Ike finally wraps up his list of the funkiest songs ever. Also, he provides a PLAYLIST containing all of them.
What’s up, lovelies. If you missed the first installment of this ridiculous list, you can find it here. The highlights: my parents are cool, I like funk music, and I offended the funk gods by leaving out James Brown and P-Funk entirely. But I did that last thing on purpose, I swear.
Also, I apologize for being a total bum and delaying this second part of the list until now; I had the flu, stuff happened at work, and then six months somehow went by. But I’m a slacker, so there. In any case, read on for some more funk gloriousness, and for those of you who are soldiers/true friends and actually read until the end, there you will find a certain GIFT FROM ME TO YOU! (Hint: it will allow you to have all of the tracks from this two-part list in one place.)
Parliament – Up For The Down Stroke
A long-awaited and welcome first appearance from George Clinton and his funk collective. I am stunned by how few clips there are of this song on YouTube. There is no explanation for it. But here’s the song. Enjoy George Clinton and his crazed devotion to The Funk. Much more to come.
James Brown – Get Up (I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine) (Parts 1 & 2)
James Brown may have been the Godfather of Soul, but funk wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for him. When casual fans hear his name, they think of the hair, the screaming, the sweating, the enormous ego, the womanizing, and the dancing, but Brown was a terrific bandleader who — while perhaps not a great musician (as in, he was untrained and had very little knowledge of theory) — had a brilliant musical mind. Sadly, the many musicians who backed him throughout the years receive little credit for creating such influential, groovy instrumentation, but it is important to note that Brown played a central role in leading his bands by holding them to impossibly high, perfectionist standards and by running a tight ship both on the road and in the studio. Now back to that music they created: it was, and is, so funky. Brown’s productions don’t necessarily qualify in my book as true funk music; they were forerunners to it if anything. But when you listen to them now, they sound like timeless combinations of R&B, gospel, soul, jazz, and what was to become funk. And that mixture practically comes off as funkier than anything else on this entire (two-part) list. The lyrics might sound dumb (sexist) and ridiculous at times, but the energy Brown brings vocally and the music itself never sound dated. (Related note from SlackPost’s Avinash Chak: often, Brown’s vocals functioned as percussive elements.)
I always wonder how people even tolerated “Get Up” back when it came out. It’s sexually charged, contains the word “sex” in its title (radical!), and features Brown constantly referring to himself as a sex machine. In light of America’s tendency to look for things to get upset about (see: Harlem Shake meme and Seth MacFarlane at the Oscars), it’s surprising that conservatives didn’t revolt when they first heard this (or any of Brown’s other, earlier hits). Per Avi’s suggestion, I actually spent five minutes looking into this but didn’t find anything definitive; instead, I came across a bunch of complaints about Brown being selected as a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2003 because he had a shady history of allegedly beating women. Oof. Anyway, I’m sure there was a lot of uproar over Brown’s music back in the day. But, uh, let’s move on, shall we?
James Brown – Funky Drummer (Parts 1 & 2)
Guest blurb from our very own Joel Oblizalo: the famous drum break (I believe it’s like halfway through Part 2, or about 5:35 into this clip) might be the most sampled piece of music of all time. It’s super recognizable, sounds way fresh, and was one of the most important contributions to a lot of seminal hip hop records: “Bring the Noise,” “Fuck the Police,” “Fight the Power,” “Mama Said Knock You Out,” “Hip Hop Hooray”… It was like you just HAD to throw it in a jam to be relevant. Hell, I even sampled it when I first started making beats.
Ike here again. And yup, this track is one of the most sampled songs ever. Avi and I took a class on funk music in college (yup, an entire freaking class on funk) and our professor couldn’t go a lecture without mentioning “Funky Drummer.” Brown’s drummer, Clyde Stubblefield, is nowhere near as loaded as he should be given how many people have sampled his break. Apparently some legal technicality allowed artists to sample it without having to pay for the rights (something to do with how drums aren’t considered as important as melody and whatnot). As Avi tells me, “That’s racist! Well, maybe that’s a stretch, but the technicality does show a clear Western bias, dismissing percussion as simple timekeeping and ignoring its creative possibilities. In other words, white man got no rhythm.” Anyway, while I’m clearly oversimplifying because intellectual property law is mind-numbingly complicated/boring, the point is that Stubblefield never really got his due.
James Brown – I Got You (I Feel Good)
When I was really young I thought that this was James Brown’s only popular song. Obviously that was idiotic, but what I’m really getting at is that this track is iconic. (Also, most people wrongly think it’s called “I Feel Good.”) No way it doesn’t belong on this list.
