The best funk albums ever made have one thing in common: They make you want to get down. Over the years, plenty of artists have excelled in the genre: James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, Rick James. There have also have been artists that have taken elements from funk and made it their own: Prince, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder all come to mind. In the below list, we’ve paid tribute to some of the finest to ever do it, choosing one album per act, simply to get in as many artists as possible. We hope you enjoy this list of just a few of the best funk albums ever made, and use it as a starting point for further exploration.
40: Mark Ronson – Uptown Special
Ronson’s phenomenally successful 2015 album takes a tour through the history of funk, bringing the genre screaming into the 21st century. It includes the modern-classic floor filler “Uptown Funk,” while the album is topped and tailed with contributions from one of the original masters of funk – Stevie Wonder.
39: Average White Band – AWB
Scotland’s funkiest outfit, Average White Band are probably best-known for the million-selling “Pick Up the Pieces,” produced by the legendary Arif Mardin for Atlantic. However, not everybody involved thought it was a hit. As AWB’s Malcolm ‘Molly’ Duncan recalled: ‘”You’re completely mad,” I said. “It’s a funk instrumental played by Scotsmen, with no lyrics other than a shout.”’
38: Lee Fields – Let’s Talk It Over
Something of a cult classic, beloved of deep funk fans, Lee Fields’ 1979 album showed that the former Kool and the Gang man deserved a limelight of his own. Obviously influenced by James Brown (Fields provided the vocals to the 2014 JB biopic Get On Up), his love of classic soul and funk shines through on “Mighty Mighty Love” and “She’s A Lovemaker.”
37: Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik
After a tumultuous end to the 80s, RHCP were by their own admission in a dark place. But producer Rick Rubin encouraged the band to make the funk album he believed they were capable of. Singer Anthony Keidis described the process as, “The most beautiful creation of music in my life.”
36: James Taylor Quartet – Wait A Minute
You might not expect great funky sounds to come out of the southeast of England in the mid-1980s, but you’d be wrong. Seasoned Mods, organist James Taylor and his pals’ jazz-funk echoed Booker T & the MGs, while their version of “The Theme from Starsky and Hutch” is rightly hailed as an all-time classic funk album.
35: The Temptations – All Directions
The Motown label’s “My Girl” hit-makers were never ones to rest on their laurels, changing styles and band members with the seasons. Having pioneered the psychedelic soul sound that fed into funk, it was only right that they should reap the rewards of their innovation. Central to All Directions is an epic, 12-minute cover of the Undisputed Truth’s “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.”
34: Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters
Is it jazz? Is it funk? Electronic soul? As Herbie Hancock told the New York Times, “The thing that keeps jazz alive… is that it is so free and so open to not only lend its influence to other genres, but to borrow and be influenced by other genres.” Call it what you want – it’s a stunning LP.
33: Graham Central Station – Graham Central Station
Former Sly & the Family Stone man Larry Graham joined and renamed a band named Hot Chocolate (not to be confused with the UK act), renaming them with a pun based on the celebrated Manhattan railway terminus. Bringing his sumptuous bass to the fore, these are pop-soul tracks of a very funky nature.
32: Cameo – Word Up!
Cameo had a string of acclaimed funk albums behind them by the time of their 1986 international smash hit, Word Up! (give 1977’s debut Cardiac Arrest a go after this, and then join the dots). Through the 80s, Cameo’s ability to move with the times helped them appeal to a young crowd raised on hip hop and R&B.
31: The Commodores – Machine Gun
Think of funk and your mind may not go straight to Motown. And if all you know of The Commodores are smooth ballads like “Easy” and “Three Times A Lady,” then 1974’s Machine Gun is going to come as quite the eye-opener. As well as the much-imitated infectious instrumental title track, “I Feel Sanctified” is a real funky jam.
30: Cymande – Cymande
You won’t find too many British groups on a list of the best funk acts ever, but one you can’t miss is Cymande, a London band whose eponymous 1972 debut fuses funk with African rhythms and scales, reggae, and jazz. “Bra” and “The Message” stand out, but listen to the album as a whole to get the most out of it.
29: Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band – Express Yourself
If you were to sum up the sound of Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band in one word, it would have to be “joy.” That’s the feeling that oozes out of their records, as light, sunny grooves underpin catchy pop hooks. With the title track of their 1970 album, they landed one of funk’s most universal anthems.
28: Dr. John – In the Right Place
Hailing from New Orleans, Dr. John, the Night Tripper, was famed for his dark soul show, dripping in voodoo, amulets, and ceremony. But after four albums in that vein, he changed tack. An album of New Orleans songs was followed by his funkiest offering by far, which includes his classic “Right Time Wrong Place.”
