My Top Ten – Funk

Four to the Floor ! The beat that makes it impossible not to move, or groove. Funk is everywhere. It powers the classic 70s disco sounds, it infiltrates rock, rap is built on samples from the funk. But sometimes a song just fits the bill as FUNK. My selection is far from definitive – I’m no expert on the infinite and obscure sounds that a true funkateer could guide you through. But each of the songs in my Ten has an irresistible drum and bass beat, and a guitar that either glides or punches over the beat. The vibe is usually celebratory. The sound of funk is the sound of enjoyment, dance, losing yourself in the music.

Let us proceed. Click on the titles to hear the songs. and you can continue reading as they are on a separate window.

10. The Message by Cymande

I know nothing about Cymande, other than I first heard this track on an RCA compilation called “Rare” in the eighties. There were a few in the series featuring what was called rare groove. Basically, the tracks were funk grooves that only the aficionados had ever heard of.  The great thing about these compilations was that people like me got to hear the tunes as well. The top British reggae band Aswad covered this song too, on their best selling album “Distant Thunder” in 1988.  In fact I may have heard it there first without realising its origins.

9. I Need It by Johnny Guitar Watson

This a lovely soulful funk thang that came out in 1976 when my musical choices were mostly rock and metal, with punk approaching.  But I heard this on the radio and loved it, and always have, since.  Maybe it’s the twang of Johnny’s voice and his guitar.  They work in unison. Or maybe it’s just the lilting funk groove. Whatever the reason this is a moment of pure funk for me.

8. Hook and Sling by Eddie Bo

Eddie Bo is/was a blues, soul, jazz and funk man from New Orleans who began recording in the mid-fifties.  This track dates from 1969 and I picked it up from another rare groove compilation, this time put together by the Streetsounds record label. A very fine label indeed. The compilation came out in 1988, and had a great picture of some feisty New York girls in their platform shoes on the front. I’m assuming it’s New York, it could be any city. ‘Hook and Sling” is a bouncy, elastic soul-funk thing, with a really catchy guitar motif.  It doesn’t really go anywhere – it just works out. It’s all in the beat.

7. That Lady, Pts. 1 & 2 by The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers were part of the Motown scene pretty much from the start. “This Old Heart Of Mine”, for example. But in the early seventies they played to a different groove.  Fluid beats with intricate rock guitars overlaid.  Still pure soul, but funky and rocking too. “That Lady” – here in its longer version – is a classic of the genre.

6. Family Affair by Sly and the Family Stone

This is soul-hippy-chilled out funk, with an edge, from 1971. Integral to the times, but apart from the mainstream too, with the mellow sound and the biting lyrics rubbing against each other. Sly and the Family Stone made some dance classics in the late sixties, like “Dance To The Music”. They were multi-racial (which was statement in late sixties America) and multi-talented. The album, “There’s A Riot Going On” represented a darker turn in their sound and “Family Affair” was the centrepiece. It made No1 in the US singles charts. You can still feel the subdued power in this song. And the funk.

5.  Fame, by David Bowie 

One of the key tracks on Bowie’s Philly soul album, “Young Americans” from 1974. An amazing turn of events after the sci-fi-glam-rock’n’roll of “Aladdin Sane” and “Diamond Dogs”. But that was Bowie in the seventies – always ahead of the game, ready with another musical twist. ‘Fame” was pared-down, hard-edged funk, a jarring note amongst the lusher sounds of the album.  John Lennon on supporting vocals. The essence.

4. Get Up (IFeel Like Being A) Sex Machine by James Brown

The Godfather of funk with his greatest song. Pure, unadulterated funk. Nothing else to say except… take it to the bridge!

3. Que Pasa/ Me No Pop I by Coati Mundi

And featuring Augustus Darnell, lead man from King Creole and the Coconuts, I’m sure of that. This is a great song, which I loved from the moment I first heard it.  It was on a compilation called “Mutant Disco”, from 1981. It starts with an easy Latin beat – the “Que Pasa” bit – before it morphs into a slice of vicious funk, with vicious lyrics to match.

When I came from the VD clinic, I thought our love was finished…

It’s cartoon stuff, really.  Funny, memorable too. And that slicing guitar on repeat. The definition of funk.

2. Love Will Bring Us Back Together  by Roy Ayers

Jazz-funk is the mellow, grown-up sibling of funk. With tendencies to the middle of the road, and blandness.  White socks in surburban discos, eighties style.  Not anything wrong with that, but deemed a little uncool by some. A lot of the tunes that were big in that early eighties period, when white kids went large on dance music, were from the seventies. Roy Ayers was a good example.  I first came across “Love Will Bring Us Back Together” on one of the CD compilations called “Mastercuts”. There was a jazz-funk series amongst others.  So many treasures, but this one stood out.  The appeal is so simple.  It’s an uplifting, jazzy-funky, upbeat rhythm. The Clavier going a bit crazy (in a mild jazzy way). You cannot fail to smile, or want to dance to this.  It is the shimmering sound of summer. Love it!

1. One Nation Under A Groove by Funkadelic

This is the funk call-to-arms. A total anthem. Part of the wacky seventies arm of funk – psychedelic, rock-infused, downright weird.  As personified by George Clinton and the raft of bands with which he was associated: Parliament, Funkadelic and others.  I caught up with some of the albums in the eighties and found whole pieces hard going, meandering, self-indulgent.  But with “One Nation”, Funkadelic hit the button. A taut drum and bass beat, some classic clipped guitar, some otherwordly sounds in the background, and, above all, that refrain:

One nation under a groove…

The Funk Nation.

Near Misses

So many. Prince and Stevie Wonder could fill a ten between them. The Rare Groove compilations revealed so many great songs. “Express Yourself” by Charles Wright and The Watts 103rd Rhythm Street Band, recently sampled by Labrinth. “Sock It To’Em Soul Brother” by Bill Moss. “Actions Speak Louder Than Words” by Chocolate Milk. The dark, rumbling jazz funk of ‘If You’ve Got You’ll Get It’ by the Headhunters. And then the twelve inch singles I picked up in the late eighties, maybe nineties. “The Joneses” by the Temptations (who wants to be like…), “Funky Like A Train” by The Equals, “Cross The Tracks” by Maceo and the Macks.  And well, what about Earth ,Wind and Fire, Kool and The Gang, the Average White Brothers with “Pick Up The Pieces”? The list is endless. My Top Ten is just the creme de la funky creme.

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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6 Responses to My Top Ten – Funk

  1. Great choices. The first one was new to me. Loved it!

  2. Lulu says:

    Great, I REALLY have to listen to this, I don’t now a thing about funk music, thx!

  3. DyingNote says:

    How did I miss this one??? Super selection, John! Of George Clinton’s 2 best-known bands (not sure if the man was involved with others), I prefer Funkadelic to Parliament. So much more unpredictable and surprising. Apart from the funk and groove, I love Edie Hazell’s guitaring particularly on Maggot Brain

  4. John S says:

    Thanks! I think the shows they used to put on were amazing too, vaguely recalling reviews in the past.

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