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)

39 Little Beaver – I’m A Man Just Like You (Katie Pearl 1974)

38 African Music Machine – Black Water Gold (V/A – Southern Funkin’ – Louisiana Funk & Soul 1967-1979)

37 Slave – Slide (Slave 1977)

36 Betty Wright – Clean Up Woman (I Love the Way You Love 1972)

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)

34 Union – Strike (V/A – Rare Funk Liberation Vol.1)

33 Sons of Slum – The Man (1972)

32 Earth Wind & Fire – Shining Star (That’s the way of the world 1975)

31 Fugi – Mary Don’t Take Me On No Bad Trip (Mary Don’t Take Me On No Bad Trip 1969)

30 The Meters – Just Kissed My Baby (Rejuvenation 1974)

29 Marva Whitney – I Made a Mistake Because It’s Only You, Pts 1&2 (It’s My Thing 1969, rereleased 2000 with bonus tracks)

28 Clarence Reid – Nappy Haired Cowboy (On The Job 1976)

27 Hebrew Rogers – Can’t Buy Soul (V/A – Funky Music Machine: 12 Super Rare Original Funk Killers from the Late 60s & Early 70s)

26 Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul – So Much Trouble In My Mind (Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul 1973)

25 3rd Generation Band – Because of Money (V/A – Ghаna Soundz Vol.1: Afrobeat Funk & Fusion іn 1970s Ghаna)

24 The Temptations – Cloud Nine (Cloud Nine 1969)

23 Rufus and Chaka Khan –You Got The Love (Rufus feat Chaka Khan – Rags to Rufus 1974)

22 Betty Barney – Momma Momma (V/A – Florian Keller Presents Creative Musicians, Vol. 2 : More highly underrated masterpieces from the funk era)

21 Fela Kuti – Who’re You (Fela’s London Scene 1970)

20 Ohio Players – Fire (Fire 1974)

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)

17 Parliament – Give up the funk (Mothership Connection 1975)

16 Jean Knight – Mr Big Stuff (Mr. Big Stuff 1971)

15 Mandrill – Fencewalk (Composite Truth 1973)

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)

12 Wilson Pickett – Mustang Sally (The Wicked Pickett 1967)

11 Zapp – More Bounce To The Ounce (Zapp I 1980)

10 Sly And The Family Stone – Don’t Call Me Nigger Whitey (Stand! 1969)

9 The Gap Band – Oops Upside Your Head (The Gap Band II 1979)

8 War – The Cisco Kid (The World is a Ghetto 1972)

7 Betty Davis – If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up (Betty Davis 1973)

6 Isley Brothers – Fight The Power (Part 1 & 2) (The Heat Is On 1975)

5 Curtis Mayfield – Future Shock (Back to the World 1973)

4 Banbarra – Shack Up (1975; on V/A – Totally Funk : The Essential Funk Album)

3 Ike & Tina Turner – Bold Soul Sister (The Hunter 1969)

2 Stevie Wonder – Superstition (Talking Book 1972)

1 James Brown & The Famous Flames – Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (1965; on The Godfather: The Very Best of James Brown)


  1. Elegante!!!! Gran lista !!

    Muchas gracias!!

    1 saludo

  2. Wow man!

    Tha’t an awesome list. It’s been nice to review some classics and discover others.

    Thanks for sharing!


  4. Thanks for some great tunes and some obscure gems, (although a few in my mind classify moreso as Soul than Funk.)
    In no particular order, let me add a few funk masterpieces to the list:
    Misdemeanor-The Sylvers, Get Up And Dance-Memphis Horns, Fancy Dancer-Commodores, Skintight-Ohio Players, I’m The One-Average White Band, Can’t Hide Love-Earth, Wind & Fire, Hustle To The Music-Muscle Shoals Horns, Talkin’-Brass Construction, Rigor Mortis-Cameo, Fat City Strut-Mandrill, Jungle Boogie-Kool & The Gang, Dr. Funkenstein-Parliament,
    I guess you could call it the “Funky Dozen”, surefire Funk to compliment an already awesome collection

  5. fuck this i wanted some real funky like greatful dead and phish

  6. Ive been searching a long time funk music and discovering it more, and this is the very first classy, non obvious, personal list i have found. Thank you very much. I would, howerer, say that I missed Superstition, or I wish, by Stevie Wonder, Rock Steady by Aretha, One Nation Under a Groove by Funkadelic and Jungle Boogie by Kool and the gang.

    • My mistake, of course, Superstition is number 2. And from one funk fan to another, Papas got a brand new bag was exactly the song I expected to see at number one. If it might be a little arguable that its the best one, and its really not that arguable, i feel theres no question that it is the most important.

    • Superstition was first recorded by jeff beck not stevie wonder. Stevie wrote the lyrics for beck and beck came up with the original music for the song.

  7. Temptations – Papa Was a Rolling Stone

  8. I think the best Era of fun was in the late 70s and early 80s, it got a more synthetizee flavor, like fresh Kool and the gang. Oliver cheatham Saturday night and ofcourse the best of all imagination first album with the revolutionary song flashback that I consider the roots of techno music

  9. So much thanks for the epic list of FUNKIEST funks ever!))

  10. Hi, give ubiquityradio.net a listen for some rare funk and soul 24-7-365

  11. the best funk was created between 1980 and 1983 why did you ignore the golden era?

  12. Disagree Jeff
    Some great funk tunes done in the seventies
    James Brown
    to name a few

    • Kool, never to be underestimated, “spirit of the boogie” instant classic.

  13. We believe that music addiction works as a surrogate for lost human bonds. Music can pierce the heart directly; it requires no mediation. Weekly Bass House mixtapes published every Wednesday. Listen to us out on MySpace!

  14. Trying to find the name of yhr song. With lyrics
    (I like it do you want to dance. Cam you help me?

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