The Popstream: James Brown's "Future Shock"


photo via Sir Mildred Pierce on flickr

I consider James Brown to be possibly the greatest performer in popular music history. He was a hell of a singer, a double-hell of a dancer, fronted some of the greatest bands around (especially the J.B.s, who did for rhythm what Bruce Lee did for beating people up), could captivate you just by yelling out random syllables (as Eddie Murphy memorably demonstrated in Delirious), and did the music world a double favor first by hiring Bootsy Collins, Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker to back him up, and then later by pissing them off enough to get them to quit and subsequently make P-Funk that much better. In 1964 he was in a concert that was captured on film as "The T.A.M.I. Show," went on second-to-last, burned the house down and terrified the living shit out of the band that had to try and follow his act. (That band? A very young ABBA The Rolling Stones.) He could do just about anything. Anything, that is, except a TV show.

Not that James Brown's Future Shock was a bad idea, especially for a localized show that was broadcast regionally on Atlanta's WTCG, the station that later became the Ted Turner-run behemoth that was early basic-cable juggernaut TBS. A dance show featuring James Brown? Shit, sign me up. It's just that there were a couple hitches: first off, this was the mid 1970s, when the Godfather was just starting to wane and was about to get superceded by the disco movement he laid the groundwork for, loathed, and eventually cashed in on. Plus, he had a mustache, of all things. A mustache. Second off, the reason Soul Train ran 35 years owes largely to the fact that it featured just about every big R&B superstar you can think of. Future Shock featured James Brown -- period. And though the James Brown catalog is gigantic and filled with dozens if not hundreds of amazing hits, the show seemed to stick largely to his mid '70s material, including the notorious David Bowie-Xeroxing "Hot (I Need to Be Loved, Loved, Loved)" and a whole bunch of "Body Heat". So Future Shock turned out to be a relatively short-lived program, and apparently it only lasted a few episodes. Still, it's far from awful television, especially considering what kind of Osmonds and Bradys and Shieldeses and Yarnellii got their own nationally-brodcast variety shows back then. And as much as some people clown this show -- google it, and odds are you'll find a page that uses the words "PCP" and/or "sweaty" to describe its host's condition -- you gotta admit this much: the dance competitions are absolutely astounding and jam-packed with some great proto-b-boy moves. I particularly like the dude who robot-dances with a duffel bag over his head. You'd think it'd be intimidating as hell to try and show off your dance moves in front of James Brown of all people, but apparently it brought out the best in some folks.

As a special bonus, here's a two-fer clip featuring a dance routine gone wrong and an ad for FUTURE SHOCK T-SHIRTS, which I desperately wish I owned.