Eben Pagan’s Blog

Funk Music (And How To Dig It)

Posted in Good Music, Uncategorized by ebenpagan on January 4, 2009

I spent the afternoon at my friend Frank Kern’s house a few days ago, and we got on the topic of FUNK. I’m talking about funk MUSIC, of course.

As it turns out, Frank has never listened to much funk. I had to drop some knowledge on him.

After dropping said Funk Knowledge (with enthusiasm, I might add), I’ve decided that it’s in the best interest of all humans… and cultural evolution in general… for there to be a solid introduction to Funk in an easily-accessible form that anyone can understand and enjoy!

If YOU are not (yet) a fan of funk and funky, then I recommend that you:

  1. Get a life
  2. Get some funk
  3. Dig it
  4. Repeat
  5. Often

Here’s a “Funk Starter Kit” – to introduce you to quality funk music. This is relatively “easy” funk – good, classic, mainstream-ish stuff that anyone can groove to…

Start with these 12 tracks, and build your Funk House on a strong foundation! (At the end of this post is a link directly to the iTunes store where I’ve created an “iMix” of these tunes for easy downloading.)

If You Want Me To Stay by Sly & The Family Stone. Mellow, tight, groovy funk. Sly is INVENTING funk at this point in his career. Note the subtle drum machine and the tight bass line. This song is best listened to with eyes closed… adding a slight nodding movement of the head.

What Is Hip? by Tower Of Power. Rhythm section of Dave Garibaldi (drums) and Rocco Prestia (bass) is impossibly tight. TOP is the only band that can play music this COMPLEX and still make you wrinkle your brow because it’s just so damn funky. Dig the very end of the song. Tight funk! (If you dig this music, and you will, also check out their tunes “Soul Vaccination” and “Squibcakes.” BAD.)

You Got The Love by Rufus (with Chaka Khan). Quacky funky guitar riff in this song lays it down. If you ever see a band perform a cover of this song, you’ll be a happy funk-lover! Rufus and Chaka are great.

Fire by the Ohio Players. You’ll notice that this song starts out with a fire alarm. The funk is so hot that they need to call the fire department! Great bass and horn section in this one.

I Want You by Marvin Gaye. Marvin is one of my all-time favs, and this song is a great example of “blaxploitation movie” style funk. The build-up at the beginning of this tune can only be described as a masterpiece of “anticipatory funk” music! Also, not the background vocals. 147 layered tracks of the Marvin harmonizing with himself. I assume, after listening to the song many times, that Marvin didn’t have his eyes open at any point while recordig this track.

Flashlight by Parliament. George Clinton, literally translated, MEANS “funk.” (George is the funk guru behind Parliament, and thus, this tune.) Possibly the funkiest bass line ever recorded. It took me years of listening to this song before I realized that the flashlight was to HELP THEM FIND THE FUNK. No, really. And if you’re into funk, then this makes a special kind of sense. Listen to this song and try to not move your head. You’ll hurt yourself. NOTE: George Clinton’s songs have been sampled by literally THOUSANDS of modern hip-hop artists, and his grooves are behind more hits than probably any other funk-masters’ work.

Early In The Morning by the Gap Band. A more modern tune (early 80s)… but as funky as they get. Solid funk. Polished funk. I personally think this song goes to the next level around the 6:17 mark, when that bad new funk guitar riff starts. But that’s just me!

Fantastic Voyage by Lakeside. This is also polished, solid funk. Very smooth production. The emphasis on the downbeat during the verses is tight. The long “funk intervention” during the middle of the song is sweeeeet. “What you should do is take a listen to… so you can understand…”

Joyous by Pleasure. This verse of this song probably has the baddest groove of all time. Note, again, the “anticipitory funk” buildup theme for the first minute and forty seconds of this tune. You just KNOW that something funky is going to arrive during the first minute and a half. At 1:40 the main groove starts. When this part of the song begins, I typically have to stop any conversation I’m in, because I must REVERE THE GROOVE. Note the higher consciousness lyrics… back 30 years ago. A shout-out to Nate Phillips on the bass! Unreal bass-man-ship on the Pleasure stuff.

