Mar 132012

The JBs vs The Attractions...Once and for All!

Talk is cheap. This one’s for all the marbles. The JBs vs The Attractions. Cast your vote—once and for all—for rock’s greatest backing band ever!

Once and for all...who is rock's greatest backing band ever, The JBs or The Attractions?

  • The JBs (53%, 25 Votes)
  • The Attractions (47%, 22 Votes)

Total Voters: 47

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Polls are open through Sunday, March 18, at 11:59 pm EST.


  31 Responses to “Once and For All…You Decide Rock’s Greatest Backing Band Ever!”

  1. cherguevara

    Because it should be posted somewhere… James Brown meets Alfred Hitchcock:

  2. This decision must be given significant reflection. I think I would have picked these two as my finalists given the original full field. I’ll get back to you.

  3. BigSteve

    And Rod McKuen and Joan Rivers too! They don’t make TV like they used to.

  4. machinery

    Here’s my argument for The Attractions.

    1) Best bass player in the world.
    2) Might be best drummer of the “new wave” era.
    3) What other keyboard player ever made a serious dent in a band?
    4) They could play any style, from pub rock to country to soul. They knew how to be loud & fast and quiet & delicate. All on the same album.
    5) 20 songs each on two albums? That’s a go-to band.

    Here’s my argument against The JBs

    1) While great, admittedly session players who coulda been replaced without missing a beat. More of a “big band” with a wall of sound. They didn’t really stretch too much, did they?

  5. I agree – the Attractions got my vote. Get Happy alone is a fine introduction to the group’s diverse capabilities.

  6. alexmagic

    Just to put it out there for the JBs: you’re looking at a line-up including Bootsy Collins, Catfish Collins, Jabo Starks, Bobby Byrd and Robert McCullough (of that “BLOW ROBERT!” solo on “Super Bad”) and more…and that’s before Fred Wesley and eventually Maceo Parker come back to work for JB.

    These guys were good enough to go have a hit (Doin’ It To Death) without James Brown, and go off to bolster Parliament and the Macks.

    And within the context of their work as the backing band for Brown, it’s not like they were faceless. Super Bad has the “Blow Robert!” spotlight. Sex Machine has Bobby Byrd vocals almost as much as JB vocals (he also gets songwriting credit, as did Wesley and Starks on other hits). Any number of their songs famously feature Brown interacting with the band, ordering them to take him to the bridge and seeking their approval for the purposes of hitting and/or quitting.

    The Attractions are great, but could they do Sex Machine, Super Bad, Get Up Offa That Thing, The Payback or Get On The Goodfoot?

    Meanwhile, I could definitely picture a:
    “New York, I’m sorry, there’s no reason for me to play this song. Fellas?”
    “Yeah, James?”
    “Should I play this song?”
    “No, James.”
    “Should I play the other song?”
    “Yeah, James!”
    …exhange and then the whole band launching into Radio Radio.

    Also, there’s not a single designated cape carrier anywhere to be found on the Attractions. How good could they possibly be without a cape player?

  7. The J.B.s. As in most cases of Machine vs Man, Machine wins and Man puts up a good fight.

  8. Man, this battle is heating up as only a championship battle of this magnitude and consequences should do! I know a lot of you were disappointed that the Paul Shaffer-led World’s Most Dangerous Band didn’t qualify for this tournament, but you have to admit that had they been matched up with either of these finalists that the outcome wouldn’t be so exciting.

    I really like machinery’s rationale for supporting The Attractions. I really like alexmagic’s rationale for supporting The JBs. I really like k.’s futuristic sense of fatalism. I voted for The Attractions, but the vote was not as easy as you might expect it to be for this die-hard Attractions fan.

    There are tremendous reasons to go either way, but I do feel The Attractions’ compact lineup and broad range of capabilities make them the 5-tool player in this contest. As such, they are a joy to watch. The JBs, on the other hand, although fantastic “athletes” in their own right, are more one-dimensional and all about POWER. The Attractions provide a shocking blend of speed, grace, and power that operates both in concert with and above their leader. In boxing terms the Attractions are Ali to the JBs’ Mike Tyson. In basketball terms The Attractions are Michael Jordan to The JBs’ Shaq (I have too much love for Wilt Chamberlain to compare any band but the Beatles to Wilt).

    There are Costello songs that don’t have a lot going for them beside The Attractions bashing away behind them. As someone who really loves Costello’s prime records I’ll acknowledge that each album has some songs that don’t add up to much without his backing band. Costello can be subpar yet his songs never suffer from the backing band’s contributions; they save him constantly.