27: Rufus featuring Chaka Khan – Rags to Rufus
Underneath Chaka Khan’s sumptuous vocals, which would go on to win 10 Grammys, Chicago’s multi-racial Rufus is a band packed with twisting rhythm and attention-grabbing arrangements – the Stevie Wonder-penned “Tell Me Something Good” was one of the first hits to feature a guitar talk box.
26: The Bar-Kays – Gotta Groove
Following the plane crash that killed four Bar-Kays and Otis Redding, surviving members Ben Cauley (trumpet) and James Alexander (bass) built a new band, and their first outing, in 1969, saw them rise from tragedy to triumph. “Don’t Stop Dancing (To the Music)” hits the ground running, while their hot-buttered southern soul really hits on “In The Hole.”
25: Manu Dibango – Soul Makossa
You’d be forgiven for not being au fait with all the b-sides of singles celebrating African soccer teams, but 1972’s “Soul Makossa,” by Cameroon saxophonist Manu Dibango became more than just a cult favorite, after its chant refrain “ma-ma-ko, ma-ma-sa, ma-ko ma-ko-sa” was referenced first on Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and then Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music.”
24: Edwin Starr – War & Peace
The Sound of Young America, as Motown billed itself, eschewed its apolitical stance with Edwin Starr’s monster hit “War.” The veteran Motown singer mixed psychedelic soul and funk on the accompanying long player – “Adios Senorita” shows the influence of labelmates The Temptations, while “Time” is an absolute force of nature.
23: Fela Kuti – Fela’s London Scene
As Fela Kuti announces on J’Ehin J’Ehin “Only a fool can eat his teeth.” Quite. Hailing from Nigeria, Kuti shot to international acclaim when he fused jazz and funk with African Yoruba music to create Afrobeat. Recorded in England in 1971, Fela’s London Scene drips with hypnotic beats and grooves, generating a spellbinding mix that transcends the sum of its parts.
22: Earth, Wind and Fire – Gratitude
Gratitude captures the Chicago band in their element. Mostly recorded live, Gratitude showcases a band that could compete with the JBs for energy and tightness, and reportedly put on a show to rival even George Clinton for flamboyance. It’s a breathless double album that also includes the hit single (and positivity anthem) “Sing a Song.” And why not?
21: Donald Byrd – Blackbyrd
There could have been few more respected figures in jazz than Donald Byrd – he’d played with all the top bop musicians, and taught jazz at Rutger and Howard. But when he released 1973’s Blackbyrd, many jazz purists turned away; funk wasn’t considered worthy in some quarters. But far more lapped it up for the groundbreaking fusion that history has proven it.
20: Michael Jackson – Off the Wall
Where does funk end and disco begin? Not an easy question, but it’s likely the answer is to be found somewhere in these grooves. Michael Jackson’s 1979 masterpiece includes such timeless classics as “Don’t Stop Til you Get Enough” and “Workin’ Day and Night,” but the funk is everywhere, even when it’s not obvious – such as underpinning the smooth R&B/pop of “I Can’t Help It.”
19: Prince – 1999
By 1982, Prince already had a string of gold and platinum albums in the bag. But the release of 1999 changed everything, positioning him as a unique artist, a genius who took the influences of funk, rock, R&B, and pop, and fused them into a style all of his own. While the follow-up, Purple Rain, may have outsold 1999, it was this album that propelled Prince into the stratosphere.
18: Marvin Gaye – Here, My Dear
Here My Dear has come to be seen in some quarters as among Marvin Gaye’s finest work. When a judge ruled that his alimony settlement with Anna Gordy (daughter of Motown chief Berry) would be the proceeds from his next record, Gaye initially intended to “put out a load of garbage.” But soon he became immersed in making this brutally honest assessment of their marriage.
17: Isley Brothers – 3+3
The original Isleys family trio were joined by the three of the next generation (hence 3+3) for this 1973 classic. Young Ernie’s stunning guitar solo on “That Lady” (a cover of their own 1964 “Who’s That Lady?”) benefited from the lessons given by one-time Isleys guitarist Jimi Hendrix, while “Summer Breeze” was the feel-good hit of the summer of 1974.
16: Fred Wesley & the JBs – Damn Right I Am Somebody
Trombone supremo Fred Wesley leads James Brown’s legendary backing band through a Brown-produced tour de force that captures the JBs at one of their highest peaks. It’s an album rammed with groove and licks that just won’t quit, with politics at the fore – “I’m Payin’ Taxes, What Am I Buyin’” a comment on Brown’s well-known contempt for the IRS.
