The Age of Funk and James Brown

In the 1970’s I found myself at university in Brighton. Back in Nottingham Motown was morphing in to Northern Soul, but that was never going to take hold on the South Coast. In the night clubs, I frequented as a long haired student, something else was happening. That something was dominated by one man – The Godfather of Soul in his new guise as The Funk Master. I’m talking of course about Mr James Brown.

Get on up and take it to the bridge

For this sixth visit in to the music dance vaults, looking for tracks for my ’70s themed freestyle I thought I’d better check out my funk roots. There’s no better place to start than with James Brown’s biggest ’70s hit Get up (I feel like being a sex machine). The song is built round a very simple but funky guitar riff and Brown’s vocal interplay with backing singer Bobby Byrd. I just love it when Browns chants the immortal line Bobby shall I take ’em to the bridge. Not quite sure where the bridge is, but I have to have this track on my list.

Bobby Byrd – The true Godfather of Funk?

Bobby Byrd is credited as the person who discovered James Brown – they actually met in prison! Brown joined Byrds group The Flames and in 1956 they had a hit with Please, please, please as James Brown and The Famous Flames. Brown soon left and Byrd had little success on his own.

He reunited with Brown in 1970 and co-wrote Get up I feel like being a sex machine. He went on to lead Brown’s backing group The JBs and had a major influence on Brown’s developing funky style. I found this piece of Byrd’s solo work on YouTube. I know you got Soul has funk written all over it.

This next track is just too funky

In doing some follow up research to the Funk Hour at The Southport Weekender, I came across another James Brown track that I had missed first time round. It is perhaps even more funky than Sex Machine, so funky in fact that its titled It’s too funky here. I’ve cheated slightly again by using a modern remix by Funkstar Deluxe, which looses none of the original’s funkiness.

Another ’70s Funk Master

There is only one other artist who comes close to rivalling James Brown and Bobby Byrd as the Godfather of Funk, and that is Stevie Wonder. In the early seventies Stevie Wonder was given his artistic freedom by Motown owner Berry Gordy. His first real success was the Talking Book album which included the No 1 hit single Superstition. I remember hearing this and realising that it marked a real change in dance music.

To improve my street cred rating I’m going to include the Uptown Funk/Superstition Mashup, rather than the original. I think this should be allowed as the 2014 smash Uptown Funk can trace its lineage back to Wonder’s ground breaking track.

More Stevie Please

If we can have two James Brown tracks we have to have two Stevie Wonder tracks. After the success of the Talking Book album Wonder went back in to the studio and created an even more critically acclaimed album – Inner Visions. This album produced my favourite Wonder track from the ’70s – Higher Ground. Wonder showed the full range of his talent on this track, writing the song and playing all the instruments, including the drums and percussion himself. He achieved the unique sounding bass line by using a Moog synthesizer.

Sylvester gets Funky too

Syvester’s You make me feel (Mightl real) started my journey to create a ’70s freestyle playlist (see link below). About five years ago at a freestyle at Bedford’s Corn Exchange I was on the stage asking the DJ ‘What was that track?’ The track that had me on the stage was Sylvster’s own piece of funk – Do you wanna funk. Yes I do and here it is. This is not the raw funk of Brown and Byrd but nonetheless it’s a great track to dance to.

The funkiest trumpets ever

In 1975 Brass Construction produced a ground breaking album, where the brass instruments, including the funkiest trumpets ever, were really brought to the fore. The biggest track on the album was Movin’, where the simplest of trumpet refrains is played over a funky guitar lick to create a dance track that conquered the dance clubs in the entire western world. The album track was eight minutes long, and believe me that was not enough back then.

Construction – Production its all funk to me

As the name would suggest Mass Production were probably influenced by Brass Construction. Their 1976 track Welcome to our world has the same kind of funky guitar lick and the brass section once again ups the funk levels. The pace is slightly faster than the Brass Construction track and makes it perfect for modern jive. Sadly I can’t take any credit for finding this great track – that goes to Lou last week at Arden Hall.

A Guaranteed Floor Filler

Dancing at your local freestyle you will probably know most of the tracks, but you’ll appreciate the DJ mixing in a few fresh numbers. As this playlist develops I realise that it contains many unfamiliar tracks. This may test the dancers’ interest, so it’s going to be important that the playlist contains lots of guaranteed floor fillers. Kool and the Gang’s Lady’s night is such a track. Kool and The Gang have a real funk pedigree. Long before they hit the British Charts they created Funky Stuff. This track was more in the Bobby Byrd mould and it had the wonderful line Can’t get enough of that funky stuff.

By the time Kool and The Gang hit the British charts, with tracks like Celebration and Get down on it, they had developed a more commercial appeal, but Lady’s Night production still owes a lot to their funky beginnings.

A Southport Funk Hour Classic

For my last funk inspired track I’ve chosen a song I first danced to in the Funk Hour at a Southport Weekender. Like so many of my favourite tracks I learned the name of it by dashing to the DJ as it finished, ‘What was that track?’ ‘Peoples Choice Party is a groove thing.’

People’s choice are best remembered for the 1975 disco smash Do it any way you wanna – a track I adored at the time, but I’ve chosen Party is a groove thing released the year before because I think its easier to modern jive to.

The Southport Funk Hour is a good omen

Is this idea for a ’70s themed freestyle going to fly? As I’ve worked through this latest journey in to the dance music vaults, I’m constantly reminded of the Funk Hour at my last Southport Weekender. DJ Vince Silva had the place buzzing to a playlist dominated by ’70s tracks. Of course four hours is a lot longer than the aforementioned Funk Hour, but I remain confident that there is enough variety of style to keep the dancers interested through out the night. More thoughts on this in Part 7.

Use the Quick Links below to read more about my ’70s Freestyle Project

’70s Playlist Part 1: My idea for a ’70s themed freestyle inspired by Sylvester’s You make me feel (Mighty Real) and the first ten tracks.

’70’s Song List: I’m constantly adding to the song list as I dig around the ’70s dance music vaults

Ceroc Arden Hall Freestyle: This review includes tracks from the ’70s Second Room

The Funk Hour: A review of Vince Silva’s Funk Hour set