    As much as I love prime James Brown from the latter half of the ’60s, just about every song is hitting at the same mark. What makes for a “bad” James Brown song during that period? Whether the gimmicky catch phrase fails to catch your attention?

    I thought about 2 bands that didn’t qualify for this tournament based on technicalities and the tournament committee’s seemingly irrational quirks, The Band (ie, in their role as backing band for Dylan et al) and Booker T & The MGs. They were compact, highly flexible backing bands that fleshed out any song thrown their way with arrangements that stemmed directly from their personal playing styles. They inspired the artists they backed, in the etymological sense of that word. The JBs ran interference, or blocked, for James Brown. Their leader was going to do his thing with or without them. Brown could have performed a capella without missing a beat. The JBs got out in front of him and ran a wedge. They were his heavies.

    I love the role The JBs played with James Brown. They’ve got a few songs that could last for a week, as far as I’m concerned (eg, “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing”). What I don’t see in them, quite as much, is an ability to save their leader from his own worst impulses. Maybe it’s unfair, because Brown worked within such a narrow band, but I find there are less instances in which they took it upon themselves to raise their leader’s game. Once they were commanded to do their thing, they delivered, but they were locked out of the office until the boss man showed up for work. I get the sense The Attractions had more time and ability to tinker behind the scenes, go out for Happy Hour without their boss and talk shop.

    Slight edge, in my opinion: The Attractions.

  9. tonyola

    Ah, but could the JB’s play “Motel Matches” or “Lipstick Vogue”?

  10. I’m glad you brought up the MGs because I was going to mention that they would have been my hands down winner had they been allowed to enter the tournament.

    Despite the very convincing arguments from the pro-JB camp, I’m going with the Attractions. The JBs do one thing better than anybody. The Attractions do a lot of things better than most people.

  11. Happiness Stan

    Curiously enough, Get Happy is, and always was, my least favourite of their albums – I’ve not listened to any of them in a long time, but Armed Forces would be the one record which would sway my vote – which I’ve not yet cast on the grounds that the Attractions don’t convince me most of the time, while the JBs interest me not at all.

    It seems a bit hypocritical to cast a vote which will mean nothing to me either way when there are good townsfolk here who have an emotional investment in the result and with only one vote in it at the moment, a single vote could make a conclusive difference to the final result.

  12. I would never advocate this for one of my fellow countrymen, but in your case may I recommend you cast a vote in support of your homeland?

  13. alexmagic

    The JBs, on the other hand, although fantastic “athletes” in their own right, are more one-dimensional and all about POWER.

    I’m hearing about a lot of “When did Jimmy the Greek joing the Hall?” chatter, but I’ve assured them you’re A-OK, Mod.

    What makes for a “bad” James Brown song during that period?

    There are none!

    The sports metaphors are probably just for me and you, Mod, but who cares about the rest of these clowns, anyway? I said it before and I’ll say it again: The JBs are simultaneously the 1927 New York Yankees and the Spanish Armada of Popular Music.

    I think there’s something to be said for the idea that James Brown’s material takes a massive nosedive once the JBs start to break apart and find work elsewhere in the second half of the ’70s. We had a thread some time ago about which musician had the longest unbroken streak of being cool, and if I remember right, The Godfather’s streak of coolness matched up pretty well with Fred Wesley and company showing up and taking their final leave, which should indicate that the role the JBs played in keeping their boss on the righ path has probably long been undervalued.

  14. Happiness Stan

    I will ponder on this as I continue to wrestle with my piece on the Eurovision Song Contest…

  15. alexmagic

    Allow me to counter the Mod’s recommendation. Voting for the Attractions over the JBs would actually be counterintuitive from a national pride perspective. The sun never sets on the British Empire, you know?

  16. Yo, no Jimmy the Greek out-of-touch racist stuff was intended there! The quotes around athletes were used to help those lacking sports-rock capabilities to prepare for the fact that I was making a leap in comparing musicians to athletes. Who among us is fluent in sports-rock perspectives beside us: andyr, mockcarr, machinery, maybe misterioso… geo can surprise me now and then. In fact, as he contemplates his decision it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s swayed by my “5-tool” player analogy. I bet he was a big Fred Lynn fan.

    (As an aside, there have been pressures from forces above to turn Rock Town Hall into a sports-rock format. We need to discuss this offlist.)

    Anyhow, they’re all athletes, the JBs and the Attractions. And in case anyone’s really misreading me I am making no suggestions regarding either band’s “natural ability.”

  17. Happiness Stan

    I’m getting drawn into this despite determining not to – it’s apples and pears.