Too Tight by Con Funk Shun. This is slick funk. Polished funk. Happy funk. Tight rhythm, great horns, multi-layered vocals and clean, funky guitars. I dig Con Funk Shun. Awesome band that you need to check out!

Stomp by The Brothers Johnson. Stomp is the goods. And the Brother’s Johnson are well-versed in the art of funk. Their style was under the umbrella called “Sophisticated Funk” back in the ’70s. And with good reason! Quincy Jones produced this album, so you’ve got bad funk plus a world-class production. Once you hear this song, you’ll never forget it! A funk classic!

Getaway by Earth Wind and Fire. The pinnacle of funk, in my own humble opinion. I think that this song represents the pinnacle of musicianship, the funk style, and production. I honestly think that this song represents the best that music has to offer, period. When you listen to this song, you’re hearing a world-class funk band in their prime… playing a song that’s beyond funky. Can you tell that I dig this tune?

BONUS FUNK: Funkin’ For Jamaica by Tom Brown. Not available in the iTunes store, but one of the funkiest and best songs ever produced. Get it!

NOTE: All of these tunes except for Funkin’ For Jamaica can be found in the iTunes store HERE: The Funk Starter Kit (Open this link with iTunes, by the way.)

Leave me a comment below and let me know your thoughts about my “Funk Starter Kit.” Also, leave YOUR funk recommendations in your comment. If I get a lot of good feedback, I might just post and “Advanced Funk Connoisseur” list. Trust me, there’s a lot more funk where this came from!

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45 Responses

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  1. Dave Doolin said, on January 4, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    Earth Wind & Fire… saw em in concert in ’75. Good show.

    P-Funk makes an appearance in the otherwise somewhat forgettable but fun movie “The Night Before” (Lori Loughlin hubba hubba). Funny stuff.

  2. Alex said, on January 4, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    Touche!

  3. nemrut said, on January 5, 2009 at 12:09 am

    …great list, these are classics. just a clarification, in the US we call this genre of music R&B. i dont know of anyone that calls it ‘Funk’ and i’m as old school as you can get ;-)

  4. jonnilaforce said, on January 5, 2009 at 1:06 am

    I must say you’re assessment that this post is in the best interest of all humans and cultural evolution in general, is right on the money Pagan.

    I found the step by step instructions for funk virgins to be powerfully life-changing, yet elegantly succinct.

    The hints for how to best listen to these songs can only come from someone who has truly felt the funk.

    As far as the list; it’s so funky it’s better than groovy or even out of sight, it’s just plain gone man.

    P.S. Don’t you just love how Wikipedia defines the main characteristic of funk as creating an intense groove?

    Dig it.

  5. Matt Feato said, on January 5, 2009 at 1:08 am

    nah dude…R&B is still its own style…though it had a good influence on funk. Funk was more simpler than R&B.

    Funk IS its own style…Eben needless to say these lists could go on forever, but to add to that and even drop in the “advanced” list, you still need ones like James Brown (yea the Godfather of Soul, but he helped redefine funk in the 60′s), Curtis Mayfield, Bootsy Collins (part of Parliament, but he was the bass man after all…and that’s where a lot of the funk comes from), early Prince, Commodores, and some of that real early disco sound in the 70′s where it came off of the feel and more on that open high-hat beat flavor.

    Even today the funk still lives…personally as a house DJ, that sound combines all of those elements: funk, soul, R&B, disco, what have you…disco never died. It just became house. And to this day some of those old classics get re-touched up and re-mixed…never to die.

  6. Ryan said, on January 5, 2009 at 7:41 am

    Nice I’m definitely down with the Funk Eben.

    Ryan

  7. Vic said, on January 5, 2009 at 7:44 am

    I’m starting to smell the funk. lol

  8. John Nada said, on January 5, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Damn, that’s a stong list! Ohio Players, Gap Band, Lakeside? Pagan, you’re starting to dig deep! I might just one a few of the ‘lesser known’ (but equally as Fownky bands) the Bar-Kays out of Memphis, TN. Soulfinger, baby!

