It's the addictive potion that
I've craved since I was a kid
— a near-lethal mixture of
old school R&B and authentic
stanky soul — served hot with
a glorious Gospel chaser. A
righteous recipe, cooked-up
in street "labs" by master
"chemists" — the mighty
The kids of my generation didn't have YouTube or even MTV to mold our cultural and musical identities 24/7. We discovered new music trends and artists of the day via such weekly television programs as American Bandstand, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, Soul Train and The Midnight Special. Airing either well past The Tonight Show on Friday nights, or during pre-Wide World of Sports time slots on Saturday afternoons, these shows typically featured live performances from an array of artists as varied as David Bowie, Earl Scruggs, Al Green, KISS, The Bee Gees and Helen Reddy — often in a single episode.
Consequently, as a kid, I could never hear "black" or "white." And I never recognized any difference between R&B, country, pop or rock. All I heard was music. And to this day my personal iPod can shuffle randomly from Marvin Gaye to Patsy Cline to Motörhead to Buddy Guy without me noticing any difference in the genres. But looking back over the years, I can now see that many of my all-time favorite artists have shared one common stylistic characteristic — they've stunk from the funk.
While such legends as James Brown, Ike & Tina Turner, The Temptations and Stevie Wonder all helped pave a path for the future funk frontier during the '60s, I've always considered their music to be primarily traditional soul. During the '70s, I was also hooked by such hybrid chart-busters as The Commodores, Kool & the Gang, KC and the Sunshine Band and Shalamar — artists who possessed a certain funk-like sensibility, but were not defined solely by the genre.
So as I find myself reflecting on the subject, I'd like to submit for your approval, my personal list of the Top Ten mightiest Funkmasters...
Known these days as The Original 7ven, The Time was perceived (by me) as the last gasp of authentic funk greatness when the band first burst out from the Minneapolis club scene and onto the national stage during the early 1980s. Featuring the signature staples, "Jungle Love" and "The Bird," the group's platinum-selling 1984 Ice Cream Castle album remains a classic.
Although this world-renown Chicago-based collective is recognized primarily for its poppier-sounding chart-busters, it's the grittier hits such as "Shining Star," "Getaway" and "Saturday Night" that cemented the combo's funk cred to infinity and beyond. And FYI, for those possessing a more insatiable appetite, I recommend the full-length albums, That's the Way of the World and All 'n All quite highly.
The acknowledged innovator of the "Minneapolis sound," the artist forever known as Prince is as iconic as it gets. Few artists have displayed the funk influence of Sly Stone as undeniably as the pied piper of Paisley Park. The 1984 Purple Rain record may have sold 13+ million copies, but for my money, and for the sheer funk factor alone, the less-than-impressive-selling 1988 Lovesexy album is the shiniest jewel in this prince's golden crown.
The music of brothers George and Louis Johnson was not my introduction to funk. However, as a 13-year-old church boy who possessed all the street cred of Donny Osmond, the 1976 debut from The Brothers Johnson, particularly the track, "Get the Funk Out Ma Face" melted my skull. It still does.
Described best (by me) as dirty funk-meets-sweet soul at a Jimi Hendrix revival, Lakeside remains a personal funk fave. I saw the band perform live during the Fantastic Voyage tour in 1981, just a few days before I graduated high school — 6,996 African-Americans and four (of us) white kids. A culture shock, to be sure. Dressed in full pirate regalia, Lakeside was monstrous onstage — one of my all-time greatest concert experiences.
Hailing from "The Windy City," Rufus crossed musical and racial boundaries with an impressive string of 1970s funk classics, including "You Got the Love," "Tell Me Something Good," "Once You Get Started" and "Sweet Thing," I still have a "thing" for Chaka Khan.
Slice the pie anyway you'd like, Parliament, Funkadelic, Parliament-Funkadelic, P-Funk, P-Funk All-Stars, whatever — it all boils down to the creative vision and musical genius of George Clinton. Heck, without "Up for the Down Stroke," "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)" and "Atomic Dog" from which to "borrow," I'm not quite sure how the hip hop movement could have been launched.
Simply put, Rick James was the real deal — "super freaky," indeed. He lived by the funk, and he died by the funk. His 1981 blockbuster, Street Songs, was THE record that EVERYBODY in my circles had to have. However, 35 years later, I'm still partial to "Mary Jane" and "You and I."
Driven by namesake, Sly Stone, this band was a bona fide funk machine — albeit a rather short-lived sensation. The 7" single of the 1971 hit "Family Affair" was the first "real" record that I ever owned, and it served as my official introduction to funk.
Nitty, gritty and downright dirty as the day is long, the Ohio Players were my "Led Zeppelin." From 1973 to 1977, the boys from Dayton threw it against the wall and made it stick with a string of second-to-none, gold and platinum albums that included Skin Tight, Fire, Honey and Contradiction. Although their pair of #1 singles, "Fire" and "Love Rollercoaster," have become iconic and remain as fresh-sounding today as when they were first released, some 40 years ago, it's the lesser-known, guitar-driven track, "Fopp," the perhaps represents the band's personal best.
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