James Brown – Blind Man Can See It
Moving now from one of Brown’s most famous songs to one of his more obscure gems. This is an absolute jam from In the Jungle Groove, a mostly instrumental funk groove that should never end. You spend the first 1:05 thinking it’s the best thing ever, then it suddenly changes course and somehow gets even better.
James Brown – The Payback
This song contains the line, “I don’t know karate, but I know ka-raazy!” Enough said.
Booker T. & The MG’s – Green Onions
Veering away from typical funk here and including this iconic R&B song. Why? Because it’s funky, even though funk wasn’t a thing when it came out. Plus, Booker T. recently stated that they’d originally wanted to call it “Funky Onions.” So there.
Stevie Wonder – Superstition
As I’ve written before, Bud Light semi-ruined this song for me with their ad campaign during the 2012 NFL season, but let’s be honest, you can’t actually ruin this song for anyone. That clavinet riff is stupid good.
Stevie Wonder – I Wish
This song might have made the list for its first 18 seconds alone. Seriously. But then Stevie starts singing about his childhood, and the instrumentation gets more complex, and suddenly there are horns, and then it’s the chorus, and then you’re dancing, and then “YOU NASTY BOY,” and — yeah this song is incredible.
Curtis Mayfield – Pusherman
Every single thing about “Pusherman” is funky. Absolutely everything that’s going on in it.
Funkadelic – One Nation Under a Groove
For the most part, I consider Parliament to be the funkier subset of the larger Parliament-Funkadelic entity. After all, Funkadelic originally specialized in black rock that sometimes legitimately sounded like the evolutionary Hendrix (RIP Eddie Hazel), which is why I often forget that “One Nation Under a Groove” is actually a Funkadelic song. But no matter what, this is an essential funk record.
Parliament – Mothership Connection (Star Child)
Iconic track here from George Clinton and his boys. It’s one of their staples and serves to this day as the centerpiece of their outrageous live shows. Obviously things were crazier back in the day when they were at the peak of their powers, selling out arenas and throwing down for expensive pyrotechnics and an actual mothership that would descend onto the stage. Awesome, oft-forgotten part of this song: the last minute, when the boys verge suddenly into a downtempo groove that basically sees them inventing chillout electronica way before it was ever a thing.
Parliament – Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)
So this is that song that goes, “We want the funk, give up the funk, we need the funk, we gotta have that funk.” I’m sure you’ve heard it before. It’s glorious.
James Brown – Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag
An absolutely seminal record that is often credited with helping to establish funk as a legitimate musical genre. It is RADICAL to think that this came out in 1965; it’s timeless and just as funky as anything else on this list. It also receives LOADS of bonus points for being featured prominently in bad/amazing 90s action flick Face/Off, in the scene where Nic Cage/Castor Troy has assumed John Travolta/Sean Archer’s identity and momentarily considers doing sexual things to Archer’s daughter even though, you know, she thinks he’s her dad.
James Brown – Super Bad
“Sometimes I feel so nice, good God, I jump back, I wanna kiss myself,” Brown sings. “I’ve got soul. I’m super bad.” Yup. Added props go to this song for being the go-to choice for funky-cool movie montages.
James Brown – The Boss
This is getting kind of unfair, right? I probably should have thrown some of these Brown tracks in Part 1 so that you wouldn’t get so JB’d out here in Part 2, but whatever. The overarching point is simple: James Brown was a funky dude. A couple things about “The Boss,” though: 1) Brown wrote this (and the entire soundtrack) for the blaxploitation film Black Caesar, which was his first foray into writing music for movies, and 2) Nas heavily sampled this song for his awesome 2002 track “Get Down.”
James Brown – Get Up Offa That Thing
Lost in all my discussion of Brown so far: all the funk elements that I described in the intro to Part 1 are present in these songs — the loud horns, the basslines, the chicken-scratch guitar-strumming, plus a bunch of innovative bridges and call-and-response sections. Oh, and the wonderfully simplistic but effective (perfect) James Brown lyrics/screaming. This one is no exception.
Ohio Players – Fire
I’ve already given these guys love in Part 1 for “Love Rollercoaster” and “Funky Worm,” but here they are again — and deservedly so — with a song I like to consider the evolutionary ancestor to Lil Wayne’s “Fireman.” (I know you’re laughing at me but come on, they both start with sirens.)
