Fifty Favourite Funk Tracks

The other night I nearly choked when an ad came on the TV for Mariah Carey's Greatest Hits package pronouncing her the original Queen of R&B. Are we that far removed from reality now? Similarly we live in a time when Clinton's means cards instead of extra-terrestrial funkmanship and funk itself is packaged on said cards to a teeny audience. Swirly curly typo now spells out Funky Chick with a cute cartoon image that couldn't be further away than the funky designs of Pedro Bell's drug-induced scribbles that were such an integral part of the funk culture perpetrated by the real Clinton, George… but I digress. There's no particular order of preference here so number one isn't necessarily the one that makes me reach for my flares and whistle. Nor is number 50 the weakest track. Simple fact is they can't all be played at the same time! So on we go with numero uno.
1. Blow Your Whistle by Soul Searchers take from the 1974 album Salt Of The Earth on Sussex, Chuck Brown getting funky before he decided to go-go. From the same label comes the second of our tracks,
2. Scorpio by Dennis Coffey and The Detroit Guitar Band - Nuff said. The Funk Brothers are all over this 'work out' from 1971. Worth checking out is the equally funky "Taurus" from 1972. Let's stay with Sussex for track number 3
3. Kissing My Love by Bill Withers was track 6 on his second album, "Still Bill" cut in 1972 and members of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band James Gadson and Ray Jackson were on hand to make sure that the funk was never far away. Still don't know why some of his material hasn't been more widely sampled?
4. It's The Engine In Me by Larry Graham & Graham Central Station was taken from the My Radio Sure Sounds Good To Me album released on Warner Brothers in 1978 and another infectious piece of Californian funk.
5. Ten years earlier Larry was providing the bass for M'Lady by Sly & The Family Stone. Of the classic Sly tracks this one stands out for me because of its unusual hook. Spoilt for choice yet again! Let's stay with Sly and it's a family affair as the next track belongs to his sister.
6. Somebody's Watching You by Little Sister. Out on the short lived Stone Flower label, it's another stone soul classic. The group was a female trio consisting of Vaetta Stewart (Sly's little sister of course), Mary McCreary and Elva Mouton and this little ditty reached #8 on the R&B charts in late 1970.
Next up four tracks that involve the legend that is Mister Bootsy Collins.
First up two offerings from the rare 1980 self-titled album by Sweat Band
7. Freak To Freak. This album was the first release on George Clinton's Uncle Jam label in 1980. Bootsy in disguise (nothing different there then!) and
8. Body Shop written by Bootsy and Garry Shider. Two tracks that epitomised all that was still good about the late 70's/ early 80's Funk scene. On we go with
9. A Creative Nuisance by Bootsy Collins, or what could have equally been called a creative 'b' side by Bootsy during his brief CBS period. This stunning bass-led piece of pyrotechnics was the flipside to 'Party On Plastic'. Genius!
10. If 6 Was 9 also by Bootsy Collins. Bootsy's cartoon persona was heavily influenced by the voice of Jimi Hendrix, upon seeing Bootsy perform live in Birmingham during our Art school days a mate of mine screamed out because he thought he was watching Hendrix live on stage some 7 years after he had died. Then again, my mate was high on more than life at the time. Anyway, Funk doesn't come much cooler than this as Bootsy added a new dimension to the Hendrix classic.
11. Follow The Wind by Midnight Movers came out on the Renee label in 1972. Follow The Wind….Renee….mmmm! An unfortunate accident there or one averted but some solid funk from Wilson Pickett's former backing group. They went on to back up the Isley's band during their funky 'It's Your Thing' period.
12. Peace Begins Within by Bobby Powell was released on the WHIT label in 1970. Baton Rouge funk of the highest pedigree from the blind pianist and miles apart from the other blind pianist coming up next but sharing the same Vietnam backdrop to make a bold statement about America's involvement in the war
13. Frontline by Stevie Wonder first appeared as a bonus track on the "Original Musiquarium 1" 1982 and later as a single on Motown. Although it came out almost 10 years after the war was over the memories of the troops who came back were never captured more vividly in the lyrics of Stevie Wonder. "They had me on the frontline but I stand at the back of the line when it comes to getting ahead".
