Written By: Ethan Griggs
My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com
When James Brown performed at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem on October 24th, 1962, he ushered in a new era of Black music. Combining elements of soul/R&B and jazz, Brown and his band introduced “funk” to the world. From there it spread like wildfire throughout the 1960’s and by the end of the decade it had become a legitimate, marketable derivative of soul. Alongside hard rock and disco, funk bands of all creeds and classes ruled the airwaves in the 1970s. Some artists wanted to use the genre to make grand political statements; others just wanted to dance their asses off. By the time you finished reading our list of the top 5 70’s funk artists, the FUNK shall be within YOU.
- Marvin Gaye
As a 60’s soul superstar, Marvin Gaye was the poster boy of Motown Records. He scored numerous hits with his partner-in-crime Tammi Terrell, but her untimely death in 1970 from brain cancer left Marvin devastated. After trying out for the Detroit Lions, Gaye decided to continue on his old career path, and thank God for the rest of us that he did. When What’s Going On was released in 1971, Gaye had cemented his position as the “Prince of Soul”, delivering an album that was as funky as it was political. More concept albums followed; such as the steamy Let’s Get It On in 1973 and I Want You in 1976. Gaye was so committed to his art that he actually chronicled his divorce from his wife Anna, the sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy, in the sprawling 1978 release Here, My Dear. Marvin’s career tragically came to a full stop when he was shot and killed by his father, in front of his mother, at their home in 1984.
Key tracks: “Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology)”, “Inner City Blues”, “Let’s Get It On”, “Got to Give it Up”
- Sly & the Family Stone
First getting together in 1966, Sly Stone and his multi-gender/multi-racial band of misfits from San Francisco were instrumental in brining funk to the top of the charts in the late 60’s. With feel-good anthems such as “Dance to the Music” and “Thank You (Falettingme Be Mice Elf Agin)” already under their belt, the group began to disintegrate by the time they released the fiery and political There’s A Riot Goin’ On at the height of the Vietnam War. Still, with Sly at the helm of the record as its primary instrumentalist, the group created what is arguably their magnum opus.
Key tracks: “If You Want me to Stay”, “Luv N’ Haight”, “Family Affair”
Not only is this two-in-one chameleonic group responsible for creating one of the longest lasting musical empires in history; it’s also responsible for giving us the one and only George Clinton. Moving back and forth between incendiary, psychedelic, Hendrix-like hard rock (Maggot Brain) and their own unique brand of rhythms they would eventually name “the P-Funk” (Mothership Connection), this group is a truly one-of-a-kind musical experience. Amazingly, Clinton still tours as a solo artist as well as bringing out new variations of his classic band.
Key tracks: “Maggot Brain”, “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)”, “One Nation Under A Groove”
- Earth, Wind & Fire
When Maurice White, a Chicagoan, recruited his brother Verdine and some of their friends to create Earth, Wind & Fire, he probably had no idea the project (named after White’s astrological sign of Sagittarius) would end up becoming one of the best selling bands in history. After a few false starts and some moderate success in the early 70’s, they lit up the entire world with their multi-million selling That’s the Way of the World, an album considered responsible for making funk an international phenomenon. From there on, it was hit after hit after hit, and they scored another huge seller later in the decade with All In All. Unfortunately, Maurice White passed away just last year, but his legacy lives on in the current touring lineup for EW&F, which his brother Verdine still plays in.
Key tracks: “September”, “Shining Star”, “Sing a Song”, “Boogie Wonderland”
While he didn’t come to prominence until the late 70’s, the Purple One delivered a funk masterpiece with his first US R&B number one, “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, from his self-titled second album. That song catapulted the Minneapolis native to the highest heights of music stardom, and put him in a position to become the leading voice of funky guitar anthems in the 80’s. Without the success of that song, we’d have no Dirty Mind, 1999, or Purple Rain, three of the best funk-oriented albums of the decade.
Key tracks: “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”, “Sexy Dancer”