New York’s No Wave scene of the late ’70s is often portrayed as a lot of atonal and un-funky noise buggery, typified by such bands as Mars, DNA, and Teenage Jesus & The Jerks (all admittedly terrific atonal and un-funky noise buggers). Yet, there was one lily white James Brown wannabe who danced through the puddles of piss and waves of feedback to bring the unsmiling art types a bit of groove: James Chance (a.k.a. James White). Certainly, this was still not quite as accessible as the Talking Heads’ parallel forays into funk, but The Contortions’ music helped to bridge the aural divide between the two Eno-approved camps. It should be noted that Chance was a bit more confrontational than David Byrne. It’s hard to imagine Byrne physically challenging Robert Christgau during a concert.
Of course, as much as I dig The Contortions, it would be pretty foolish to pretend that their version is better than James Browns’ original. It’s not quite a fair fight. So here is the mustachioed(!) sex machine performing a medley of his hits (including “I Can’t Stand Myself) on a 1974 episode of “Midnight Special”:
And, of course, here’s Eddie Murphy: