40 heavy duty funk classics
9 MARCH 2010
For many people today dance music is a formulaic, disposable product; a poor relation to “real” music, be that rock or metal or folk or hip hop. But it was not always so. The funk music explosion which peaked in the early 1970s showed that dance music can be exciting, sexy and expressive, while also enjoying mass popularity.
The template for what came to be known as funk music was created by James Brown in the 1960s. The accent on the beat is on the 1 and 3 counts (of 4). Unlike most soul music which was based around melodies, the basic idea of funk was to create a strong groove. Funk songs were simpler and more repetitive, as the emphasis was always on the rhythm and the bassline, and often lasted much longer than the usual 3 or 4 minutes for a pop song. The heavy bassline was a frequent characteristic of funk, and guitars and horns would be used to create a percussive effect. With James Brown as an inspiration, vocals were often more raw and earthy than in soul / r&b.
The upbeat sound of funk emerged at a time when African Americans were feeling a new feeling of empowerment. By the late 1960s the gains of the Civil Rights movement were beginning to be realised, and sections of the movement had become more militant. The Black Panthers started carrying guns and patrolling the police, whom they referred to as pigs; and the term Black Power became a mobilising slogan. This sense of empowerment is reflected back in the music of James Brown and the early funk pioneers. Years later it would be a vital reference point for the pioneers of a new form of black urban music called hip hop.
In the latter half of the 1970s, disco replaced funk as the dominant form of dance music. Funk was too heavily associated with a particular era and its popularity rapidly declined, no doubt helped along by the fact that softer r&b was better suited to conservative daytime radio programming, and by the rapid growth in synthesized music. So for instance in the 1980s Stevie Wonder and Tina Turner would have massive hits with ballads devoid of the tight funky grooves which they’d been jamming to a decade earlier.
This list is a selection of some of the best music from the funk era (there is nothing here later than 1980). Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s a funk record because there is and always has been a lot of crossover between funk, soul, disco, jazz, blues, rock and so on, but these are all great original undiluted examples of steaming hot funk. They include some of the heaviest basslines that you’ll hear outside of the Notting Hill Carnival. So turn the volume right up and get down to some heavy duty classic funk.
Click on the song titles for links to youtube videos, and on the album titles for links to Amazon.
40 Helene Smith – Got to be a man (V/A – Miami Sound: Rare Funk and Soul from Miami, Florida 1967-1974)
38 African Music Machine – Black Water Gold (V/A – Southern Funkin’ – Louisiana Funk & Soul 1967-1979)
35 Bongos Ikwue & the Groovies – You’ve Gotta Help Yourself (V/A – Nigeria Disco Funk Special : The Sound of the Underground Lagos Dancefloor 1974-1979)
33 Sons of Slum – The Man (1972)
27 Hebrew Rogers – Can’t Buy Soul (V/A – Funky Music Machine: 12 Super Rare Original Funk Killers from the Late 60s & Early 70s)
25 3rd Generation Band – Because of Money (V/A – Ghаna Soundz Vol.1: Afrobeat Funk & Fusion іn 1970s Ghаna)
19 Dyke & the Blazers Let A Woman Be A Woman and A Man Be A Man (The Funky Broadway: The Very Best of Dyke & the Blazers)
18 Katie Webster – Hell Or High Water (V/A – Southern Funkin’ – Louisiana Funk & Soul 1967-1979)
14 Don Covay – Rumble In the Jungle / Muhammad Ali Vs. George Foreman (Hot Blood 1975)
13 Tyrone Davis – Get On Up (How Sweet It Is – The Columbia Hit Singles 1976-1981)