  9. Matt Gallant said, on January 5, 2009 at 7:48 am

    Man — I’m shocked Frank didn’t know about “The Funk”. How did he “fake” being so cool for so long? LOL

  10. Jack said, on January 5, 2009 at 9:44 am

    I went, er, rather tried to see Earth, Wind & Fire four time in concert and they canceled all four of them. I don’t know how they found out I was going to be there but some how they did and I never did get to see them in concert. Too bad to, cuz I really liked their music.

  11. Jason Moffatt said, on January 5, 2009 at 10:22 am

    I recently set up a DJ setup with Technic 1200′s and the works. Then came the joy of going shopping for Vinyl.

    The first 2 albums I put in the basket were…

    Bootsy Collins “Ultra Wave”

    and

    Funkadelic “Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On”.

    Funk Ya!

    J-Mo

  12. Dave Doolin said, on January 5, 2009 at 10:30 am

    I agree wrt Bootsy, Party on Plastic (What’s Bootsy Doin’?) is one of my faves.

    How come no Funkadelic?

  13. Jay Bergers III said, on January 5, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Nice Job! I’m sure glad you included the P-Funk in that grouping!
    Howza ’bout “Get Up for the Down Stroke” by the P-Funk , too! ?

    Nice! Ya gotta keep the P-Funk and George Clinton near the top of the list!

  14. Allen Sanders said, on January 5, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    Eben! WOW! You’re a funk fan too! I have been a “student” of yours for awhile now – bought your courses, etc. and I love your teaching style – we have a lot in common but I was blown away by this list you put on here – you REALLY know your stuff!

    I was jazz trained at the University of North Texas in Denton, TX and I play trombone in a FUNK band in Austin, TX called Uncle Bruno — http://www.unclebruno.com – we crank out a blend of funk, fusion, jazz, and rock on our originals. We just burned our first CD and will be releasing it soon. We have a blast playing in town and I’m a major FUNK FAN. It is truly a style of its own and there is nothing like it.

    We also cover a lot of THESE bands – most of which people have never heard of but are AWESOME funk bands from around the U.S. I HIGHLY recommend that people check out these groups – do a Google search or look on MySpace:

    Soulive

    Galactic

    On the One

    Lettuce (one of my favorites – in NY City area – originally a bunch of Berklee students)

    Stanton Moore

    Mingo Fishtrap – (ex-North Texas students that are now based in Austin too) – GREAT BAND and I know some of the guys

  15. Allen Sanders said, on January 5, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Forgot one more —

    Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe

    http://www.karldenson.com -

    another awesome funk band most people have never heard of….

  16. Rick said, on January 5, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Eben,

    What a list! I think I need to visit your blog more often just to get the Funk Vibes.
    You went deep on list.

    Thanks for sharing and let’s return to Funkville when music was really music and I could actually understand what the artists were saying.

    Rick in Dallas
    Funk on…baby!

  17. Hildy Gottlieb said, on January 5, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Here at the Community-Driven Institute, “funk” means only one thing – a huge project to be done. Wrapping client gifts, making holiday cards (yup, we make our own – clients and prospects love it!), cleaning out an office.

    Thanks for the great list, Eben – usually we just dial into Pandora.

    Hildy
    (Who is sadly doing a tedious task that would get pretty messed up if I start dancing…)

  18. Charlie said, on January 5, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    I may have skimmed too fast in all the excitement, but it seems like you ought to include some of that old, old, hard to find Prince funk in here somewhere. C’mon. He may have gone light on us, but the early stuff still counts.

  19. Craig Clemens said, on January 5, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    A few years back some friends and I were partying in a room at the Roosevelt in Hollywood. Around 3am we hear a knock on the door… thinking it is security we kill the music and have one of the girls answer the door, thinking she would hold the best favor with the guards.

    She opens the door and we hear a loud male voice go, “Heeeeeeeeey!” she turns back and is like, “Ummm do you guys know this guy?”

