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Oldies Music Glossary: "Funk"


Parliament's 1977 album

Parliament's 1977 album "Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome"

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Definition: "Funk" was a term before it was a style of music -- African-American slang for a stinky smell, it was eventually applied to music by R&B and jazz vets when they wanted to make a song grittier, harder, more urgent. Eventually, however, Funk came to define a genre of rhythm-heavy, somewhat improvisational black dance music which arose from the gritty R&B and soul bands of the Sixties. The Isley Brothers single "Testify" (1964), for example, is a gospelish raveup in the style of their earlier "Shout," yet the foundations of funk bass guitar can already be heard in the groove.

That same year, James Brown recorded "Out Of Sight," the first of several singles -- "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag," "I Got You," "Cold Sweat" -- which would see him successively tighten up the backbeat of his R&B and place more and more emphasis "on the one," that is, on the first and third beats of every signature, rather than the second and fourth beats common to rock and roll music. By 1969, the new groove had caught on, with The Meters creating New Orleans Funk by adding traditional "second line" parade rhythms to the formula, and with Sly Stone and later George Clinton creating "funk-rock" by playing funk with rock instruments and emphasizing lead guitar solos and psychedelic flavor. The tone for the next decade was finally set with Brown's 1970 single "Sex Machine," done with his new band, the JBs.

In addition to its one-and-three syncopation, funk can also be identified by a chunky rhythm guitar playing 9th and 13th major chords, a heavy bass (or kick) drum sound, liberal use of the hi-hat cymbal to snap the beat back, and other rhythmic instruments like clavinet and effects like wah-wah pedals. Like its improvisational cousin, jazz, funk continues to influence, having been simplified into the 2/4 beat known as disco and, later, appropriated as the backbeat for hip-hop.

Also Known As: Dance music, Disco, Hip-hop
  1. "(Get Up I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine," James Brown
  2. "Cissy Strut," The Meters
  3. "Flash Light," Parliament
  4. "Jungle Boogie," Kool and the Gang
  5. "Superstition," Stevie Wonder
  6. "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)," Sly and the Family Stone
  7. "Express Yourself," Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
  8. "Fire," The Ohio Players
  9. "Freddie's Dead," Curtis Mayfield
  10. "Pick Up The Pieces," The Average White Band
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