Like Q-Tip once explained, “Can’t help being funky I’m the funky abstract brother, funky in a sense but I play the undercover.”
So much funk, so little time and space. I’ve tried to represent a variety of styles, since funk is so funky. Be careful though. Once you open your heart to the funk, you can’t fake the funk or put it back. You certainly can’t keep the funk to yourself. All you can really do is enjoy it and spread it around.
With this list I’ve decided to do a couple of things. One, I was going to include James Brown in the mix, since everything he did was funky. He’s the godfather of soul for a reason, and his influence on popular music is hard to overstate, understand? The second decision was to lead with him, as a tribute to his funky greatness, as well as to go in chronological order of each album’s year of release.
1. The Popcorn — James Brown
I also have this album in another list, Ten Great Groove Albums. I could have easily picked one of The Godfather’s from the 70s, but I wanted to pick this one because it’s so versatile, and one of my favorite albums from any genre to listen to over and over. Also because James Brown is my all-time favorite musician. Sorry Stevie. He is a master of jazz, soul, funk, and disco, (and is arguably the biggest influence on hip hop).
Why Am I Treated So Bad
Released in 1969 on King Records, this represents the early stages of funk. (The Meters are also known to be the progenitors of funk, but I’ve left them off this list, although they deserve to be on it.) The A side is incredible, and noticeably funkier than the B side. My favorite track continues to be Why Am I Treated So Bad (six minutes of deep funky bass and guitar, with a nice touch of percussion and horns).
2. America, Wake Up — Paul Humphrey
Released in 1974 on the Blue Thumb label, this is the only other instrumental album on the list. Well, it’s predominantly instrumental — the first and last tracks are short vocals.
Uncle Willie’s Dream
I found out about drummer Paul Humphrey on the 2-LP compilation Tribe Vibes, which includes songs A Tribe Called Quest sampled on their first four albums. One of those tracks was Humphrey’s Uncle Willie’s Dream, a funky number featured on What? from The Low End Theory. Another great track is the mellow funk of I’d Walk a Mile for a Smile. Butterball is noteworthy as an upbeat dance song with Latin flavor. The album is strong throughout.
3. Inspiration Information — Shuggie Otis
I don’t have the proper words to describe the first twenty-something seconds of the first track (and title track) of this funky soulful 1974 Epic release from Shuggie Otis. The first time I listened to it I was blown away, and hopeful that this was going to be a great album. Island Letter, the next track, confirmed my hope with beautiful soulful lyrics and laid-back groove instrumentals. Besides guitar and vocals, Shuggie is heard on bass, organ, piano, vibes, drums, and analog drum machines throughout the album.
Happy House is a brief vocal interlude exactly in the middle of the album that serves as a transition from vocal to instrumental. Pling! is an excellent laid-back funky groove. XL–30 is another funky groove. If you haven’t heard of Shuggie Otis or listened to his stuff, please check him out. Props to Nathan Moses for turning me on to him back in the day.
4. High On You — Sly Stone
The funk train is just now gettin’ started as we make our way to a great vintage, the 1975 funk. A great year in music and the beginning of my funky life.
The title track begins the funk party, followed immediately by the funkiest track, Crossword Puzzle, which fans of De La Soul will instantly recognize. After that is the funky soul love ballad That’s Loving You. Other interesting items include the instrumental Green Eyed Monster Girl and My World, another soul love ballad.
5. Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome — Parliament
Although not as great of an overall album as Mothership Connection, this one has Flash Light, a pure funk injection guaranteed to make you dance, even if you’re devoid of funk. You’ll know it’s not a placebo.
Wizard of Finance is a smooth funky love track, and Bop Gun is cool, albeit a bit repetitive. This album makes the list based on Flash Light alone.
6. One Nation Under a Groove — Funkadelic
This is quintessential funk right here, the un-cut funk, the bomb, originally released in 1978 on the Warner Brothers label. The funk starts with the title track, an all-time funk classic.
Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doo Doo Chasers)
After a couple average tracks, the album has arguably the funkiest song, at least the funkiest lyrics, with Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doo Doo Chasers), surprisingly rich in theology and relevant in any era. My particular copy is a repress with only 6 tracks. The original has a few more, including the nice instrumental P. E. Squad / Doo Doo Chasers.
7. Computer Games — George Clinton
The founder of Parliament and Funkadelic, the brilliant George Clinton had solo albums in the 80s in legal theory, but the funky reality is that he had his P-Funkateers by his side. This 1982 Capitol release is so cool. Not only is the album cover absurdly funky and funny (Clinton helped design it), the music is outstanding and great for a dance party. Computer Games has funky dance tracks in Man’s Best Friend and Loopzilla, back-to-back on Side 1. Loopzilla is interesting, for one, because it honors the continuity of soul music from a few artists by singing certain parts of Martha & The Vandelle’s Motown classic Dancing in the Street, then later Zapp’s 1980 hit More Bounce to the Ounce and Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force’s first hit single from 1982 — Planet Rock. Side 1 ends with a funky playful smooth jam Pot Sharing Tots.
Flip the side and play your second game. Out of tokens or case quarters? Don’t worry, it’s free if you got the album. The insane title track starts Side 2 beautifully. Next is the popular Atomic Dog, the song that helped Snoop’s success, which is worth the hype. Two more funky cuts end the album. But it ain’t over. Flip it again, protect your high score.
8. Zapp II — Zapp
My favorite dance song in the galaxy hangs out on this funky album on the Warner Bros. label, also from 1982. It’s appropriately named Dance Floor. Not as well-known as Sly & The Family Stone or P-Funk, Zapp is legit, and made up of Zapp Troutman and his brother (and bandleader) Roger Troutman, along with some other funky folks to make this classic.
Even if this was just a 12” single, this would be worth spending a little dough on to have it in your collection. Other tracks are worth the funk, too, especially Doo Wa Ditty (Blow That Thang).
9. Future Shock — Herbie Hancock
The early 80s were something special. Video games, ET, Reaganomics, crack. Well, I was trying to go in some kind of useful direction. Herbie Hancock is a musical genius, like Stevie Wonder. We know that. In fact, all these cats on the list are.
This 1983 Columbia release may not fall into the jello-mold of Funk, but c’mon, you can’t keep good funk down. You certainly can’t nail it down, at least not with one nail. Rockit leads the album off, and is synonymous with early 80s in a good way. For a song to have been played ad nauseam, I’m not sick of it. The next track is a great cover of Curtis Mayfield’s beautifully funky and soulful Future Shock. The three tracks on Side B are all good, especially Rough, which is probably my favorite on the album.
10. Tribe Vibes — 24 Original Full Length Songs & 10 Drum Skits Sampled by A Tribe Called Quest
I love good compilations because they provide me with songs and artists I may not have ever listened to otherwise. This double LP comp from Strictly Break Records, released in 1997, features songs A Tribe Called Quest sampled on their first three albums (plus one from their fourth — Dirty Old Bossa Nova by The Howard Roberts Quartet).
This is a great addition for any Tribe fan, which gives us a little insight into the hip hop legend’s musical influences. This is also great for any fan of funky jazz and soul. I became hip to Paul Humphrey and his album listed above through Tribe Vibes. There are too many great tracks to mention, but I’ll name just a few. Besides Humphrey’s Uncle Willie’s Dream, there are: Billy Brooks’ Forty Days, Rotary Connection’s Memory Lane, Grant Green’s Down Here on the Ground, Baby This Love I Have from the soulful Minnie Riperton, Sonny Lester’s Green Dolphin Street, and Mystic Brew from Ronnie Foster. There’s even a track from Bill Cosby.