Who's the most influential musician of the 20th century? It's gotta be one of the more popular barroom debates that doesn't involve sports.
After knocking back a half-dozen beers (or more), introduction of this issue will always induce a motley crew of C-Town drunkards to spit names back and forth, including all the usual suspects: the Boss, Jimi, the King, the Beatles, the Chairman of the Board, Robert Johnson, Zep, the Stones.
Maybe some joker will make a play for the Lizard King, or better yet, Joe Walsh. And then there's the winetaster: He ain't one of the bar's regulars, but he dives in nonetheless, namedropping Bird, Trane, or Miles. Captain Merlot has a valid point (especially with Miles). But, c'mon, this is the Westside. Save it for your pals at the winery.
One name that doesn't get tossed around enough is James Brown. He basically invented funk, soul, and modern R&B. But lets look at this argument from a global perspective (sorry, I'm beginning to sound like that winetaster). In the late-'60s, Brown created a brand new song structure. Crank Sex Machine and Love Power Peace.
Dissolving European-derived melody and harmony, as well as the verse-chorus-verse format, the JBs began playing extended, open-ended grooves, wherein every musician contributes to the overall rhythm — a dance track, basically. This structure would go on to form the basis of dub/reggae, disco, hip-hop, techno, house, jungle, trance, crunk, ragga, reggaet�n, etc., etc., etc.
For better or worse, modern dance music dominates the planet, and Brown is the godfather from which it all springs.
Of course, outside of token comments about inventing funk and soul, Brown's professional and artistic accomplishments have gone largely unnoticed by mainstream American media. In fact, since his death early Christmas morning, a large chunk of news coverage has been devoted to Brown's personal problems. If it had been Dylan or McCartney going down instead of Brown, fans would be treated to days, weeks, maybe even months of prime television time devoted to these artists' cultural significance.
Since this ain't gonna be the case with Brown, here's a showcase of the Godfather of Soul:
"I Feel Good"
"Super Bad" featuring some wild dance moves.
-- Justin Farrar