Styles & Forms | Funk | Soul & R&B

By the 1970s, the new sound of funk dominated Afro-American music. Jazzers such as Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock scored their biggest commercial successes by incorporating its hip-grinding rhythms into what became known as fusion or jazz funk, while soul acts enjoyed a second wave of popularity as funk provided the bridge between the soul and disco eras.

Fuelled by Sly & The Family Stone’s dark and druggy There’s A Riot Goin’ On, many of funk’s themes were street-tough and angry, swapping soul’s romance and hope for reportage on harsh ghetto realities. Other funk acts went in the opposite direction, using little more than chanted hooks and slogans to embellish their funky instrumental jams. Whichever way, the 1970s funk era remains one of the most vibrant periods in black music history, and those deep, dirty rhythms went on to provide sampling source material for hip hop’s explosion in the late-1980s.

Funky Soul Men

‘The Godfather Of Soul’, James Brown, continued to develop the funk he’d invented throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Although well-documented problems with drugs, women and the police led to an inevitable decline in his music’s potency, classics such as 1975’s ‘Funky President’ and 1976’s disco-exploiting ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’ established him forever as the definitive funk artist. While Brown continued to throw down, two other 1960s soul masters blended a mellower form of funk with socially concerned singer-songwriter elements. Former Motown child prodigy Stevie Wonder reached artistic peaks with the powerful fear-fuelled funk rock of 1973’s ‘Superstition’ and the same year’s Innervisions, an all-time-great LP mixing tough funk protest, sublime ballads and a jazzy spontaneity, despite Wonder playing almost everything himself. Meanwhile, Chicago’s Curtis Mayfield broke away from his 1960s vocal group The Impressions and fashioned a unique muse based upon his beautiful falsetto vocals and vivid lyrical pleas for social justice. This produced a funk masterpiece in 1972 with his soundtrack for blaxploitation movie Superfly. All this Sly Stone-influenced funk politics was defined by a classic 1972 single by Ohio’s O’Jays. This Philadelphia Sound vocal group produced, in the extraordinary ‘Backstabbers’, an expression of desperate pop paranoia that matched Marvin Gaye’s legendary ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ in intensity and dread.

The Coming Of P-Funk

North Carolina’s George Clinton had already been through 1950s doo-wop and 1960s soul with little success before his singular funk vision bore fruit in 1970. The debut album by his Funkadelic project took Sly Stone’s psychedelic funk on an even weirder trip, mixing hard black rhythm with hallucinogenic guitar freak-outs and LSD-inspired sci-fi lyrics. By 1973, former James Brown cohorts Bootsy Collins (bass), Maceo Parker (sax) and Fred Wesley (trombone) had joined Clinton in his two parallel groups, Funkadelic and Parliament. The two outfits mixed and matched up to 35 members and played the greatest freak-out live shows of their day. They swapped between pounding low-tempo...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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