The Temptations – Shakey Ground
I’m not sure the singing is even necessary on this track. Just give me that bassline, that filthy guitar riff, and those drums and I’d be good to go.
Dr. John – Right Place, Wrong Time
One of the first songs — regardless of genre — that I ever added to my family’s shared iTunes library on our old desktop Mac in the early 2000s. I’m 95% certain that I downloaded it illegally, which I shouldn’t admit to because Dr. John could probably kill me with voodoo magic. In any case, it’s got hand-drumming, horns, a chicken-scratch guitar riff, Dr. John’s fantastically gruff vocals, and some good ole bass-slapping, but what sets this song apart is the wonderful piano melody.
Cameo – Word Up
Just kidding. This is likely insulting to some true funk connoisseurs, but this stuff is just too eighties for me. Same goes for anything by The Time. If you don’t get what I mean by “too eighties,” please refer to Part 1 for more details, but basically, Cameo’s songs are too corny for my liking.
The Isley Brothers – It’s Your Thing
The Isley Brothers have been doing their thing since the fifties, which is astounding. They’ve recorded tons of hits in a wide range of genres, from doo-wop in the early days to rock and soul and funk. Pretty impressive. “It’s Your Thing” was recorded in 1969 as kind of an Eff You to Motown boss Berry Gordy, who was famously controlling and who likely served as one of the Isleys’ reasons for leaving the label a year earlier. Tons of artists have covered it, others have sampled it, and on top of all that, it’s been credited as one of the first true funk songs. Good things all around.
Commodores – Brick House
The music for this 1977 funk classic came together organically as part of a jam session. The lyrics, however, were apparently written by band member William King’s wife Shirley, who was not originally credited for her work because her husband acted like he’d written it. Nice one. In any case, lyrics aside, King, Lionel Richie (before he started only doing ballads), Walter Orange (the lead singer on the track), and the rest of the gang came through with one hell of a groovy number here.
Michael Jackson – Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough
What’s that you say? This is a pop song? Well, whatever. That guitar riff is funky enough for me. And plus, to borrow a phrase Avinash coined, this song is a near-perfect sonic experience, so I don’t care that it isn’t a true funk song; it’s groovy, danceable, iconic, and thanks to the Rush Hour movies, it makes you think of Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, which is a win in anyone’s book.
Zapp & Roger – More Bounce to the Ounce
Mr. Roger Troutman’s signature song. Co-produced by funk maestro Bootsy Collins (more on him later), this is nine minutes of funk glory, most distinctive for Troutman’s famous vocoder work on it. I’d venture to say that it’s overplayed but I’m not sure that’s possible.
Prince – Let’s Work (Dance Remix)
I’m admittedly not all that high on Prince when it comes to his making legit funk music. His material is often too eclectic, wide-ranging, and unique to qualify as straight funk, but this obscure song (seriously — that’s a link to MySpace because I couldn’t find it on YouTube), mainly for its awesome bassline, definitely makes the cut. It’s so groovy that I’ll even forgive the semi-overdone, super-80s synth stuff that’s going on in it.
The Brothers Johnson – Stomp!
Produced by Quincy Jones, “Stomp!” was The Brothers Johnson’s most successful song. It’s got some awesome bass-slapping and an interesting bridge, but the chorus and vocal harmonies do admittedly strike me as a little EWF/80s-corny, which is disorienting given that this was recorded in the late 1970s. No matter what, you can’t deny the sweet instrumentation on this jam.
Fela Kuti – Everything Scatter
I adore Fela Kuti. If you don’t know who he is/was, you should check him out. Just look at that first line on his Wikipedia page! He was a Nigerian “multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, pioneer of Afrobeat music, human rights activist, and political maverick.” Pretty sweet, right? Although I might also add “inspiration for a Broadway musical, womanizer/potential sleazebag, pseudo-cult leader, African demigod and cultural phenomenon, and awesomely dressed badass mofo” to that list. Anyway, the most important thing to know is this: he created Afrobeat, an exuberant and complex mixture of funk, highlife, jazz, and Yoruba music (from Benin and Nigeria). Afrobeat compositions are often very long and are played by large bands, and they typically feature call-and-response chants and polyrhythms and all kinds of other cool stuff. In other words, they’re super funky, and I honestly could have picked any Fela track for this list. Ultimately, I went with one of my personal favorites, “Everything Scatter,” from 1975. Enjoy.
