Super highways coast to coast just easy to get anywhere
On the trans continental overload; just slide behind the wheel
How does it feel when there's no destination that's too far
And somewhere on the way you might find out who you are?
If those words don't sound familiar to you, that's understandable, as they were sung by James Brown who, much like our beloved heroes Ozzy and Keef, often needed subtitles to be fully understood.
That doesn't lessen his iconic greatness by any stretch. If anything, Brown's loose relationship with syllables emphasized the importance of feel above all else in R&B music, a fact that is not lost on those who sought to capitalize on Brown's considerable talents even as the man himself felt unjustly excluded from the disco boom of the late '70s.
The disco craze, of course, was driven by the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which set in motion the idea of motion picture soundtracks as a promotional tool for movies and, at the same time, an avenue for artists otherwise neglected by the industry to create sizable, often career-changing, hits for themselves outside the usual channels of securing a record deal and then going through the lengthy process of recording an album, releasing various singles, and hoping something sticks.
Get the right song into the right movie and one could easily resuscitate a stalled career.
Case in point, "Living In America", which returned the legendary R&B singer to the U.S. Top 10 for the first time since 1968's "Say It Loud - I'm Black And I'm Proud" and also won Brown a Grammy for Best Male R&B Performance.
The song was written and produced by Dan Hartman, whose own career had been ignited the year before by a Top 10 hit ("I Can Dream About You") from a movie soundtrack ("Streets of Fire"). Hartman, eager to be taken seriously as a producer, took on the unenviable task of reeling in an often unreliable Brown.
Keep in mind that others had attempted to resurrect James Brown's career to varying degrees of success; "Saturday Night Live" had featured Brown as a musical guest in 1980, Dan Aykroyd had personally requested Brown take part in sessions for the soundtrack to 1983's "Doctor Detroit".
Even Island's Chris Blackwell got in on the action, signing Brown to his label and putting him in the studio with reggae/dub production team Sly & Robbie on an ill-fated album that, at the very least, prepared the R&B veteran for the rigorous recording sessions of a major motion picture soundtrack.
Hartman, worried that Brown's vocal performance might need a little assistance, enlisted none other than Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar to ensure the track had the requisite power to draw a stellar performance from Brown.