Modern dance songs have their place as feel-good tracks, but when you truly want to get your groove on, you turn back to the oldies. And when it comes to songs that can make you dance along – or at least get your feet tapping – “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” will definitely top the playlist. This funky track is performed by James Brown, and was accompanied by his band, the Famous Flames. Brown started off his music career as a gospel singer and then R&B ballads, but in the 1960s decided to change things up and get funky. And the result? That’s what “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” is all about.
James Brown released “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” in June 1965, and it was recorded in one take. It is with this single that Brown’s distinctive style of funk began to emerge – this song is all about how proudly he declared it to the world. Through experimenting, Brown finally settled on the winning formula, inventing the defining feature of funk music – shifting the emphasis to the first beat – what is now known as ‘on the one’. Saxophonist Maceo Parker who accompanied Brown on the original track remarked on why it was an instant hit on the dance floors;
“It was a little bit more simple. And the simpler the music is, the rhythms are the changes; the more people can hear it, the more people can understand it and the more people can like it, because it’s not difficult. It’s not intricate. Da, da, da-da-da-da. Da din na, da, da, da-da-da-da. I mean, it’s simple, but it’s groovy.”
This is the key to the success of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”! When Brown explored this new genre, the only rule he followed was to create something that felt good and comfortable to dance to.
Despite its novelty, or perhaps because of it, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” won many honours on its release. Peaking at #8, it was the first James Brown song to reach the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 while also reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The single was inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and is listed at #34 on Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
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James Brown “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” Lyrics Review and Song Meaning
“He ain’t too hip
About that new breed thing”
The lyrics and the meaning of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” is as uncomplicated as it gets. The challenge is to wade through all of the slang, but that is most certainly a part of the song’s charm. The song is an invitation to one and all to see how this old man learned a new trick. Brown calls everyone to the floor with the opening lines inviting them to observe this new type of music and dance along. We can imagine an old man, referred to affectionately as ‘Papa’ or James Brown himself, trying out this new genre. Brown acknowledges that he’s not giving them something that’s ‘hip’ but rather his own take on what’s funky.
“He ain’t no drag
Papa’s got a brand new bag”
This two-liner says it all! Brown is about innovation and he boldly claims that he’s moving on from what he was known for – from ballads to dance. He’s developed a taste for something new and has no intention of being a ‘drag’ that’s stuck on the same old thing. Brown has reinvented himself as a musician with a brand new bag, which is slang for saying that he’s now driven by something new and different – funk music and getting his groove on.
“He’s not too fancy
But his line is pretty clean”
It wasn’t like that Brown was completely unaware of the fact that he was spearheading a massive change. In fact, he called this brand of music a bit ‘crazy’. Then again, Brown was not blind to the fact that he was taking a risk with his career. Mixing up a bit of humbleness, he claimed that this new genre of music is nothing too fancy or outrageous. But he also insisted that this new style was flawless and ideal to take a turn on the dance floor.
“He’s doing The Monkey, The Mashed Potatoes
Jump back Jack, see you later, alligator”
Being a dancer at heart, Brown probably couldn’t resist listing out dance moves on the bridge. In fact, he probably took the time to demonstrate a couple of dance moves he mentions while singing “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” on stage. In between the moves, Brown claims that just because he is an old man trying out new things, don’t think that people can play him for a fool. Brown had confidence in funk music becoming popular and was clearly heralding the change with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”. In fact, calling out ‘see you later’, could be considered as Brown bidding R&B ballads farewell as he embraces the funk whole-heartedly. This is one of his most admirable qualities as a musician; you can’t help but respect someone like Brown that decided to do a complete 180 and didn’t shy away from change.
“He’s doing The Fly every day and every night
The thing, like The Boomerang”
The bridge repeats for a second time with more dance moves piled up. This I believe is an insight into James Brown the dancer – who wanted to groove to this funky track all day and night. It clearly didn’t satisfy Brown to just tamper with the beat and rhythm of ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”. He also ditched the usual song structure and decided to go for a catchier, start-stop arrangement of lyrics. Yet we can only agree that the result was a masterpiece.
Brown’s legacy began with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and continued on to other classics like “I Got You (Feel Good)”. This influential song became the starting point for funk music – a simple but groovy genre just like Brown established. While James Brown eventually moved on to be called the ‘Godfather of Soul’, it is undeniable that “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” was one of the most influential songs of the 1960s that defined funk music as we know it.
Let us hear what you think about this song in the comments below. What are your fond/funky memories of this? Check out the complete lyrics on Genius.