James, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., is best known for “Super Freak,” a taut, sexually charged dance number that broke into the national Top 20 in 1981.
The L.A Times: 08/03/91
Rick James Super Freak – where the hell do you start with something like this? where the hell do you start with someone like this?
The fact that US Navy deserter James Ambrose Johnson Jr started out making music with Neil Young in Toronto? That this track links me straight in to one of my favourite film scenes ever*? That the review quoted above was from the crime pages of the L.A Times just before James was sent to (the Cash-tastic) Folsom State Prison for 3 years? That this was a man invited to that fateful party at Sharon Tate’s house but was too hungover to go? That after a few seconds of the intro I want to shout ‘Can’t touch this!’ loudly before dancing like I’m trying to dislodge a recalcitrant turd from my tightly-clenched nipsy?
Maybe all of this.
Super Freak spurted into the world during James’ 1981 writing sessions for his Street Songs LP, the man was underwhelmed by it after his lyrics had been toned down enough so it could be released but legend has it wanted something on the album ‘that white folks could dance to’. We did; quite badly but in large numbers, I suspect.
I will defer to the crime reporters on the L.A Times** Super Freak is indeed a taut, sexually charged dance number. James whines, preens and cajoodles all his lines, adding strange curlicues and italics anywhere he chooses; the overall vocal effect being that of a spandex clad high school janitor pleasuring himself in the boiler room at lunchtime^. Perfection doesn’t really begin to cover it, strictly in this context.
The 12″ delivers a 7:05 and a 3:18 ‘Super Freak (Pt. 1)’ and when you’re dealing with this level of hedonistic excess more is definitely, umm, more. The 12″ version makes more of the sax solo by Daniel LeMelle and is liberally drizzled with, what sounds to my expert ears like, keytar.
I find Super Freak just utterly and totally irresistible, maybe because I added it to my collection on the surely mystic date of 20/02/02, which is sort of, but not quite the same backwards as forwards-ish. It is a fabulous ass-mover of a song and just defies all common sense, logic and context.
Which is lucky, given how damnably vile the behaviour was which got him a, seemingly very lenient, sentence of just 3 years. Always a user and abuser, of drugs at least, James became a man who was just so far vanished into a crack habit that it just tipped him and his girlfriend over into (im)pure amorality.
Which isn’t to say I’m incapable of divorcing the man from his music, in an admittedly very self-serving manner, so I can still enjoy it to the max. Hypocritical maybe, but I do need Super Freak in my life.
That’s my outfit for the office Christmas party sorted then.
Canadian backing singer Taborah Johnson provides the much agonized over link between Rick James and both Care Bears and Star Wars: Ewoks. Rest easy cultural historians, I got your back.
968 (From her head) Down (to her toenails).
PS: Taken from James’ Wikipedia page:
On one of his first night in Los Angeles, James was crashing on musician Stephen Stills’ couch. When he awoke he saw a stoned young man sitting on the floor in the lotus position. The man’s wrists were bleeding so a scared James sought help. James was later formally introduced to the man who was Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors. After the Doors opened for Buffalo Springfield at the Whisky a Go-Go, Morrison tricked James into taking acid.
*Little Miss Sunshine, obvs.
**I always do on musical matters.
^oh, okay, ah maybe that’s just me then.