pitching things up in mastering. I suppose at that point, he was feeling like he was being outshone by younger artists and both the speeding up of his songs and the imitation of other, maybe “hipper” artists were signs of this.

    I’d take Brown’s “Hot/Fame” over Streisand’s “Life on Mars” any day.

  15. David Jones nicking something from someone and incorporating it into his world? Unheard of!


  16. I support this theory. No crime has been committed here.

  17. sammymaudlin

    I still haven’t read a definitive argument here. I’m still listening.

  18. It sure looks like the timelines and other facts people have offered can lead one to conclude that Bowie’s was first and JB’s came after. Therefore Bowie did not steal it.

    Short of Bowie yelling “you’re damn right I ordered the code red!” on the witness stand, you aren’t getting a more definitive answer.

  19. Yes I did confused. I even need to touch my legs to see where they are. Just kidding. Yes I did think your remark was a criticism of either Bowie or Brown. I am impressed with your knowledge of film. BTW what do you think of doing a comparison of Head and Brown?.

  20. sammymaudlin

    That says, may-be.

    The biggest problem I have with that “theory” is that I don’t want to believe it.

  21. misterioso

    Now that I am ensconced in my oak-paneled study and am puffing on a god old briar (not a pipe, mind you, but an actual briar), I think I can close the matter. According to David Bowie: A Chronology by Kevin Cann (Simon & Schuster, 1984), The Young Americans lp was released on March 7, 1975 and the “Fame” single was released in August 1975. According to the Star Time box set book, “Hot (I Want to Be Loved, Loved, Loved)” was recorded in September-October 1975 and released in December 1975. (Conspiracy theorists take note: it is the only song in the box set for which no musician information is available–“unidentified accompaniment directed by Dave Matthews.” So, hmm…) Anyway, as JB one said: There It Is.

  22. sammymaudlin

    OK, OK, OK… Chalk one up for the white man.

    James Brown- GUILTY as charged.

    Unless anyone wants to submit a credible appeal???

    Rock is full of stories about whitey stealing from the black man but how often do you hear it the other way around? Although I guess if you include rap sampling… I dunno.

  23. trigmogigmo

    Of course, this theory requires Alomar to be directly involved with James Brown’s writing/recording of the song. Unfortunately, I don’t see evidence of that beyond Sammy’s assertion of same time/place, which seems unfounded given the time separation of the recordings.

  24. 2000 Man

    I think the crime here is Carlos Alomar selling the same song to two different guys. “Hey, Dave! I got this song that would be perfect for you if it had some lyrics.” “Hay James, I got this killer track that hasn’t got any lyrics no one seems to want, but you’d be perfect for it!”

    Carlos Alomar, double dipper. Just like Costanza.

  25. I agree with 2K. I think the investigation needs to turn toward Alomar. Has anyone confirmed whether he actually plays on Brown’s recording? If so, book him!

    Even if he didn’t play on JB’s record, since he had some old ties to JB, is it possible he slipped his former boss an acetate of “Fame,” leading Brown down a path of Rock Crime.

  26. BigSteve

    My take on all this is that Brown felt generally ripped off by white artists in general and Bowie in particular. His lifting of the Fame riff was a small payback, and it always seemed like he was daring Bowie to sue him.

  27. misterioso

    Not a small payback. The Big Payback. Revenge. I’m Mad. I Need Some Get Back. Payback. Revenge. Payback.

    But, yeah, JB got ripped off a lot so I give him a get out of jail free card for this minor offense.

  28. Good point. Would there have been a “Kooks” without the Godfather of Soul?

  29. Yeah, but I’m just thinking Carlos came up with that riff, played it for both, and the both liked it. James may have been a great bandleader, but I highly doubt he “wrote” many of guitar riffs Carlos, Jimmy Nolen or any of the rest of the bad-ass guitar players who worked in his band played (excuse awkward sentence structure, I’m a bit ill at the moment)…It’s pretty well known that The Godfather was wingin’ it over jams his bands would come up with…he just made sure they were tight before they hit the public.

  30. alexmagic

    I think Fame is co-written by Lennon, so I’m going to say JB ripped off Bowie and Lennon as payback for buring down the White House in the war of 1812.

    Comment of the bicentennial.

  31. I still think it’s just a guitar player sharing a catchy riff, which two name artists decided to use on their albums…What’s the big crime?

  32. alexmagic

    I like to think Brown heard “Fame” through the walls or in a ghostly haze over half plugged-in speakers in the same studio and thought he was hearing an alien transmission almost exactly like the hazy cosmic jive in “Starman” and neither Bowie nor Alomar had the heart to tell him it was just them in a different room. – this would seem to indicate that Bowie wasn’t too upset by whatever went down. Though man, I wish there was a photo of vintage ’76 mugshot Bowie and ’70s JB.


    Disallowing Fame, which Bowie song would have been best suited for a James Brown cover?

    I figure Soul On Top-era JB might have taken a run at “Life On Mars” with fascinatingly weird results, but I think the Bowie song Brown might have had the best chance of actually improving might be “Five Years”. There’s also probably an argument to be that, droog reference aside, “Suffragette City” has lyrics that are closest to a James Brown song.

  33. “Stay” from Station to Station is already a drawn out funk. JB could work out on that one.

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