iTunes Diaries, entry #2: “James Brown is Dead” by Void

I was once a little…um, okay, terribly obsessed with iTunes.  I got my first iPod in 2004 and became immediately entranced by Apple’s seeming infinite lists of music for sale.  Over the years, I spent way too much time on iTunes and spent way too much money on music, some of which was great, and some of which was not.  In 2011, for the sake of my sanity and my bank account, I went cold turkey.  I suspended my iTunes activities and completely stopped visiting site.  With the iTunes Diaries, I take a look back, highlighting the good, the bad, and the ugly in music that I just had to have in the moment. 

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The iTunes of yesterday wasn’t the iTunes we know today.  When I first started using the site, lots of songs weren’t available.  So back in 2006, when I was looking to create a dance/techno playlist, something that harkened back to my dance hall days, I had to improvise.

See, long time ago, I really enjoyed me a good dance song. It kinda started when fun albeit goofy dance/pop/R&B songs filtered into 1990s Top 40 radio by groups like Technotronic, C+C Music Factory, and the Quad City DJ’s. The songs weren’t really good, but they were catchy and served as good pick-me-ups on down days.  So when the first  Jock Jams compilation album was released in 1995, I had to have a copy.  And then I had to have Volumes 2 and 3 as well. Let me tell you, I nearly wore those tapes out.

But beyond just being something to fill the musical space between my ears, those tapes led to a deeper exploration of dance and electronic music, which is what lead to me to “James Brown is Dead” – a seminal house/techno hit from 1991 by L. A. Style.  Here’s the original version (please don’t click the link if you are prone to seizures):

From YouTube user KrisstianoX TM.

Granted, techno’s not for everyone — and holy crap, did that video have all the fog ever, or what? — but it was (and still is) for me.  So when I went to create that dance playlist, I knew it wouldn’t be complete without JBiD.  BUT…back then, the original version was nowhere to be found on iTunes.  However, there were plenty of knock-offs by groups that I’d never heard of, Void being one of them. I listened to all the 30-second snippets of the JBiD versions and decided, despite a few bad reviews, that the Void version was good enough.

But wait, you say!  What about the YouTube?  Why didn’t I just go there to listen to the song first?  Well, YouTube wasn’t really on my radar back then – it was just some newish video logger where people uploaded home movies, backyard wrestling videos, and porn. It never really occurred to me to do any searching on Void, and I figured going with their version was a decent 99 cent risk.

And OMFG, I was soooo wrong.  Here’s Void’s “James Brown is Dead.”

From YouTube user psykotikfull.

Listening to Void’s JBiD now makes me want to punch things and yell obscenities at invisible nothings.  In my mind, it’s just so bad.  If you listen to the video, the 0:51 mark makes me throw up a little in my mouth — when the levels drop to the possibly the most incipient bass line ever created in the history of bass lines.  There’s nothing behind it, no real momentum, no driving force.  The song never really gains any traction.  And the thing is, they sped up the original! How they managed to speed up a song, yet bring it down to the level of terrible industrial what-the-fuck is just beyond me.  Void really did kill James Brown with their version.

Granted, the original song is repetitive and the pop rap leaves a bit to be desired, but it maintains its initial kick that makes you just want to get up and move.  And even though it was almost a decade old by the time I really hit the clubs, any good DJ managed to turn it into something new, something fresh, and something very danceable.  Void’s JBiD does none of those things.

“James Brown is Dead” by the Void is still on my iPod. As much as I hate it, I keep it as a reminder of the whole “buyer beware” thing; and it’s also prevented me from spending my hard-earned pennies on other questionable songs.  It also reminds me of that all-consuming desire I once had to spend all my money on music.  Yeah, it’s good to be sober and 99 cents poorer because of it.

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