    I look up and see an old – and I’m talking OLD – brotha with dreadlocks and rainbows in his hair. “George??”

    “Yeaaaaaaaaahh!”

    “Holy shit, it’s George Clinton… come on in!!”

    So George comes in and we make him at home as we are berating the girl for not realizing that she was in the presence of the godfather of funk. Upon finding out he is someone famous she starts snapping pictures with him and quickly exchanges numbers. George only hangs for 10 min or so before heading back to his own room down the hall so I guess we weren’t exciting enough for him, but it was definitely the funkiest moment of my life, that is for sure.

  20. Chuck said, on January 5, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Oh boy…

    Eben you gotta check out some of these bands:

    Cymande

    The Gaturs (super rare and hard to find, but they are dripping with funk)

    The Meters

    Mandrill (their Mango Meat song is fierce!)

    … and probably the funkiest singles I can think of… most are on YouTube…

    Heatwave – Mind Blowing Decisions

    Jimmy Castor Bunch – Potential (another really rare one)

    Aaron Neville – Hercules

    Commodores – Assembly Line (there’s a ridiculous drum break near the end)

    Isaac Hayes – Hyperbolicsyllabic… (I can’t remember the full name)

    David Porter – The Masquerade is Over

    Herman Kelly & Life – Dance to the Drummer’s Beat

    Lafayette Afro Rock Band – Apache

    Ben E. King – Supernatural Thing (my eyes water from the perfection of this song)

    Gosh there’s so many great ones. Most of the above have been extensively sampled for other songs.

    Eben we’ve got a few mutual friends (even though we’ve never met) and I’d be glad to fill up an iPod for you with this stuff plus lots more and pass it along. Just send me an email if you’re interested.

  21. David Hooper said, on January 5, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    You need some Bar-Kays, man!!

  22. [...] Funk Music (And How To Dig It) « Eben Pagan’s Blog [...]

  23. [...] Funk Music (And How To Dig It) « Eben Pagan’s Blog [...]

  24. valery said, on January 6, 2009 at 6:40 am

    Very interesting

    I will come back again :)

  25. Brenda Nicholson said, on January 11, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Excellent list. I so love me some funk. I agree with Dave & Jay – def need to include Funkadelic & George does belong at the top of the list. Did you ever see the documentary about The Funk Brothers? More Motown than funk, but still good.

  26. Donald said, on January 13, 2009 at 8:58 am

    wow. funkin for jamaica is one of the best funk songs in the world, BEST ON THE LIST. HOW IS THIS NOT ON I-TUNES? USE YOUR INFLUENCE AND GET IT ON THERE! Lol.

  27. Leo Saraceni said, on January 24, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    Hey Eben,

    you have not listened to real funk until you’ve enjoyed Brazilian funk

    I’m not going to get into the whole cultural effect that Funk still has on our culture, but you can watch this video here to get an idea:

    Let me know how you like it. I can translate it for you ;)

  28. [...] a recent (surprising) post, Eben shared how he introduced Frank Kern to the world of Funk [...]

  29. Carl said, on January 26, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    Oh my god! You’ve got damn good taste in funk white boy! I’m a white boy too (and a GMM member) and I can’t believe you know Tom Brown! I was a trumpet player in high school and college and I worshipped Tom Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire, and of course Parliament!! Excellent list! Would love to hear your guitar playing!

  30. Shane T. said, on January 28, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    This thread might be a bit old now but Funk is such a broad genre. I saw the starter kit you put together and it’s solid but it was missing a few things:

    The Meters – Cissy Strut
    James Brown – The Big Payback
    Lou Donaldson – Everything I Play Gonna Be Funky
    Stevie Wonder – Boogie On Reggae Woman or Superstition or …..
    Grant Green – Jan Jan (Live at the Lighthouse)
    Curtis Mayfield – Move On Up
    The JB’s – Pass The Peas
    Jimmy Smith – Root Down
    Al Green – Love and Happiness
    Cal Tjader – Soul Sauce
    Fela Kuti – Gentleman
    Bill Withers – Lonely Town, Lonely Street
    Cymande – The Message
    The Staples Singers – Respect Yourself
    Booker T and the MGs – Green Onions