Sly and the Family Stone – I Want to Take You Higher
This recording presents a cool mixture of funk and what I’d call psychedelic soul. One of the few songs from the Stand! album that does not contain a political message, the track instead celebrates the fun and beauty of music. What’s more, Sly and his crew played part of the song at Woodstock, getting the entire crowd to sing “Higher! Higher!” during the refrain, which was probably all kinds of difficult to pull off given how messed up everyone was at the time — it was three in the morning. But you know what that means? That it’s a dope-ass song. So bonus points there. In related news, you should check out the rest of Stand!, particularly “Sex Machine,” a relatively unknown but wonderfully funky Sly number that clocks in at nearly 14 minutes.
War – Low Rider
I’ve always been a fan of War’s eclectic sound, which incorporates funk, blues, Latin, reggae, soul, rock, and basically anything else you can think of. “Low Rider” is probably their best-known song, which isn’t a bad thing by any means because it’s freaking great. Of note is how the catchy, recognizable melody is played in unison by both a harmonica and a saxophone. As a kid, however, I couldn’t have cared less about the melody (or the amazing bassline); I just thought the song was sweet because the dude (Charles Miller) sang in an impressively deep voice. On top of that, the song has been used in all kinds of movies, like Up In Smoke, Dazed and Confused, Friday, and the totally underrated and/or embarrassingly captivating A Knight’s Tale (RIP Heath Ledger).
Bootsy Collins – I’d Rather Be With You
In typical Bootsy fashion, this slow jam is totally weird, but it’s undeniably funky and contains a disgustingly heavy bassline that basically only Bootsy could come up with. And if you can, ignore Bootsy’s ridiculousness — the man looks like this — and pay close attention to how incredible the musicianship is in this song. Bootsy probably even could have gotten away with releasing the track without vocals.
The Gap Band – I Don’t Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance (Oops!)
A nine-minute funk anthem that most people know as “Oops Upside Your Head.” Given the bizarre lyrics, the repeating chorus, Charlie Wilson’s spoken monologues (a la George Clinton), and the overall sound, it’s easy to assume that The Gap Band was actively trying to pay homage to P-Funk in this song. Not sure if that was actually the case, but I do know that Wilson is related to Bootsy Collins, who was of course a member of P-Funk, so there’s that.
The Beginning of the End – Funky Nassau, Part 1
Upon reading Part 1 of this piece, a friend of mine suggested that I include “Funky Nassau” in Part 2. I went to check out the song and was hooked after ten seconds. Just an amazing guitar riff. So much love to my man Roger for providing the one non-Ike-selected song on this list. That’s high praise, if I may say so myself. And with that, this is getting a little douchey/self-absorbed, so I should probably get a move on. Just know that you will like the song if you listen to it. It’s phenomenal, especially the part where they go, “Mini-skirts and maxi-skirts and afro hairdo, people doin’ their own thing and don’t care ‘bout me or you.”
Maceo & The Macks – Soul Power ‘74
This saxophone-driven classic is an instrumental re-recording of James Brown’s 1971 song “Soul Power,” with Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker adding new horn parts on top of The J.B.’s original rhythm track. As an added bonus, this song has been sampled left and right, including on J.Lo’s “Get Right.”
The O’Jays – For the Love of Money
This song begins with one of the funkiest openings ever, only thanks to The Apprentice, all anyone thinks of when they hear it now is Donald Trump’s terrible hair and insufferable douchebaggery. Even so, I’m including it for its pre-Trump value, if that makes sense.
Aretha Franklin – Get It Right
An absolutely stellar 1983 track from The Queen of Soul, who by that point was past her artistic prime but clearly still capable of dropping occasional bangers. Does this technically qualify as funk? Not quite sure, but Aretha was clearly trying to dabble in the genre to stay cool and relevant. And you know what? I think she pulled it off: that splendid guitar riff, that infectious bassline, that bass guitar solo, and that rousing chorus combine to form one heck of a track. Today, legitimate dance DJs like Skream even drop the song in their live sets. That’s how dope Aretha Franklin was and is.
OK, there you have it. Counting Part 1, that’s 70 glorious funk songs in all. (And hey, funk was at its apex in the 70s, right?!) As promised, I now present to you a handy-dandy PLAYLIST containing all of them. After all, a lot of the YouTube clips I linked to throughout are low-quality, but more importantly, you deserve a reward for having read through this monstrosity. Enjoy the tunes, and please don’t forget to invite me to your next house party, at which I will fully expect you to blast my playlist.
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Funky Nassau! – Have you heard the Steve Cropper version? And I still don’t know how you skipped Wilson Pickett’s Funky Broadway.
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Heya! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone!
Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts!
Keep up the great work!