Styles & Forms | Funk Soul | Soul & R&B

Since the dawn of the jazz era, the appeal of pop music had become increasingly intertwined with the demands of the dancefloor. As 1960s rock and soul became ever tougher and more orientated towards youth and hedonism it was only a matter of time before someone would come up with the ultimate dance groove.

That someone was soul’s greatest innovator, James Brown, who pioneered a music so orientated towards pure, African-derived rhythm that melody would finally be forced to take a back seat as backbeat took the wheel.

Funk as a term had been around since the turn of the twentieth century, when it applied specifically to the odours produced by the human body during and after sex. By the 1930s it was used to describe music with a dirty, lowdown feel, and by the 1950s it was an alternative name for hard bop, the post-bebop jazz with a straight-ahead, gospel- and swing-influenced rhythm, as typified by Milt Jackson and Horace Silver. But it was 1964 before funk formally twinned with soul, on James Brown’s minor American hit single ‘Out Of Sight’. The track had a familiar blues structure, but the hard-but-swinging, hip-grinding rhythm dominated, and was further developed by Brown on 1965’s world-changing ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’ and 1966’s ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’, by which time the entire JB band – horns, guitar, Brown’s screeching staccato vocal – was surrendering melody to beat with a power and vibe as much African as Afro-American. Somewhat surprisingly however, Brown didn’t apply the term funk to his new sound until 1967’s flop single, the instrumental ‘Funky Soul No. 1’.

As Brown’s career progressed, funk began to dominate his oeuvre. As well as making his own genre-defining classics including ‘Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud’, ‘Sex Machine’ (arguably the first disco record) and ‘Funky Drummer’ (which became the most sampled track of the late-1980s/early-1990s when Clyde Stubblefield’s drum break became ubiquitous on hip hop tracks of the period), Brown co-wrote, arranged and produced an enormous catalogue of funk classics for his ‘Funk Family’. In some cases, tunes by the likes of Fred Wesley & The JB’s, Maceo & The Macks, Bobby Byrd, Vicki Anderson, Lyn Collins and Marva Whitney are more treasured than Brown’s own by the funk connoisseur.

Soul Greats Get Funky

Of course, other soul greats applied the same kind of rolling, undulating rhythms to their work. Atlantic Records soul singer Wilson ‘The Wicked’ Pickett’s 1965 anthem ‘In The Midnight Hour’ is a blueprint for strutting down tempo funk, and arguably the greatest soul singer of all, Memphis’s Aretha Franklin, essayed a more subtle, gospel-edged funk sound on 1967 classics ‘Respect’ and ‘Chain Of Fools’ and 1971’s ‘Rock Steady’. Funk/R&B crossovers like Eddie Floyd’s 1966 ‘Knock On Wood’ and Bob & Earl’s 1969 ‘Harlem Shuffle’ (originally recorded in 1964 and arranged by Barry White) also added to the burgeoning...

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


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