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PLAYLIST: 25 FUNK SONGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW

Rather than give you the typical playlist fodder, here are some slightly lesser-known cuts that get down on the one. See below for some commentary.

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James Brown, “Licking Stick—Licking Stick” (1968)
The titular stick is of the sort meant to deliver a beating, and JB and company (including co-writers Pee-Wee Ellis and Bobby Byrd) hit hard on this cut. The lyrics refer to “People standin’…in a trance,” which is an appropriate image for this brutal, mesmerizing groove.

Funkadelic, “I Wanna Know if It’s Good to You?” (1970)
This raw early track is P-Funk at its most hormonal, with gasping wails, churning keyboards, an acid-bath of guitar and a bottom end from the very depths. It’s a funk orgy. 


Johnny Jenkins, “Voodoo in You” (1970)
Best known as a blues guitarist and singer, Jenkins made one monumental album: the intoxicating Ton-Ton Macoute! It boasts Jenkins’ brilliant cover of Dr John’s “Walk on Gilded Splinters” (famously sampled on Beck’s “Loser”) as well as this volcanic cut. Its funk is primal, hallucinatory and a little scary. Some manner of “Voodoo” pervades the entire set, but this track’s incantatory power is especially potent.

House Guests, “What So Never the Dance” (1971)
Just before joining Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins and brother Catfish were part of this short-lived collective and put down this ridiculously hot instrumental jam, which pours some freaky sauce on the JBs’ formula.

The Chambers Brothers, “Funky” (1971)
Bridging rock and funk, the Mississippi-bred siblings behind this band had a psychedelic smash with 1968’s epochal “Time Has Come Today.” This cut didn’t come anywhere close commercially, but it’s pretty badass—and its conga-spiced, loping intro was famously sampled on “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” by A Tribe Called Quest.


The Meters, “Stay Away” (1972)
You could drop the needle on virtually anything by the New Orleans funk superheroes and be knocked on your ass by their musical chemistry. This jam, from one of their first Warner Bros./Reprise albums, pushes the complexity of their riffage nearly into prog-rock territory.

The Honey Drippers, “Impeach the President” (1973)
“Some people say that he’s guilty/ Some people say, ‘I don’t know.’” This chestnut from the age of Nixon, recorded by R&B striver Roy C. Hammond with a group of Queens teenagers and first released on his tiny Alaga label, has acquired new relevance in the Trump era, for obvious reasons. But “Impeach” al-
ready occupies a rare berth in pop 
history thanks to its drum intro, which has been sampled dozens of times since the ’80s. In addition to being used on hits like TLC’s “Waterfalls,” Kriss Kross’ “Jump” and Digable Planets’ “Cool Like Dat,” it’s brought breakbeat bliss to, among many others, EPMD, Eric B and Rakim, N.W.A, LL Cool J, De La Soul, Ice Cube, Janet Jackson, Naughty by Nature, The Notorious B.I.G. and Prince.

Lyn Collins, “Mama Feelgood” (1973)
The “female preacher” recorded her best-known sides for James Brown’s People Records; you’ve heard her sampled on Rob Base & DJ EZ-Rock’s “It Takes Two.” This cut in particular—with the JBs as her band—captures her ability to sermonize in the church of funk. A killer vocalist by any measure, Collins breaks it down, builds it up and leads the groove to glory.

Sly & the Family Stone, “Loose Booty” (1974)
“Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego,” chanted over a blazing beat, comes from the Book of Daniel: three biblical figures walk through the fiery furnace unharmed, thanks to their faith. The track, hot as it is, is an anthem of survival and liberation—with the groove as a spell of protection. The Beastie Boys sampled this ferocious cut on their own “Shadrach.”

Skull Snaps, “It’s a New Day” (1974)
This enigmatic band hatched a slinky soul-funk hybrid, and this anthem of political change is arguably its finest moment. But Skull Snaps lapsed into obscurity until they were dug up by hip-hop DJs, and the intro to this cut became one of the most widely sampled breakbeats of all time.