14. Funky Worm by Ohio Players was taken from their Pleasure album of 1973 and the brainchild of Junie Morrison who left the group in 1974 to pursue a solo career
15. Jarr The Ground by Junie taken from the 1981 album 5 and credited to T. Allman - Junie in disguise.. (with glasses)? J Williams, Leroy Bonner, William Beck from the Ohio Players.
16. Fopp by Ohio Players. After leaving Westbound for Mercury the Players went from strength to strength. Here's one of their cheeky little numbers, Fopp referring to something sexual rather than a whimpy English gent. We were fopping and bopping all night long, apparently back in 1976.
17. Sunrise by Rose Royce came out in 1978 on the Car Wash soundtrack. A 10 minute funky grower courtesy of Norman Whitfield, Motown's funkiest producer by far. In 1968 he produced my next track-
18. Runaway Child, Running Wild by Earl Van Dyke. From the shimmering tambourine and high hat introduction that gave way to James Jamerson's bass and Dennis Coffey's wah wah guitar the boys never sounded better. This little rarity finally snuck out on a Funk Brothers compilation last year. Let's stick with Norman Whitfield for another 2 tracks. The Undisputed Truth were seen by some as The Temptations alter-ego much like Funkadelic were to Parliament the difference being that whereas Funkadelic and Parliament were interchangeable The Undisputed Truth and The Temptations were completely separate entities with Whitfield and of course the Motown musicians as the link.
19. Lil' Red Riding Hood by Undisputed Truth from the Cosmic Truth album was Funk Brothers meets Hendrix. Pure magic as was the next track, famously called the worst single Motown ever relesed by Tony Blackburn.
20. Funky Music Sho' Nuff Turns Me On by Edwin Starr blisters along with alarming energy. If the UK could harness this much power who'd need to import gas? This is cookin'!
21. Give The Women What They Want by Gene Dozier & The United Brotherhood Mercury in1974, Dozier (no relation to Lamont) had links with Golden World and Minit before taking his Brotherhood to the more Rock-inclined Mercury label. Appeared on John Peel's personal Juke Box.
22. Black Water Gold by African Music Machine - Soul Power 1972 recorded at Sound-City, Shreveport, Louisiana. Produced and written by Louis Villery.
23. Atomic Dog by George Clinton - bow wow wow yippee yo yippy yay, possibly George's greatest solo effort although the usual suspects were there to help him along. From P Funk we go back, way back to some Primitive funk with.
24. Troglodyte by Jimmy Castor Bunch. This was one I used to catch on AFN (American Forces Network) and lost for some 30 years before finding a 2 on 1 CD on eBay which incredibly cost more on postage than on the CD. I almost refused to by it! Glad I did though. A remarkable debut album, Castor was signed to CBS who promptly ignored the product forcing Castor to buy the masters back off them and sign them over to RCA. Okay, so "Troglodyte" was an unashamed novelty record but fun has always been part of funk and this, along with the next track, could easily be at home on the more adventurous Northern Soul dance floors.
25. Mr Penguin by Lunar Funk came out on Bell back in 1972. Not a lot you can say about it, hearing is believing. The track stomps along in a more Northern than funky fashion but may be a little too left field for the Northern crowd with its tendency to lean towards novelty. The Penguin was one of those wonderful dances of the 70's, can't remember it myself but I'm sure it was a cracker! So let's stay with our frozen friend and another obscurity that crept out on the late, lamented Mojo label.
26. Stone Penguin by The Elephant Band. Who they were we'll never know but along with the equally funky 'b'side, 'Groovin' At The Apollo' The Elephant Band will never be forgotten.
