The Amazing Mr. 'Please, Please, Please' Himself: James Brown With a new biopic in theaters this weekend,'s Eugene S. Robinson revisits one of the greatest routines of the "Godfather of Soul."

The Amazing Mr. 'Please, Please, Please' Himself: James Brown

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There's a new James Brown biopic out, "Get On Up." But arguably, the greatest James Brown video is his real performance at the 1964 TAMI Awards, a predecessor of today's Teen Choice Awards, and everyone was anyone was there.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We'd like to start it off tonight with a fantastic act. The guy who started it all back 1958 - Chuck Berry. The fantastic miracle - the dynamic Marvin Gaye.


LESLEY GORE: (Singing) It's my party and I'll cry if I want to.


BEACH BOYS: (Singing) Surfin USA.


THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) Time is on my side.

WESTERVELT: Huge act after huge act. The last band to play that night in '64 was a popular new group, The Rolling Stones. But not before the Godfather of Soul stole the whole show.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: James Brown and his Famous Flames.

WESTERVELT: Eugene Robinson writes about what happened next in his latest article for the online magazine OZY.

Eugene, hello.

EUGENE ROBINSON: Hey, how are you?

WESTERVELT: So set the scene for us here. I mean, you write when giants get together, things are bound to roil under the surface. Roiling this night in 1964 -James Brown doesn't open for anyone, let alone some kids from England, right?

ROBINSON: Yeah. It's just great to imagine, you know, that conversation where the producer of the show cajoled them into saying look, it'll be great. The kids come for The Rolling Stones. They know them. You know, James, this will be good for you. And you can just kind of feel James go I'll show you who it'll be good for.



ROBINSON: It'll be good for James Brown, that's who it'll be good for. It - really, really major miscalculations, up there with General George Custer, you know.


JAMES BROWN: (Singing) Please, please don't go.

WESTERVELT: So Brown's second song that night his big hit at that time, "Please, Please, Please." The video of this is nuts, you know. He goes wild. The crowd's losing it all because of the cape routine. Describe what's happening on stage, Eugene.

ROBINSON: James would drop to his knees in the middle of "Please, Please, Please." One of the Famous Flames would kind of come and pat him on the back to see if he was OK, help him to his feet, put the cape over his shoulders. James would take a couple steps, shuck the cape off, make the break back to the mic, finish, drop again. And it would repeat this thing like two or three times. And at one point during like the apex of it, he's repeating one word for about five measures - just I, I, I.


BROWN: (Singing) I, I, I, I, I.

ROBINSON: And the cape is - I mean, it's electrifying from every single vantage point. It's a really phenomenal performance. You need to see this.

WESTERVELT: And by the end of this, Brown can barely walk. He's danced so hard. The crowd is going hysterical. And, you know, The Rolling Stones have to follow this. I can almost see a young, you know, Mick and Keith standing in the wings just looking at each other and saying man, how do we follow that?

ROBINSON: Well, Keith Richards himself has gone on record as having said that this was the worst career mistake he had ever made. Mick and Keith they look shell-shocked. Shell-shocked. (Laughing) You know. I mean, could you imagine standing back there in the wings and watching James Brown drop to his knees three or four times during "Please, Please, Please." I mean, it's electrifying to watch now. And I can't imagine having been there. I'd have lost my mind, most assuredly.

WESTERVELT: Eugene Robinson of the online magazine OZY remembering James Brown's legendary performance at the 1964 TAMI awards ceremony. The new biopic about the singer's life is called "Get On Up." It's out this weekend. Eugene, thank you.

ROBINSON: Hey, thank you.


JAMES BROWN AND THE FAMOUS FLAMES: (Singing) Please, please, please, please. Please, please, don't go. Please.

WESTERVELT: James Brown was one of many pop and soul singers who came out of the gospel tradition. In the next part of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we'll introduce you to another one.

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