“Living in America” by James Brown is likely to be remembered for the role it played in “Rocky IV.” The song’s descriptions of America’s transportation systems seem like metaphors for America being a land of possibilities. The song contains updated elements of the horn-rich sound Brown was known for in the 1960s and 1970s. On Jan. 11. 1986, “Living in America” entered the charts. It would the soul superstar’s last top ten hit.
The popularity of “Rocky IV”
Because it was released in 1985 when there was measurable tension between the United States and the former Soviet Union, “Rocky IV’s” US vs. USSR theme appealed to moviegoers. The movie also continued the franchise’s Rocky-as-underdog theme. The title boxer seems always to be pitted against an opponent who is bigger and meaner than he is. The differences between Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone) and his Russian opponent seemed to represent the contrasts between the US and the former Soviet Union.
“Rocky IV” aside from the anti-Russian theme, was pretty much built the same as other Rocky movies, but there had to be a catch this time. “Rocky III” showed Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers) and Rocky Balboa pushing each other to train harder and using each other strengths to inspire the other. The footwork scene, in which Creed attempts to teach Balboa a little rhythm is kind of funny. The scene wherein the two boxers are running on the beach shows the friendly competition between the two men.
So, “Rocky IV” has to raise the stakes. Everything can’t be easy for Balboa. Otherwise, there is no tension. As a result, Creed fights the Russian boxer, Ivan Drago, played with steely aplomb by Dolph Lundgren. Creed is killed by one of the Soviet’s blows. But, before his demise, Creed walks to the ring as “Living in America” plays. It is a great cinematic moment. Creed in his patriotic-themed boxing trunks as a decidedly American song plays, sung by one of the Western world’s most distinctive voices. It is unclear what metaphor audiences are to make from Creed’s death.
“Living in America” by James Brown
During his career that began in the 1950s, Brown had more than 100 entries onto various charts starting in 1959. Before “Living in America,” Brown was last in the top ten with “Get Up Offa That Thing” in 1976. That song reached No. 4 on r&b charts.
“Living in America” entered the charts in January 1986, and reached No. 4 on US charts, but also reached No. 3 on dance charts and No. 10 on r&b charts. The song remained on the charts for 11 weeks.
Compared to some of Brown’s other hits, “Living in America” might have been less innovative. However, considering the elements that Brown introduced into soul music, the emphasis on the “one” beat, for example, and treating non-percussive instruments like drums, the sound of “Living in America” remains true to that.
“Living in America” serves its purpose well in “Rocky IV.” That it is probably the most memorable song in the later “Rocky” movies, is a testament to Brown’s approach to crafting a song.