Monday, September 24, 2007

Funk is a Many Splendored Thing

Although the idea for our Funk section was not to provide a single definition of Funk, if you're going to discuss an aesthetic, it's important to have the proper points of reference. With that in mind, I started thinking about what I would describe as Funk's primary texts. This actually took a lot longer than I thought it would (and I ended up not including some important stuff, forgive me Rick James!) but here's what I came up with, after the jump.

1. "Make it Funky" by James Brown – Could be considered a primary text of Funk, from the High Priest of Funk, Soul Brother #1, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Star Time, The Godfather, James Brown. Listen for the last part of the song where JB basically reads a soul food menu and makes it sound like poetry. James, you had me at neck bones.

2. "Zinabu" by Bunzu Sounds—Part of the African Funk movement of the late Seventies. This song is featured on an album called World Psychedelic Classics. Great album, btw.

3. "Freddie’s Dead" by Curtis Mayfield—That’s what I said! This was part of the classic Superfly soundtrack. Curtis Mayfield is one of the greats. His voice is both angelic and rough. The guitar riff is classic and the way he arranges so many elements (listen to the harp!) in this piece is incredible.

4. "Nutbush City Limits" by Ike & Tina Turner—I know we’ve all seen the movie, but if you’re not up on Ike & Tina’s music, you only know half of this story. Tina is one of the funkiest women to ever grace the stage and Ike is boss on guitar.

5. "Dance to the Music" by Sly & the Family Stone—Sly was a master of bringing Funk to the mainstream without losing his focus on The One. Genius.

6. "Doin’ It to Death" by Fred Wesley & the JBs—Although James Brown does vocals on this track, Fred Wesley, one of the pioneers of funky horns (he worked with Ike & Tina, too) steps forward to deliver a dynamite solo. After helping JB develop his funky formula, Wesley (and Bootsy Collins and Maceo Parker) joined George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic movement.

7. "Up for the Down Stroke" by Parliament—George Clinton at his best. Funkier than a miskeeter's tweeter.

8. "One Nation Under a Groove" by Funkadelic--Getting down, just for the Funk of it.

9. "Lady Marmalade' by LaBelle—Probably one of the funkiest all-female groups ever, LaBelle consisted of Patti LaBelle (That’s not her real name, by the way. It’s Patricia Holt), Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash. They used to be a quartet, but Cindy Birdsong left to join the Supremes (if you’ve seen Dreamgirls you know all about it.) Anyway, Patti is amazing and this song is sooo Funky.

10. "Mama Feelgood" by Lyn Collins & The J.B.s—Lyn Collins was signed to James Brown’s Star Time label. She is one of the few artists who could sound almost as Funky as JB with his band.

11. "Fefe Naa Efe" by Fela Kuti—If you haven’t met Mr. Fela Kuti, it’s an honor to make this introduction. Fela is one of the pioneers in the aforementioned African Funk movement. His music is Funky and political (he was exiled from Nigeria for criticizing the government) and cool as the other side of
the pillow.

12. "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder—Innervisions and Talking Book are incredibly Funky and cerebral albums. I love me some Steveland Hardaway Judkins!

13. "The Payback" by James Brown—I don’t know karate, but I know ka-razor! Another primary text of funk. This track was supposed to be on the soundtrack for the sequel to the Blaxploitation movie, Black Caesar, but was deemed “not funky enough” by the film’s producer. According to, at the time of the recording, JB was dealing with flat sales, a 300+ tour date/year schedule, and the death of his son in a traffic accident. Heavy stuff. Heavy, funky stuff.

14. "Maggot Brain" by Funkadelic—The title isn’t necessarily a turn-on, but this song features the greatest guitar solo ever recorded (and I love Hendrix, by the way). When guitarist Eddie Hazel asked George Clinton how he wanted him to play, the legend goes that Clinton told him to think about the saddest thing he could think of and then play. Hazel said he thought about his mom dying. I love this song because if you listen closely you can almost hear a story being told.
Narrative and Funky. Incredible.

So that's my (very incomplete) list. What would you add?



Jackson said...

Handle with care ... one listen and these will funk your whole day up:

"You Dropped A Bomb On Me" -The Gap Band
"Fantastic Voyage" -Lakeside
"More Bounce To The Ounce" -Zapp

Indiana Review said...

Very nice, Jackson.

I'll see your Gap Band and raise you "Cool" by Morris Day and the Time.