Betty Davis, “Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him” (1974)
Stretching the limits of the form with a feral growl, this fashion model and erstwhile bride of Miles established herself as a funk innovator. This smoldering cut—“gonna do it ’til the chicken crow,” she moans—is the opening salvo from her sophomore album, the aptly titled They Say I’m Different.

Parliament, “Funkin’ for Fun” (1976)
“If you see my mother, tell her I’m alright…” Heartfelt soul explodes into exultant brass and thump on this, one of the Clinton camp’s most emotional testimonials, in which we once again see the funk as a communitarian ideal.

Graham Central Station, “It Ain’t Nothing but a Warner Bros. Party” (1976)
Funk is generally about good vibes, and this exuberant trifle is as sunny as a company picnic. It’s not often you find a track that not only heaps gratitude on a major label (there’s a shout-out to “brothers Mo and Joe”) but helpfully lists the other acts on the roster. Of course, “Party” also effortlessly showcases the virtuosity of Larry Graham and bandmates, who seize their solo breaks with relish.

Bernie Worrell, “Woo Together” (1978)
The keyboard wizard’s first solo album, All the Woo in the World, carries forward the Parliament-Funkadelic vibe (assisted by Clinton, Collins, Hazel, Maceo, et al) but also finds him stretching out as composer and arranger. And the groove here is just sick.

Prince, “Partyup” (1980)
This cut from the Purple One’s breakthrough Dirty Mind is one of his strongest early nods to straight-up funk—played and sung singlehandedly by the man himself.  The synths and defiant coda (“You’re gonna have to fight your own damn war/We don’t wanna fight no more”) give this cut a frisky new-wave veneer, but its relentless polyrhythms prove Prince was the true heir to the throne.Digital Underground

“Underwater Rimes (Remix)” (1990)
An “underwater hip-hop extravaganza” presented as an oceanic sequel to Parliament’s “Aqua Boogie.” Shock G and team, who scored smashes with “The Humpty Dance” and ‘Doowutchyalike,” are at their playful, piscine peak here; guest star “MC Blowfish” has got major flow—and all the hooks.

The Time, “Release It” (1991)
With a bulldozing Tower of Power drum sample and some furious patter from frontman Morris Day, this cut from the Prince proteges (penned by His Purpleness and Levi Seacer Jr.) is a highlight of the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack.

DJ Quik, “We Still Party” (1998)
This West Coast hip-hop hitter is a true disciple of P-Funk, and arguably the link between Parliament’s O.G. party and Dr. Dre’s G-Funk revival. This loping cut perfectly explains why he’s “freaky with a capital F.”

Black Eyed Peas, “Joints and Jam” (1998)
Before they became a global powerhouse, will.i.am and company delivered this tasty, danceable jam that clearly established their funky bona fides.

D’Angelo, “Devil’s Pie” (2000)
Spare and menacing, with its inventive vocal harmonies poking through the mix like blades of grass out of concrete, this fat, wicked groove showed just how far out of the warm-soul comfort zone D’Angelo was prepared to venture. The track also served as the title of the 2019 documentary about the artist.

Bettye LaVette, “Joy” (2005)
The veteran belter shows how it’s done with this minimalist meltdown, which includes a shout-out to funk mecca Muscle Shoals.

Gizelle Smith & the Mighty Mocambos“Working Woman” (2009)
Hailing from Manchester, this Brit and her band conjure up some old-school mojo.

Kendrick Lamar, “King Kunta” (2015)
K-Dot definitely channels JB (“I’m mad,” he fumes, referencing “The Payback”), with some P-Funk percussion. The title, meanwhile, references the dauntless protagonist of Roots: “Everybody wants to cut the legs off him.”

BJ the Chicago Kid, “Turnin’ Me Up” (2016)
The melody is silky soul—and BJ’s falsetto shines—but that groove is pure stank.

Calvin Harris, “Cash Out” f/ScHoolboy Q, PARTYNEXTDOOR & D.R.A.M. (2017)
“Party like it’s 1980” sets the vibe for this throwback from EDM hitter Harris, whose album Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 honors a trove of classic dancefloor modes—and the pumping bass and handclaps here recapture the heyday of funk.

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