Happy 40th Anniversary to Rick James’ debut studio album ‘Come Get It!,’ originally released April 20, 1978
When Rick James signed with Motown Records in March 1978, the singer, songwriter, producer and musician introduced a new energy and flair unlike anything the iconic record label had cultivated until that point in its storied history. Upon the boisterous, flamboyant Buffalo, NY native releasing his debut LP Come Get It! with his accompanying Stone City Band in April of 1978, it quickly became the boost the hit factory founded by Berry Gordy, Jr. needed to update its sound and keep the lights on.
Released under Motown’s subsidiary, Gordy, Come Get It! was the formal introduction James needed after a few failed attempts of landing his big break. The funkateer born James Ambrose Johnson had a brief stint in the mid-1960s with the Mynah Birds, a Toronto-based band shelved by Motown that featured Neil Young and Bruce Palmer, who later formed Buffalo Springfield. Another of James’s subsequent bands, White Cane, was dropped by MGM following the release of their only album. James netted a solo deal with A&M in 1974, but even that deal went sour after two modest singles.
A (successful) recording career seemed far-fetched for James, but he never lost his focus. He self-funded recording sessions at jazz fusion band Spyro Gyra’s farm-based studio in Buffalo. Inspired by the African Diaspora, James adopted his well-parted, shoulder-length extensions from his admiration of Masai warriors. His opulent jumpsuits and flaring, knee-high boots were an ode to the theatrics of stadium rock bands.
The “King of Punk Funk” handpicked and assembled an ensemble of musicians—the Stone City Band—to round out his groove in the studio and on tour. James, then 30, handpicked Art Stewart, the low-key producer and engineer responsible for Marvin Gaye’s No. 1 smash “Got to Give It Up (Pt. I)” the previous year, to handle Come Get It!’s co-production. From there, it was all systems go for James.
The album’s opening, Parliament Funkadelic-flavored track “Stone City Band, Hi!,” and its closing reprise “Stone City Band, Bye!” signaled James’ knack for crafting tight arrangements, crisp, explosive horn blares and blistering funk. “You and I,” the album’s debut single written for James’ then wife, Kelly, opens as a conga-drenched disco number with operatic, Lou Reed “Walk on the Wild Side”-brushed background vamps before it completely dissolves into a hip-swinging groove backing James’s baritone croons and nasally wails for the remaining seven-and-a-half minutes.
The suggestive “Sexy Lady” borrows slick, Stax Records-era rhythm guitars, a big band rhythm section, ragtime pianos and pulsating drums behind James metaphorically expressing his affinity for cocaine. Come Get It!’s uptempo pace slows down with the doo-wop-smothered ballad “Dream Maker,” but immediately keeps the party going on the Latin-flavored “Be My Lady.”
One of James’ signature tunes, “Mary Jane” is his breezy homage to potent marijuana sonically expressed through airy flutes, a romantic string section and pungent Fender bass thrums before it leaps into scratchy reggae vibes. Also fading out with a swaying reggae beat, the album’s closer “Hollywood” is an open letter addressed to James’ mother, alerting her of his ambitions of fame and fortune.
The resilience and clarity in the music on offer here paid off dividends for James. Come Get It! was certified double platinum, the first of James’s streak of commercially successful releases under Motown for the next several years. The album was also a launching pad for James’ prolific artistic ambitions, allowing him to contribute to projects for the late Teena Marie, The Mary Jane Girls, and his own Stone City Band.
Of course, James continues to be memorialized often for his highly publicized drug and sexual indulgences, along with the memorable Chappelle’s Show comedy sketch. But his provocative public persona aside, Come Get It! signaled the arrival of James onto the music scene as one of funk music’s most inventive and successful talents.