27. Slippin' Into Darkness by War, remember The Packers and "Hole In The Wall"? Well some of them moved on to become War and this is just one of their many anthems. Shame they are better known for having "Low Rider" used to sell Marmite!
28. Party On 4th Street by Black Nasty. "Cut Your Motor Off" might have graced the Northern clubs but this was funkier. The track came out on Big Hit in1972. Black Nasty were formed in 1970 by Artwell and Kaiya Matthews, their mother being the Detroit legend Johnnie Mae Matthews.
29. Queen Bee by Diane Johnson came out on the Buluu label, part of the Dunhill group around 1972 produced by Monk Higgins best known for the R&B hit instrumentals "Who Dun It" and "Gotta Be Funky." A mainstay of the Chicago R&B/soul music scene, he was a producer/arranger/session player at Chess Records during the '60s.
30. Stormin' by Brainstorm was the 'b' side to "Loving You Is Really My Game" another favourite on the Northern scene. This almost totally instrumental track does exactly what it says on the label. Members of Brainstorm were used as session musicians for HDH's Invictus label from whence the next choice came
31. It's Instrumental To Be Free by The 8th Day was written by the team of Holland Dozier Holland and graced the flipside of their Golden, "You've Got To Crawl Before You Walk". Another version with added wah wah effects was issued by The Politicians on Hot Wax but this is the one to treasure.
32. Your Love Is Certified by Rasputin's Stash, eight Chicago session men Rasputin's Stash who recorded their first self-titled album for Cotillion in 1971 from whence came this little gem. Three years later they were on Gemigo before joining Curtom where they evolved into first R-Stash and then Stash before fading away completely.
33. Pushin' by Society Of Soul is fairly contemporary funk, having appeared on the group's 1995 album Brainchild out of the LaFace stable. 'Sleepy' Brown, the man behind the voice on this slab of retro-funk has been involved in hits for TLC, En Vogue and most famously Outkast and comes from a line of funksters with his Dad being the saxophonist and vocalist Jimmy Brown from the 70s funk outfit called Brick.
34. Red Hot Mama by Parliament was released in 1971 with another version appearing a year later by Parliament's other half, Funkadelic. This was a farcry from their earlier recordings for Golden World and Revilot. In May, 1971 Dave Godin writing in Blues & Soul magazine said that the single was 'as funky and as real as they come' going on to add that this was what funky soul was about, a rough quality polished up to be a little gem. It was never given a UK release at the time but remains an outstanding example of George Clinton's unique brand of funk, as does my next choice.
35. Cosmic Slop by Funkadelic from 1973 was said to be Clinton's favourite Funkadelic album and behind the smoke and mirrors of their over-the-top antics lay some serious commentary about life in America. Themes carried forward into later works like "America Eats Its Young" and "The Electric Spanking Of War Babies". It's a shame that there 1980 album "By Way Of The Drum" was shelved because they even dealt with the theme of paedophilia in the track "Beware Of Freaks Bearing Gifts". Moving swiftly on to our second, lighter Funkadelic offering.
36. Who Says A Funk Band Can't Play Rock? Certainly not me. From the 1978 "One Nation Under A Groove" album came this inspired piece of funk courtesy of the pens of George Clinton, Junie Morrison and guitarist Michael Hampton providing the jollier side of life in the Funk Mob.
37. Huff-N-Puff by Parlet appeared on the girls 1979 album, "Invasion of the Booty Snatchers" and was written by Ronald (Ronnie Love) Dunbar and Michael (Kidd Funkadelic) Hampton. The track has a unique rhythm that makes it stand out from the other more subdued funk on show.