    As the contest draws to its conclusion I cling firmly to the opinion that the Wailers would have done a much better version of Watching The Detectives than the Attractions (the versions they played on), that the JBs would have kicked the Attractions butts out of the park on Pump It Up, and that the Attractions simply wouldn’t have run away whimpering if presented with Stir It Up or any of James Brown’s hits – and my perception is coloured further with my dislike of the personalities of both Costello and Brown. Despite that I’m being ever so slightly swayed towards the Attractions by the arguments presented here.

    It would be a gross miscarriage of justice if the contest was decided on a single vote cast half-heartedly on a whim, so I’m still inclined to abstain.

  18. Happiness Stan

    that should have read “would” rather than “wouldn’t”

  19. tonyola

    Something I learned here recently – the drums and bass on “Watching the Detectives” were by members of Graham Parker’s The Rumour band. The only thing played by an Attraction was the organ part.

  20. alexmagic

    Don’t worry, Mod, I defended you to the press.

    (As an aside, there have been pressures from forces above to turn Rock Town Hall into a sports-rock format. We need to discuss this offlist.)

    I hope this doesn’t mean Howard Eskin is joining you in the booth for the Saturday Night Shut-In going forward. A return of the RTH Fantasy Rock League would be welcome, though.

  21. Happiness Stan

    They played it live, though, and mimed to it on telly all over the world…

  22. For our new desired demographic the suits want Spike Eskin.

  23. machinery

    CDM just took the words right outta my mouth. The JBs are Ryan Howard, big strong and able to deliver in the clutch. They swing the bat well and work up a healthy sweat. But The Attractions are more Utley. He can get it out of the yard, play the field, run the bases … and to mr mod’s talking shop … eagerly watch a lot of film to perfect his approach. (oh, and no racist analogy intended here.)

    I feel that the JBs were more similar to the Wailers. Both were amazing … but both did one thing really well. The Attractions never met a style they couldn’t hit outta the park.

    And any band that needs 8 guys … well in this match-up, that’s about 5 guys too many.

  24. The argument that it’s difficult to distinguish the quality of a James Brown song argues more against the Attractions than for them. The Attractions sometimes rescued a bum Costello song; you can’t even judge the quality of a James Brown song because the band IS the song!

  25. bostonhistorian

    The MGs smoke both bands. That being said, I’m holding my vote until Sunday, March 18, at 11:58 pm EST.

  26. BigSteve

    I’ve said all along that the Attractions would win this one. The small self-contained rock band is every year’s model for most of the regular Townspersons, who also tend to be much more familiar with the Attractions oeuvre. It’s obvious from the claims that the JB’s only do one thing that people are mostly only familiar with some of the hits. I love the Attractions, but in terms of general musicianship they’re just not in the same league as the JB’s.

  27. Or the Texas Playboys.

  28. REMINDER: This tournament is being conducted to determine rock’s greatest backing band, not it’s most musically skilled collection of backing musicians. I know this is what’s driving those of you who wanted the World’s Most Dangerous Band included absolutely bonkers.

    By the way, have you checked the voting so far? The JBs have the lead as I type.

    Most importantly, as I jest with you, can you point to a James Brown song or two from that period that’s significantly different from the song people like me have in mind? I’ve got the 3-CD collection Star Time, covering that era, right? Have I been skipping all the vastly different songs all these years? I also have Live at the Apollo, with an earlier set of musicians and clearly different types of songs, some King 45s from my uncle, and boyhood memories of listening to Hell (post-JBs, or at least late-period) and one of his instrumental organ-combo albums on 8-track in my uncle’s room. Maybe that cool organ-driven album was with the JBs, in which case I grant the band a more diverse set of songs than I typically associate with them.

  29. BigSteve

    Hip-O-Select has been issuing sets of James Brown Singles, double CDs for every couple of years. They’re up top ten or twelve now. Brown recorded dozens of tracks every year. He and his band recorded standards, blues, jazz, pop, everything you can imagine. These sets are really astounding.

    There are also several volumes of ‘James Brown’s Funky People’ that I highly recommend. The band was so productive that various backup singers put out records, as well as Maceo and Fred leading various versions of the band in instrumental tracks.

    Just to pick a track people might know, It’s a Man’s World stands out as different from the funk and R&B he’s famous for. And yeah the organ-driven stuff is cool.

  30. I’ll check out some more of what you suggest. I associate “It’s a Man’s World” with his earlier band, but it would be cool to hear stuff like that with the later band that’s in the finals. Thanks.

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