“The Payback” is a funk song by James Brown, the title track from his 1973 album of the same name. The song’s lyrics, originally written by trombonist and bandleader Fred Wesley but heavily revised by Brown himself soon before it was recorded, concern the revenge he plans to take against a man who betrayed him. The song is notable for its spare, open arrangement and its use of wah-wah guitar – a relative rarity in Brown’s previous funk recordings. Released as a two-part single
(featuring a radio announcer at the beginning of part one) in February
1974, it was the first in an unbroken succession of three singles by
Brown to reach #1 on the R&B charts that year – the last chart-toppers of his career. It also peaked at number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was his second, and final, single to be certified gold by the RIAA.The song and the album of the same name were originally recorded by Brown as the accompanying soundtrack to the blaxploitation film Hell Up in Harlem, but was rejected by the movie’s producers as “the same old James Brown stuff.“An incensed Brown decided to release the album and let it stand on its
own merits. The subsequent soundtrack was then recorded by Motown Records artist Edwin Starr.