Funk has long been something that I’ve viewed as being an album oriented genre-one that blends uptempo dance music and jazzy or blues oriented ballads that has a certain approach to rhythm. But is often built around a certain concept as well. While funk albums has always been part of the family musical experience? I only fully understood funk as a specific genre due to compilations albums. In fact have often stated that at that place and time in the mid 1990’s? The only feasible and fiscally practical way in which to experience funk was through different types of compilations.
Much the same as you’d have with full length albums? The nature of compilations of pretty diverse when it comes to the funk genre. Funk is found on various artists compilations that otherwise consist mostly of rock,jazz and blues songs. They can be found on soundtracks in much the same manner. While in the 90’s there was not only a major up-swell of various artists compilations that were all funk, but also a series of compilations by a single funk band/soloist. Tracing down the timeline of where I personally started with the music? Here is a list of the various varieties of funk compilations that inspired me along the journey into the groove.
It was a cassette dub of this album from my dad, playing on the car stereo on the way home from a family trip from the city of Portland. I’ve discussed this on my previous blog The Rhythmic Nucleus. What still amazes me is that I could listen to songs such as “Let’s Star The Dance”,”Rigor Mortis” and “Flashlight” were all from a band actually called the Funk Essentials. Still this served it’s intended purpose with me: to whet the appetite to explore the artists within. And through BMG Music Service’s well stocked lineup of Funk Essentials compilations for individual artists I was able to take that journey a bit later
Having already been exposed to Heatwave’s Central Heating album on 8 Track tape as a child? This album was a cassette of my mothers when she was unable to find that album on another format. While featuring the biggest hits from that album? It was my first exposure to classics such as “Boogie Nights”,”Always And Forever” and the 1980 jam “Posin’ ‘Til Closin”. It also led me on the path to other full length Heatwave albums like their 1982 masterpiece Current. The music of Rod Temperton and the late Johnnie Wilder have had an incalculable effect on how I perceive funky songwriting and composition.
It’s very likely that Michael Jackson represented my very first introduction to funk music and I wasn’t even aware of it. His music was a direct link to me for the music of Berry Gordy’s Motown records where he began his career onward to Quincy Jones and the Westlake studio crew of musicians such as bassist Louis Johnson (one half of the Brothers Johnson of “Stomp” fame) and Greg Phillinganes (renowned session player for the likes of Eric Clapton,Stevie Wonder and his own solo albums Significant Gains and Pulse) as well as Toto’s Steve Lukather.
On these Motown sessions? People like the Mizell Brothers (who’d go on to work with jazz great Donald Byrd) and members of The Jazz Crusaders in Joe Sample and Wilton Felder provided the instrumental power and excitement to songs such as Michael’s early solo hits such as funked up show tunes such as “All The Things You Are” to epic fare such as “We’re Almost There” and “Take Me Back”. Not to mention a roll call of Jackson 5 triumphs such as “I Want You Back”,”Mama’s Pearl” and “Dancing Machine” along with far lesser known but still powerful songs such as “Looking Through The Windows”,”Get It Together”,”Whatever You Got,I Want” and “Body Language”.
As with The Jacksons? Some songs from Earth Wind & Fire were part of my musical core from the outset. Yet it was the experience of borrowing this vinyl from my dad in my early teens that really got me started on exploring this band. Songs such as “Shining Star”,”Fantasy”,”Can’t Hide Love” and “Getaway” were completely new to me at the time. Cannot diminish the excitement of hearing them for the first time. Add to that viewing the inner gate fold sleeve of this vinyl to see the joyous expressions of the band before I even knew names like Ralph Johnson,Al McKay,Larry Dunn or even Maurice White.
It was the Funk Essentials series that led me to this. During 1995 the name George Clinton was ringing through my head all the time. And this particular album was my entry point into the world of Parliament. Of course some of these songs lyrically made little sense to me. But it didn’t take the liner notes to begin to understand that characters such as Sir Nose,Starchild,Mister Wiggles and Dr.Funkenstein were part of a vast concept Clinton had set up that spanned across the Parliament albums as a whole. This really elevated my understanding of funk as an album based genre. And therefore was one of the key individual artist-based compilations that entered into my world at the time.
Interestingly enough? My father was more attracted to the holographic CD cover for this set than he seemed to be with the music within. Yet during the spring and summer of 1996? My father and I actually began our many musical conversations while listening to the songs here. It was my very first exposure to artists such as Roy Ayers,Mandrill and George Duke. These artists would become hugely significant in my expanding musical explorations in years to come.
