Whether you’re doing your chores or hosting a party—listening to funky, jazzy soul makes it better. I’ve provided a list of ten albums from my collection that I love to play. Some are solely instrumentals, while others have a mix of vocals and instrumental grooves. Some are great for dancing, others for chilling out. These versatile records represent the warm sounds of blues, disco, funk, jazz, and soul. I hope you enjoy.
1. Hip Hug-Her — Booker T. & The MG’s
Besides having a great cover, this album, released in 1967 by Stax, features the Hammond B-3 organ, guitar, bass, and drums on every track. It has a mix of originals and covers, including Smokey Robinson’s Get Ready and The Rascals’ Groovin’.
2. The Popcorn — James Brown
I would feel guilty for not having the Godfather of Soul at the top of this list. It is purely instrumental, with a full orchestra including bass, horns, woodwinds, guitar, organ, and drums. Originally released in 1969 on the Polydor label, this is definitely a classic album that rewards you all the way through. Right now my favorite track would have to be Why Am I Treated So Bad.
The Popcorn (full album)
3. Universal Love — MFSB
Philly’s Mother, Father, Sister, Brother (MFSB) gained notoriety in 1974 for their hit single TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia), which was the theme song on Soul Train. Released in 1975 by Philadelphia International Records on the CBS label, this album has a great variety. For upbeat dance grooves, K-Jee and Sexy are nice choices. For a laid back funky blues track, it’s Human Machine. For a nice mellow moment, go with My Mood. MFSB, as well as Wood Brass and Steel, have more of a disco element than the others on this list.
4. Get Up & Get It! — Richard “Groove” Holmes
One of the giants of the Hammond B-3, Groove Holmes was honored on the Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head album one year after he passed away. Released on Prestige Records in 1967, this album, along with Jimmy McGriff’s below, is more distinctly jazz than the other albums on this list, with a rotation of solos on a couple songs featuring the organ, guitar, sax, bass, and drums. There is also a nice variety of tempos. The first two tracks are an excellent example of that.
5. Flyin’ Time — Jimmy McGriff
One of the great things about this album, other than it’s from 1975 and that the label is Groove Merchant, is that it’s a gatefold double album — two for the price of one! McGriff has some originals and some covers, including jazz standards April in Paris and Yardbird Suite. The wonderful organist also covers popular hits Let’s Stay Together, Georgia On My Mind, What’s Goin’ On, and even Theme From Shaft.
Let’s Stay Together
6. Wood Brass & Steel — Wood Brass & Steel
I first heard of this group from the double-album compilation by Sessions aptly named Jazz Funk. One of the songs that stood out was Funkanova, which is the first track on this funky disco-style record released in 1976 on the Turbo label. That song alone justifies having this album. At the 1:47 mark the song heats up and at the 2:33 mark begins a segment that hits full stride at 3:20 with what I consider early sounds of house. A reliable source points out that Wood Brass and Steel was the house band of Sugar Hill Records, and played on an obscure B-side to 8th Wonder called Sugar Hill Groove, in which the Beastie Boys sampled a riff from in Shadrach from Paul’s Boutique.
Other great tracks include Theme Song and Welcome to the Party. Each track is original except for the instrumental Always There (another solid number), which is written by Ronnie Laws from Earth, Wind, and Fire (who is also the younger brother of jazz flautist Hubert Laws). Out of the ten tracks, four are instrumentals.
7. Let’s Party With The Meters — The Meters
A wonderful 2-LP record set (it says so on the back). It truly is the best album you can have on vinyl of this tight, funky, soulful jam band from New Orleans. This release from 2001 on Get Back Records has classics from their first three albums, from 1969-70, featuring Look-Ka Py Py, Cissy Strut, Ease Back, Sophisticated Cissy, and one of my favorites, Tippi-Toes.
This is definitely one you can play straight through and be happy with. Chicken Strut, however, gets old quick. Although they don’t have the name recognition that James Brown has, The Meters are revered by their peers and have significantly influenced Sly Stone, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and the Godfather of Soul himself. The Meters are also one of the most sampled groups in hip hop. Tribe Called Quest fans should recognize at least one of these. Their sound is a nice balance of the thick and warm funk of the 70’s (Bohannon) and the lighter, jazzier sound of 60’s soul (Booker T and the MG’s).
8. The Main Attraction — Grant Green
I can’t help but love Grant Green. He’s my favorite jazz guitarist. Green has a distinct sound, although he has played many styles. This particular album is the funkiest to my knowledge, released on Kudu Records in 1976 near the end of his career, and sadly, his life. There are only three tracks, but they’re all worth it.
9. Here Comes Shuggie Otis — Shuggie Otis
This is Shuggie’s first solo album, released in 1969 on the Epic label when he was only 16! Half the album consists of vocals, half instrumentals, and all the tracks feature his excellent bluesy guitar. You’ll also hear the organ, piano, drums, bass, and occasionally some other strings, horns, and woodwinds from some prominent musicians. Oxford Gray, Bootie Cooler, and Gospel Groove are three great instrumentals.
10. Stop & Go — Bohannon
Born in Georgia, Hamilton Bohannon, a drummer, band leader, and arranger, moved to Detroit and became Motown’s band leader and arranger in 1967 for many artists. He has played with legends Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, and is considered instrumental to the birth of disco. This is his first album, released in 1973 on the Dakar label, and considered by many to be his best. The first side contains three funky instrumentals and a vocal track. The next side is the opposite side for good reason, with three vocal tracks and a short instrumental groove. This is another album you can flip a few times and be fine.
The Pimp Walk