I have a confession: when I came to Andre with this blog idea, I was not sure there would be enough songs released this year to fill it out. Oh, there has been plenty of funky songs released from the turn of the millenium on, as well as from the ’80s and ’90s to cover. But the past four years or so had been so fruitful in terms of new funk recordings, I just couldn’t be sure we’d have the funk bomb in 2014 as well. Unfortunately, a funkateer can no longer take new funk for granted. But if Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars combustible new single “Uptown Funk” continues to get the reception it so richly deserves, we should have plenty of funk in the near future. Mark Ronson, the celebrity D.J slash musician-producer, has done plenty of funky songs over the years, like his “Pretty Green” featuring Santigold, or “Glass Mountian Trust” featuring D’Angelo. Not to mention his soulful Afrobeat inflected remix of Robin Thicke’s “Magic.” Add to that Bruno Mars and his performing and musical acumen, including a full band that is a dedicated part of his package, and you have the makings of something very stank indeed. But did I expect them to drop this Morris Day and the Time cum Roger and Zapp sprinkled with Earth, Wind & Fire (its in the horns man, the horns!) funk in the twilight of 2014? NO! Just like that, Ronson reserved a top spot for the “Blurred Lines” award, which I’m gonna start giving to the over 30 dance record of the year, every year. This thang is that potent.
The jam kicks in from the very beginning, with a bass clef voice singing a bass line on the one. The bassline being sung is a very funky one, hitting hard on the one and leaving plenty of space. The technique itself harkens back to funky songs like Jimmy Castor’s “Bertha Butt” and Roger and Zapp’s “Doo Waa Ditty”, on before that to the bass voices in doo wop, back before that to choral musics in Europe and vocalizing in Africa. Yeah, that far back. When u establish some funk that boldly, you have to have something backing it, and Ronson chooses some loud, brash handclaps hitting on the two and four beats, with some shifting effects coming in and out. After that funky four bar intro, the rhythm guitar comes in. The guitar is playing small chord voicings, high up the neck, in the ’80s funk style of players like Prince and Roger Troutman. A voice comes in bellowing “ow”backed by the horn section, which introduces Bruno Mars vocals. Bruno comes in, bragging in the self referential funk style, “This is that ice cold/Michelle Pfifer/That white gold.” Those vocals are backed by a solid funk beat. Bruno goes on to brag “I’m too Hot!/Call the Police/and the Fireman!” A single note, low register, insistent funky guitar line is introduced, with funky guitar chords backing it up. This all builds up to a pre chorus that says “Uptown Funk gonna give it to ya!” The pre chorus is backed by double time hand claps and a sound effect that sounds like a jet taking off and Bruno borrows the hook line from Trinidad James 2012 hit “All Gold Everything”, “Don’t believe me just watch!”
From there the song goes into a high powered Earth, Wind & Fire style horn led chorus, with a line that also is reminiscent of the horns on Michael Jackson’s classic, “Jam.” This is also backed by a funky early ’80s funk cum new wave synth pad.
The video is also very funky, with Bruno, Mark Ronson and the band strutting through an old school street scene, hitting funky poses and drinking ‘yac. The fellas take up the old school image of super sharp, super hip players, getting their hair done under the blow dryer, and getting their patent leather shoes shined. They also dance down the street in front of a stretch Lincoln. Bruno himself is hilarious in the video, hitting all of the prissy, narcissistic, affected motions of the type of player he’s potraying in the song, reminding one instantly of such funky egomaniacs as Morris Day.
This is a record that speaks for itself. One of George Clinton’s central contributions to funk as a music was his branding of it. James Brown was a pioneer in that regard, naming tunes “Aint it Funky Now”, and “Funky Drummer” and “It’s Too Funky in Here.” But it was George Clinton who used the word and term “Funk” for all aspects of his music as well as worldview. One of the frustrating things about Funk is its seeming low name recognition. Many times that is as it should be because even when the head does not know the funk, the hips and ass generally do. But until hips and asses speak the Queens English, it’s the mouth that must testify to the musics greatness. So Mark Ronson and Bruno are doing a big thing here by naming this cut “Uptown Funk”, they’re not hiding it, nor being coy, nor trying to be new. If you’re ashamed of the funk the funk will be ashamed of you, right? Of course, the word “Uptown” brings various things to mind, from Prince’s utopian “Uptown”, to Harlem, New York which is “Uptown”, which extends to the general characterization of the black part of any city as “Uptown.” That word also conjures up a certain slick, strutting sophistication that is the finest mixture of city and country, modern and ancient. Kind of like the Funk itself. By digging up these energies with some funk for right now, Ronson and Bruno will most definitely increase their own success, as “funk is it’s own reward.” But it’s the music lovers of the world who will reap the greatest benefits!