Jimmy Castor’s death this week brought me back to the early days when hip hop first came to town. People breaking, popping and locking on street corners to that 808 sound, but also to old tunes that held great mystery to us kids. Later we would learn their names: “Apache,” “Dance to the Drummer’s Beat”, and “The Grunt” were among the perennials, as was — of course — “It’s Just Begun” with the Jimmy Castor Bunch (1972).
It’s an epic song, dropping you in media res. The groove seems like it was always there, and yet the refrain tells you that it’s just begun, again and again. Castor’s sax theme breaks it off and returns with variations throughout — I love how it swerves off into a long push at the end of each section, and how Castor mirrors it in his vocals “it just beguuuaaiinnn!” All the while the percussion builds through the song into that amazing cacophony at the end where it merges with Harry Jensen’s guitar to sound like something out the primordial mists.
Which was the intention — as opener to the album which carries its name, it introduces the notion of rhythm as an almost cthonic expression of our drives (informing that great, roughhousing lark “Troglodyte”, which follows it). The words appropriately describe man as “on the run” without knowing from what, “day or night/black or white”. And then comes that exhilarating bridge, build on that simple bass chord: “peace will come, the world will rest/once we have togetherness!” — it’s a rousing, empowering song with a political edge rooted in the troubled, disilliusioned decade in which originated.
Like any good dance tune, it moves you on a fundamental level, rocking you awake, not to sleep. A rightstarter at the beginnings of hip hop, promising a world to come.
The Rocksteady Crew in the movie Flashdance (1983).