Always compelled by the multi talented and expansively funky Prince Rogers Nelson,this album really showcased for me how versatile and entrancing this innovator of the Minneapolis sound’s music truly was. Not only that but it included a number of non album B-sides on the final disc-the best of which (for me anyway) were the magnificent “17 Days” and “Erotic City”. When I collected all of Prince’s full length albums? I actually sold my original copy of this for pocket change basically. But I recently bought it again-not only because of the B-sides but simply because it’s a compilation of songs I still love to listen to set up this way. And from the look of the back? I feel as if I might’ve bought back my own copy I sold so many years ago.
Seemed only natural to explore the music of Rick James during the same time as Prince’s. Interestingly enough? This particular collection was one of the very first CD’s bought into our home in 1990 when my father got his first CD player as a Christmas gift. It took me six more years to get into it. While I danced and hummed along to “Give It To Me Baby”,”You And I”,”Cold Blooded” and my favorite at the time “17”? Listening to this man’s lyrics provided me with a bucket list of things I would never even think of doing myself. Good example to me of funk that was almost totally lyrically un-relatable for me.
This mixture of Latin style acid jazz music of the mid 90’s was again something that my father purchased-during a time when both of us were on trajectories of exploring funk and it’s many tributaries. While not every one of these songs made a lasting impact on me? Singer India’s performance on the song “Runaway” helped me to understand something Roy Ayers,who also appears on this album, would continue to teach me later: how funk functioned in the context of the disco era.
It was a family friend,the late Janie Galvin,who first loaned us this CD. A lot of the songs and artists I knew well at this point. At the same time it was first hearing of Diana Ross’s amazing disco-funk extravaganza “Love Hangover”. Not to mention my introduction to two artists who would become enormous parts of my musical future in the UK group Imagination and the incomparable Teena Marie.
I’d been reading over and over again about this man who,by 1997 I only knew three songs by. Only after being fully educated on how this man was essentially responsible for funk and hip-hop on his own? I went for it and purchased the highly recommended James Brown box set. I don’t know if I have words to described the feeling of what hearing “Think”,”Let Yourself Go”,”Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothin'”,”The Payback”,”Get Up Offa That Thing” and “It’s Too Funky In Here” for the first time. Perhaps I was more than a little late in the game to James Brown. At the same time? It actually opened the door for another,deeper stage in my understanding of the thoroughly instrumental structure of funk.
On the way back from an long road trip to New York State? The two CD’s were part of the soundtrack for the trip home. At the time? I found some of these long instrumental jams a bit monotonous. Though I was deep into James Brown at this time? The idea of repetition in funk and being “on the one” was an element of the music’s core I could only take in limited doses. Still this was very educational for broadening my ability to listen to extended instrumental numbers. Somehow? The song I found myself doing a total call and response to on that road trip was “More Peas”. Today with the JB’s? Can hardly get enough of them. Proof of how funk can evolve a music lover fast!
This discount compilation,found at Sam’s Club I believe,had one song on it that I kept repeating over and over again. And that was Tom Browne’s “Funkin For Jamaica”. This was a song and artist I wanted to know more and more about. This was a direct line to some of my more recent explorations of the last decade or so of artists such as Bernard Wright,Lenny White and Weldon Irvine.
From solo projects by P-Funk’s Bernie Worrell onward? Grammavision was a label I was beginning to investigate during the late 1990’s. This compilation of my fathers provided me with a song by an artist named Jamaaladeen Tacuma called “Trouble” that really caught my ear. Tacuma’s music is one of my more recent investigations. And all because of this one little song that simply never left my mind upon hearing it.
The new millennium had officially arrived with this album-a free giveaway to my father from Bull Moose records,the local Maine record haunt. One song on this album excited my father so much he gleefully gave me the “you’ve GOT to hear this” routine. The song was “Masturbation Session” by a band called Arepa 3000-a P-Funk style number sung in Spanish. It was my first (and one of very few) exposures to funk sung in a completely foreign language.
After the year 2000? Compilations no longer provided any influence in my musical experiences. Full length albums were generally the route I was beginning to go on from then on- with my burgeoning interest in reissue CD’s and used vinyl. Interestingly enough? That was the year I received my GED diploma after eight years of home/un-schooling. My funk education directly coincided with my academic education: from 1993 through 2000.
One thing my blogging partner Henrique and I often discuss is how most people seem to either understand funk as a musical fad heavily connected to the disco era,nor even worse know nothing about it at all. After writing this? I am proud that funk,a music based so fully in rhythm,was as strong a musical influence on my life as rock ‘n’ roll is for the majority of people so it seems. Going from collections of songs to coherent album statements? It’s been an exciting journey which wound up with me discussing individual songs today,only in music terms,here on this blog. My own advice? Never fear changing up the groove in your own life!