38. Disco Lady by Johnnie Taylor was issued in 1976 on the Eargasm album on Columbia and was the first certified platinum single but was also to prove a problem for Taylor at his new home after leaving the comfort of the Stax label. Columbia saw him as a …'gasp'… Disco artist but don't be put off by the word Disco. The album was produced by Don Davis and amongst others features Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Glenn Goins and Tiki Fulwood from Funkadelic. Not necessarily an obvious inclusion but just try and keep still as the fever grows inside you. Eargasmic indeed. After Motion upped sticks and opened up its West Coast innings with the MOSWest label it left behind a recognised sound but was still able to come up with new product that may not have been commercially successful but was artistically satisfying. First up arguably the funkiest 45 ever released by the Motion,
39. Act Like A Shotgun by G.C.Cameron that came out in 1971 and
40. Mr Fix-It Man by Sisters Love from 1972 both co-written by the late Willie Hutch. Miles away both geographically and in sound from what made Motown what it was and in many ways Mr Fix-It Man relied heavily on the Miami sound of the next character,
41. Clean Up Woman by Betty Wright was Betty's tenth record for the Alston label in Miami. It went to number 2 on the R&B chart and number 6 on the Pop chart eventually selling over four million for the then 18 years old. It was written by Clarence Reid and Willie Clarke, Miami Soul and Funk maestro's and arranged by Little Beaver who some 24 years rallied to Betty's side to assist in the development of another teenage Soul singer's career, our very own Joss Stone.
Now if you've never heard of Wardell Quezerque then shame on you.
Co-founder of Nola Records (meaning New Orleans, Louisiana in1964 along with Clinton Scott the label was home to "Barefootin'"/ "Let's Go Baby! (Where The Action Is)" by Robert Parker who was produced by Wardell. I'd talk even more about him if I knew how to pronounce his name! Fortunately his productions say all I need to. Three stand out WQ tracks
42. You Think You're Hot Stuff by Jean Knight was the follow up to Mr Big Stuff in 1971 and in my opinion just pips the original with a grittier production plus when I hear this I don't feel like rushing down to Argos!
43. That's Understanding by Tami Lynn came out on a rather unusual album co-produced by Blues & Soul founder John Abbey, released on the Cotillion label Stateside and Mojo in the UK in 1972. The first side was a concept with the final track being "That's Understanding". The album also included her greatest commercial moment "I'm Gonna Run Away From You but the set was named after the Supremes classic, "Love Is Here And Now You're Gone". A version of which you have to hear for yourself. The last of the Wardell Q tracks is
44. Groove Me by King Floyd also released on Cotillion was funk at its finest. A production stripped down to the bear minimum to allow every instrument equal billing and to ensure that you were ready for dance floor action. If King Floyd created the perfect funky dance track The Commodores took a step back from the dance floor until the end of the night and the smooching began. However, before Lionel took up the art of balladeering the group produced some heavy duty funk so let's remind ourselves of what they were capable of.
45. I Feel Sanctified by Commodoreswas issued in 1974, firstly on their Motown debut set, "Machine Gun" and was always a favourite floor filler, less danceable but just as funky was…
46. Slippery When Wet from their second set, "Caught In The Act" released in 1975. Ah, what might have been.
47. Giving Up Food For Funk by The JB's. Maybe I wouldn't go that far but this has got to be one of the tightest jams ever committed to vinyl.
48. Little Boy Black by Fred & The New JBs, not dissimilar to Fred and the old JBs as Fred Wesley raps with James Brown over a funky, chunky rhythm. When I was growing up I remember 76 trombones in the big parade and would never have dreamt how funky one could sound. A unique sound but one that everybody should share in.
49. Do It 'Til Your Satisfied by BT Express, a Jeff Lane production from 1975 was used by the female vocalist Truth Hurts (probably not her real name) on her "Addictive" track from 2002. This encapsulates all that is downright dirty about the funk, lovely! Finally, a great album from 1974 that cost me about 30p back then. Still waiting to be re-released by ACE on their Stax imprint, come on now! Everybody should hear this.
50. Mathilda by Stu Gardneris taken from the Stu Gardner and The Sanctified Sound album released by Volt and comes as an instrumental or vocal. I've chosen the instrumental that was right in the Billy Preston/Commodores bag of the time.
Howard Priestley, November 2005

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