Top 10 classic funk songs

funkadelic top 10 funk tracks


We've had the 70s garishly bedecked soul superstars described by Kerry McCarthy in her article “A celebration of 70”²s soul sung by groups in garish suits”. Neat as it was, it didn't cut the mustard especially if you like a dirtier sound: so here it is: this is the best Funk from the best 15 years by the greatest of all.

Funk, arguably, came out of Little Richard's messed up rock n roll sound of the 50s and therefore it's no surprise that several of his band members hauled up with the unquestionable Godfather, the incomparable James Brown.

Christmas, 2006, was ruined by the news that Brown had died but the sound lives on.

“So now ladies and gentlemen it is star time, are you ready for star time? Thank you and thank you very kindly. It is indeed a great pleasure to present to you at this particular time, national and internationally known as the hardest working man in show business, the man that sings "I'll Go Crazy" ... "Try Me" ... "You've Got the Power" ... "Think" ... "If You Want Me" ... "I Don't Mind" ... "Bewildered" ...the million dollar seller, "Lost Someone" ... the very latest release, "Night Train" ... let's everybody "Shout and Shimmy" ... Mr. Dynamite, the amazing Mr. Please, Please himself, the star of the show, James Brown and The Famous Flames!!”

1. James Brown ”“ “I Feel Good”

Starting their careers knocking around the gospel circuit in the early 1950s, The Isley Brothers eventually saw the light in 1969 with "It's Your Thing".

The founding members were O'Kelly Isley Jr., Rudolph Isley, Ronald Isley and Vernon Isley, they were later joined by younger brothers Ernie Isley and Marvin Isley and brother-in-law Chris Jasper. The addition of Ernie, Marvin, and Chris led to their most successful period when they got truly funky. Then it all went wrong: the group disbanded after the departure of Ernie Isley, Marvin Isley and Chris Jasper (who formed Isley/Jasper/Isley and reached number one in the charts with 'Caravan of Love') in 1984. Oh dear!

2. The Isley Brothers ”“ “It's Your Thing”

In 1968, Dennis Edwards joined the Temptations from the Contours just as the band, produced by Norman Whitfield, found psychedelia ”“based particularly on the sound of funk band Sly and the Family Stone. This new style, which debuted with the Top 10 hit single "Cloud Nine" in October 1968, was a marked departure from the earlier David Ruffin-era ballads, and led the group into the whole new genre of psychedelic funk. Interestingly, Kerry's list also contains the Temptations but this just rips “Papa was a Rollin' Stone” apart.

3. The Temptations ”““Psychedelic Shack”

On the subject of Sly and the Family Stone - "there are two types of black music: black music before Sly Stone, and black music after Sly Stone". Enough said.

Sly and the Family Stone ”“ “I wanna take you higher”

Floating around at the same time as Sly, the Isley's, the Temptations and James Brown was the highly influential Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rythym Band. In the band's early years, they were mostly known for playing covers of popular R&B hits but by the late 1960s, the group began to create original songs, resulting in a sound that was, as Wright put it, "the middle ground between Otis Redding and James Brown".

This is the very, very best:

4. Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rythym Band ”“ “Express Yourself”

The Commodores are mostly remembered for their cheesy ballads such as "Easy" and "Three Times a Lady", but, for the most part, the group recorded funky, driven dance-floor hits which include "Brick House", "The Bump", "Fancy Dancer" and "Too Hot ta Trot".

"Machine Gun", the instrumental title track from the band's debut album, has now been in the soundtrack for many films, including Boogie Nights and Looking for Mr. Goodbar. It reached only hit number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975. "Brick House" also made the US chart but the group then started to move towards softer sound. Why?

5. The Commodores ”“ “Machine Gun”

Words are not enough to describe the greatness of the Parliament ”“ Funkadelic project. In the end, nobody can describe Clinton's music better than the man himself: It is "Cosmic Slop," it is funkadelic ”” funky and psychedelic.

You feel a mothership connection.

Parliament and Funkadelic were 30 years ahead of their time and made 70s funk exactly what it was: funky. These are the best:

6. Parliament ”“ “Give up the Funk”

7. Funkadelic ”“ “One Nation Under a Groove”

8. P-Funk All Stars ”“ “We Want the Funk”

Just for Kerry because she especially asked for it, we move onto the late 70s. Brides of Funkenstein singer and former member of the Family Stone, Dawn Silva, began hanging out with a bunch of guys who were struggling to find chart success. Instantly their sound became more P-Funk influenced and the GAP Band were in business.

The GAP Band gave a unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers and their massive hit "Outstanding" alone remains one of the most sampled songs in history and has, astonishingly, been used by over 150 artists. But we're not going there, this is hard funk:

9. The GAP Band ”“ “Burn Rubber On Me”

In 1978, Rick James released his debut solo album, “Come Get It!”, in which he played most of the instruments on the album (as he would for his following two albums). The album launched his solo career, thanks to the funky disco hit, "You and I", and the much smoother, soulful "Mary Jane".

He followed this success with “Fire It Up”, and headlined his first tour in support of the album, which saw then rising funk-pop artist Prince opening for him. James' relationship with Prince fell apart as, according to James, Prince stole all the best bits of his act.

After a relative flop with his fourth album, “Garden of Love”, in 1980, in which he traded most of his disco/funk origins for a more pop-R&B flavored project, he returned to the top with the grittier “Street Songs”, which was also the first to include rock and new wave elements, particularly in the album's leading single, "Super Freak". Good call!

10. Rick James ”“ “Super Freak”

That's your lot, dig out some more George Clinton”¦.

6 thoughts on “Top 10 classic funk songs

  1. Fantastic stuff John. Would like to have seen something by The Meters on there – but other than that, can’t argue with the selection of artists (although I’ll always argue about the selection of songs!!)

  2. Steve smith

    Some heavy heavy stuff on here. Just not convinced by Temptations ‘psychedelic shack’ – v cheese heavy without a lot of soul. The Isley brothers selection is pure funk gold. They are just in deep and the orchestral backing adds massive wait to that stab. Amazing.

  3. Ordinary Joe

    Apparently Primal Scream listened to The Commodores’ Machine Gun and nicked part of it for I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have / Loaded.
    Very interesting. Thank you for compiling this list.

  4. jeannie

    Fantastic list. Most of the lists are just filled with only Rick James…nice to see the Pfunk and Commodores listed. Thanks…

  5. Hank

    Strong list. I’d argue for inclusion of The Ohio Players “Fire” (although “Skin Tight” would be a fine choice), Kool & The Gang “Jungle Boogie” or “Funky Stuff”, Slave “Slide”, Lakeside “All The Way Live” or “Fantastic Voyage”, Fatback “Backstrokin’”, Cameo “She’s Strange” (or “Word Up”, “Candy”, “Shake Your Pants” or “Your Love Takes Me Out”), Kleer “De Ting Continues” … Maybe you should make a Next Ten.

  6. lewis brooks

    Thanks, cannot deputes the James Brown inclusion as long as it not tracks that influenced the world with funk. Cause then change the selection to ‘funky drummer’.

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