Starting XI - Funkiest Tracks Laid on Wax

 

Not sayin' these are THE funkiest tracks, by its our starting 11 that we love just because they're so damn groovy. From those with the funk groove we'd come to expect, others you'd never expect usually associate with funk and one or two that most folks (but not our readers, obviously) have never even heard before. And all without resorting to cheap, obvious takes (other than maybe Mr Brown and Stevie Wonder, they're pretty obvious, I suppose). What else do you reckon we could have gone with? Let's have your suggestions... and a million magic internet points to the most original.

Led Zeppelin: 'When the Levee Breaks', from IV/Untitled (Atlantic, 1971
This record is all about Bonzo and those god almighty drums of his, which are as loud and high in the mix as they've ever been. Bonham laid down a beat as phat as anything Jabo Starks or Sheila E ever conceived while playing in the middle of a cavernous hall. That's not to say the other instruments aren't noteworthy: Percy's harmonica has the raw spookiness of Little Walter, and Jimmy Page's bottleneck slide is incendiary. A jaw-dropping track that has been imitated from the Midlands to Manhattan but never bettered.

Sly & the Family Stone: 'In Time', from Fresh (Epic, 1973)
Who are we to argue with Norman Cook when he proclaims this "the funkiest record in the world"? It's Sylvester Stewart at his most deranged, putting down top-notch hyper-syncopated cocaine funk; it's also the first track on the Family Stone's last truly brilliant album. Indeed, "there's a mickey in the taking of calamity." Sly never sounded more opulently debauched, and the band never played with such precision.

James Brown & the Famous Flames: 'Cold Sweat', single (King, 1967)
'Cold Sweat,' like so much of the funkiest funk that Mr Brown laid down, is all about pushing and pulling orgasmic grunts and not caring about "the do's and don'ts." The Godfather yelps, screeches, and hollers his passionate imprecations as Clyde Stubblefield lays down the jerky groove, Maceo and the horns cry that phrase, and Clyde Stubblefield puts down the jerky groove. In recent memory, there has never been a more perfect example of unadulterated funk.

ZZ Top - 'Cheap Sunglasses', from Degüello(Warner Bros., 1979)
You clearly ain't heard 'Cheap Sunglasses' if you think the little ol' band from Texas can't get down with the funk with the coolest of cats. 'Sunglasses,' the penultimate track from 79's Degüello, is not only a timeless ode to low-rent Americana but also one of the most stonkingly funky pieces of music ever in the name of rock, or indeed, roll. It's a crotch shankin'ly awesome, five minutes of snappy humour and lean, mean grooving capped off with squalling guitar harmonics and an evil Dusty Hill bass solo.

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Stevie Wonder: 'Superstition', from Talking Book (Motown, 1972)
Stevie was writing it for Jeff Beck... until he realised what an absolute monster he was creating. 'Superstition' is a lyrical flashback to the darkest of mojo blues – "Thirteen-month-old baby/broke the looking glass" – but a musical leap into funk's future, led by THE funky clavinet grooves to end all funky clavinets grooves and spiced up by those seriously explosive horns (the only things Stevie didn't play on the track).

Dr. John: 'R U 4 Real', from Desitively Bonnaroo (Atco, 1974)
Prince's penchant for massacring the English language may have predated Millenial text-speak by twenty-plus years, but it still came a good decade after the good Doctor. Following the deep-acid-fried New Orleans gumbo revival of the late 1960s, Mac Rebennack plugged straight into the Big Easy groove with In The Right Place and Bonnaroo in 1973-4. These two Allen Toussaint produced albums, both featuring the Meters, saw him shake a lot of tailfeathers. While the bottom end rumbles like thunder over Chandeleur Sound, the sticky sweat of the funk keeps your shirt stuck to your back.

Little Feat: 'Rock and Roll Doctor', from Feats Don't Fail Me Now (Warner Bros., 1974)
A steamy, thick rendition of the New Orleans second-line strut. Bill Payne's Wurlitzer piano nudges and nurdles, while Lowell George's slide whines over the top as beats go missing. Richie Hayward and Ken Gradney lay down a killer groove in the engine room. 

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Bob Marley & the Wailers: 'Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)', from Natty Dread (Island, 1974)
Dark, menacing, sinister, brooding, foreboding. The militancy of the lyrics is rammed home by Touter Harvey's grinding Clavinet and the great Barrett Brothers' rhythm section. This is Bob at his most uncompromising. It's mind-blowing.

Robert Palmer: 'Sailing Shoes' Sneakin' Sally Thru The Alley (Island, 1974)
Opening his debut solo album with Sailing Shoes (and then into Hey Julie and Sneakin' Thru The Alley) rather made a rod for the blue-eyed white-boy-soulster's back. How on earth do you beat such a slinky bundle of funky grooves? The arrangements and vibe are unrivalled, which ain't too surprising when you realise he was being backed by the Meters and numerous Little Feats. But after that, while he put out some decent records after this, he never did come close to topping it.

Talking Heads: 'Once in a Lifetime', from Remain in Light (Sire, 1980)
The trembling beat sets a tone for this suburbia nightmare of a song: Eno's harnessing of David Byrne's twitching delivery into a groove that was arguably Talking Heads' coolest moment. Everything in the tune hangs on Tina Weymouth's simple up-down/two-note bass line — from the wool-on-skin scratchy guitars to the booming toms and keyboard loops. Even after all these years, it is still funky as. 

The Commodores: 'Brick House', from Zoom (Motown, 1977)
It's hard to believe now, but the Commodores really did use to be more than just Lionel Richie's backing band. 'Brick House' is a groovy killer of a track that treads a not dissimilar path to Bon Scott's love for the charms of the curvier lady. And of course, it's one helluva party, with the horns blazing, the bass thumping, and the 'Dores lustily pining for their wants in a way that makes Motely Crue sound like Suffragettes. Unfortunately, the dreadful 'Three Times A Lady' was only a few months away.

 

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