    Let me know what you think. You can also follow me on http://www.twitter.com/groovyshoe

  31. scottnotrobot said, on February 7, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    couple more that ought to be here imo:

    maceo parker
    the bamboos

  32. scottnotrobot said, on February 7, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    oh and also:

    papa grows funk

  33. Jack Dalton said, on February 8, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Great list Eben. My musical tastes are varied and funk is not way up there among my choices, but I do enjoy it from time to time. I had a great time watching George Clinton from 3rd row center 10 years ago.

    Someone might get the impression from your list that funk needs to be busy. For a stripped down essence of funk (some might consider it incipient proto-funk) check out Archie Bell and the Drells – “Tighten Up”. U-Tube has a fun video of that one. The band in the back is dressed in Carnaby Street fashions, while Archie and and the dancers are in the front, wearing suits!

  34. Sonia Simone said, on February 9, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    Everything about this post makes me happy.

  35. Suzy Bell said, on February 11, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Woah. Eban, this is awesome…
    It always surprises the heck outa me when
    folks don’t get the Funk on with it. Geez.
    Great list, and thanks again for the update and
    lesson!
    Cheers,
    Suzy Bell

  36. Luke Lowrey said, on February 25, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    Damn Eben, whod-a-thunk it…

    What about Prince?!

  37. Howard J said, on March 16, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Eben:

    Now, I have ultimate respect for your marketing abilities, but let me just say that your Funk Starter Kit is missing the founding fathers of funk, The Funky Meters, From New Orleans.

    Art Neville, George Porter, Jr., Joseph (Zigaboo) Modeliste and Leo Nocentelli.

    Worth your attention!

    Also, please let me know if you (or Frank) want to do some Marketing for Reggae Music Knowledge exchanges. I am well open to that symbiotic relationship.

    Best,

    Howard J

  38. Howard J said, on March 16, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Eben:

    Dig on this

    VINTAGE METERS:

    Howard J

  39. Dan said, on April 26, 2009 at 3:10 am

    Eben: Check out

    The Nils Landgren Funk Unit – Licence to Funk

  40. stonerpreneur said, on June 3, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    If you like this stuff, you will love the Soul Story collection. I have no idea how I ever lived without it!!

    Sidenote: Sly is probably in my top 5 best vocalists of all time.
    (But don’t listen to me, Mike Patton is also on that list, too…and NOT ironically.)

  41. jessicabelle said, on June 28, 2009 at 6:56 am

    Hey Eben and everyone!

    I’m in the UK and so for some reason I couldn’t access the iTunes link you provided Eben….SO i went and created a playlist for everyone on YouTube, of all your suggestions!!…inc the no. 13 special!

    You can find it here:
    http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=FFBBC3E19D6457AB

    Hope you enjoy! There’s some really fab songs Eben, thanks a lot….you’re right, it’s sooo hard to Not move the body!

    PS…oh yes, there’s some truly um, unforgetable dance moves in this bunch!…enjoy! ;)
    PPS.. the song that Chuck said makes his eyes water (cos i was curious about that one!) can be found here:

    PPPS..please do your ‘Advanced’ list soon!!

    Have fun!
    jess xx

  42. Geo Swanko said, on June 28, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    There’s some good stuff listed. It’s good to see several people mention The Barkays. I didn’t see the Dramatics though. “What you see is what you get” is awesome http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p353zVhKyN0&feature=related#

    Prince’s “Sexy MF” is so funky you can taste it. (as Buddy Guy would say)

    Funk is so fun to play and improv!

  43. Kim Santy said, on July 26, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Funk is the best!

  44. Moran said, on August 13, 2009 at 1:44 am

    “Funk’n’stein” – This is an israeli band, and they are playing some of the best funk music I’ve ever heard.

  45. Chuck said, on August 22, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    You can hand the prize over to James Brown on this one…


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