The Best of Funk: A Guide to 70s Music

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


The Best of Funk: A Guide to 70s Music

Funk music was a popular genre in the 1970s, and many of the best funk songs are still popular today. This guide will help you learn more about the history of funk music and discover some of the best funk songs of all time.

Introduction to Funk

Funk is a music genre that emerged in the mid-1960s. It is a genre that is characterized by a strong bass line and funky beats. The best of funk music is a blend of all these elements.

What is Funk?

Funk is a music genre that originated in the mid-1960s when African American musicians created a rhythmic, danceable new form of music through a mixture of soul music, jazz, and rhythm and blues (R&B). Funk de-emphasizes melody and chord progressions and focuses on a strong, rhythmic groove of electric bass and drums. Like much of African-derived music, funk typically consists of a complex twist of conflicting clave rhythms, polyrhythms and meters.

Funk’s primary signature groove is a syncopated 16th-note pattern played by the electric bass. This signature groove gives funk its distinctive “bounce” or “slap” bass sound. Other important funk instruments include the drum set (especially the snare drum), electric guitar, horns, and keyboard instruments such as the piano and Hammond organ.

While funk began as a more sparse and stripped-down style than its predecessors, it soon developed into a richly textured style that incorporated elements of soul, R&B, jazz, rock, and even disco. Funk songs often have an infectious quality that encourages dancing; they are often sexually suggestive or laced with double entendres; and they frequently make use of call-and-response patterns between the lead singer or rapper and the rest of the band or audience.

The Origins of Funk

The word funk initially referred to a strong smelling tobacco, but eventually became a catch-all term for the often African-American music that incorporated elements of soul, R&B, and jazz. The earliest recordings that could be considered funk were made in the late 1960s by James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone.

Brown’s approach was based on the repetitive grooves of soul and R&B, but with more emphatic rhythmic punctuation provided by his band, which relied on a two guitar, bass, and drum lineup rather than the larger horn sections that were common in soul. Sly & the Family Stone created a more psychedelic sound that retained some of the structure of pop and soul while also adding elements of rock.

Funk really took off in the early 1970s with hits like Parliament’s “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” and Ohio Players’ “Skin Tight.” These songs encapsulated many of the key elements of funk: a strong danceable groove, hypnotic rhythms, simple but effective melodies, and often sexually explicit lyrics. By this time, funk bands were often large ensembles that incorporated elements of R&B, jazz, rock, and even classical music into their sound.

The Best Funk Songs of the 70s

Funk was a popular genre of music in the 70s that was characterized by its heavy groove and African influences. The genre emerged out of the African American community, and many of the best funk songs of the 70s were created by black artists. If you’re a fan of funk, or just looking to explore the genre, check out our list of the best funk songs of the 70s.

“Superstition” by Stevie Wonder

“Superstition” is a song by American singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder. It was released on October 24, 1972, as the lead single from his fifteenth studio album, Talking Book. The song was written by Wonder and produced by him and Robie Lester. “Superstition” is a moderate hit song with a funky groove. The lyrics tell the story of a man’s fear of the supernatural.

The song became one of Wonder’s most successful singles, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in early 1973. It also peaked at number one on the Cash Box chart and number two on the UK Singles Chart. The song has been covered by many artists, including Michael Jackson, who released his own version in 1988.

“Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” by James Brown

“Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” is a song recorded by James Brown with Bobby Byrd on backing vocals. Released in March 1970, it reached No. 1 on the R&B chart and No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was written by James Brown and Bobby Byrd.

The song features one of Brown’s most famous performances, in which he ad-libs the now-famous opening: “Get up! I feel like being like a sex machine, y’all!” The recording also features what Brown biographer Elijah Wald calls “one of the most famous basslines in funk.”

“I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5

Released in late 1969, “I Want You Back” was The Jackson 5’s first Motown single and the first number-one hit for the group. It was also the beginning of their successful collaboration with writer/producer Berry Gordy and Motown’s in-house studio band, The Funk Brothers.

The song’s simple, catchy hook and upbeat tempo helped it become an instant hit, and its success launched the career of one of the most successful pop groups of all time. “I Want You Back” remained at the top of the charts for five weeks and was later certified gold by the RIAA.

“P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” by Michael Jackson

“P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” is a song by American singer Michael Jackson from his 1982 album Thriller. It was written and composed by Jackson and produced by Quincy Jones. Jackson stated that the lyrics were based on young love, and he claimed that “P.Y.T.” was one of his favorite songs on Thriller. The song received generally positive reviews from contemporary music critics, with some praising Jackson’s vocal performance and others calling it a stand-out track on the album.

The song was released as the seventh single from Thriller on October 16, 1983, with “The Lady in My Life” as its B-side. It peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making it the fourth single from Thriller to reach the top 10 in the United States. The song also charted within the top 40 in several other countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

The accompanying music video for “P.Y.T.” was directed by Bob Giraldi and features Jackson dancing around a parking garage with several teenage girls. The video received positive reviews and won a Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video at the 26th Annual Grammy Awards in 1984.

“Le Freak” by Chic

“Le Freak” is a song by Chic, released as a single in 1978. The song was written by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, and produced by the former. It was the band’s third single and became their biggest hit, remaining at number one for seven weeks on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in early 1979, as well as topping the dance charts for five weeks. In the UK, it peaked at number three, giving Chic their first top ten single.

The single achieved sales of seven million copies, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time. It is ranked as the second biggest selling disco single ever after “Gay Bar” by Electric Six. In October 2010, it was voted by readers of Rolling Stone as the ninth greatest dance song of all time; in 2018, it was ranked at number 21 on Billboard’s All-Time Greatest Songs list.

The Legacy of Funk

Though it may be difficult to believe, funk music has been around for over 50 years. The genre has its origins in the African-American community, and was born out of a blend of jazz, soul, and R&B. Funk music is characterized by its heavy groove and often improvisational style. In the 1970s, funkadelic bands like Parliament-Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone helped to bring the genre to the mainstream.

The Influence of Funk on Other Genres

Funk has had a profound influence on other genres of music, most notably hip hop, disco, and rock. Many funk songs have been sampled by hip hop artists, and funk’s percussive style has been adopted by disco and house DJs. Rock bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Living Colour, and Parliament-Funkadelic have incorporated funk into their music.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in funk music, with bands like Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson incorporating elements of the genre into their own sound. This has led to a new generation of fans discovering the joys of funk, and the genre is once again being celebrated by music lovers across the globe.

So what is it about funk that has made it so timeless? One of the key elements is the groove; funk is all about making people move, and its infectious rhythms are impossible to resist. The other key element is the attitude; funk is music with a message, and its positive vibes are a welcome antidote to the often negative messages in today’s popular culture.

Whether you’re a fan of classic funk or modern interpretations, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant genre. So put on your dancing shoes and get ready to groove, because funk is here to stay!

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