15: Bootsy’s Rubber Band – Stretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band
There are few funkier sounds than Bootsy Collins’ iconic popping bass, one of the defining features of James Brown’s conversion to funk, as well as being central to Funkadelic-Parliament’s interstellar groove machine. When he stretched out on his own for this 1976 George Clinton-produced offering, he struck gold, most notably on “I’d Rather Be With You.”
14: Tower of Power – Tower of Power
“What Is Hip?” asked Tower of Power on their 1973 eponymous breakthrough album. The California horn-section-cum-funk-band immediately answered their own question by becoming one of the hippest brass outfits around, providing sass for some of the biggest names in the music world. Adding Lenny Williams on vocals, they enjoyed chart success with the glorious “So Very Hard to Go.”
13: Kool & The Gang – Wild & Peaceful
Just in case you were in any doubt, the Jersey City outfit’s 1973 album opens with the top 10 hit “Funky Stuff,” while the second number is aptly titled “More Funky Stuff.” And on it goes – “Jungle Boogie,” with its sublime bass-led signature riff, and “Hollywood Swinging” keep the party fuelled.
12: Gil Scott-Heron – Pieces of a Man
American poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron spent his teenage years in The Bronx, before his promise as a writer earned him a school scholarship in the Upper West Side. He launched his studio career with 1971’s album Pieces of a Man, opening with “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” an extraordinary work that still sounds vital over 50 years later.
11: Parliament – Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome
Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome is packed with delights. There’s Bootsy Collins’ impossibly brilliant bass on “Bop Gun (Endangered Species),” the twisted, ironic nods to more innocent days in “Sir Nose D Voidoffunk,” and so, so much more. The P-funk builds to a glorious climax with “Flash Light,” and its era-defining Moog bassline – much imitated, but never bettered.
10: Curtis Mayfield – Super Fly
The soundtrack to the 1972 Blaxploitation movie of the same name, Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly is best known for the hits “Freddie’s Dead,” and the title track, while “Pusherman” has become one of Mayfield’s most popular tracks. The whole album is a masterpiece – intoxicating grooves, cinematic orchestration, and tales from the ghetto, with Mayfield vocally on the form of his life.
9: Sly and The Family Stone – There’s a Riot Goin’ On
Such is a measure of their greatness, that such an iconic record, one that regularly features near the top of lists of greatest albums, is arguably not even Sly & the Family Stone’s best album (check out 1969’s Stand! next). One thing that most everyone agrees on, however, is that it’s one of the best funk albums of all time that no self-respecting record collection should be without.
8: The Meters – Struttin’
Like funk itself, The Meters hail from New Orleans, and it’s the down-home New Orleans style that Struttin’ celebrates. “The Hand-Clapping Song” has become something of a cult classic, having been sampled by (among many others) A Tribe Called Quest, Erik B & Rakim, Wu-Tang Clan, and Whitney Houston.
7: Ohio Players – Fire
The funk, it is said, has a groove that just won’t quit – something that Ohio Players took literally. Having formed in the late 1950s, they refused to give up on their dreams of stardom. In the early 70s, a string of LPs with suggestive titles and highly erotic covers finally brought success – 1974’s Fire may be the pick of the bunch.
6: Stevie Wonder – Talking Book
Is Talking Book strictly speaking a funk album? Perhaps not as a whole, but it would be impossible not to include an album with such joys as the slow’n’sleazy “Maybe Your Baby,” and the light’n’breezy “Big Brother.” And then there’s “Superstition” – Stevie singing this live on Sesame Street is almost certainly the funkiest thing that ever happened on children’s TV.
5: Betty Davis – They Say I’m Different
Having spent much of the 60s picking up influences ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Miles Davis (to whom she was briefly married) Betty Davis assembled her own band, wrote and recorded her own songs, and laid down a series of intensely funky (and sensual) records in the early 70s, before quietly disappearing from the music business.
4: Rick James – Street Songs
Having formed a teenage band with Neil Young, Rick James, the nephew of one of the Temptations, eventually shot to fame in the 70s after signing to Motown. His 1981 Street Songs album featured the monster smash “Super Freak” – although he admitted that he preferred recording ballads to his trademark bass-riff-heavy funk.
3: Funkadelic – Maggot Brain
George Clinton started out singing doo-wop, but by the end of the 1960s he found his groove, thanks to a fusion of soul, psychedelia, and funk. Funkadelic’s eponymous debut album was a dark offering while the follow-up, Free Your Mind… promised redemption through funk music. But Maggot Brain is perhaps their sonic peak – thanks in no small part to that guitar solo on the title track.
2: Isaac Hayes – Shaft
In the late 1960s, Stax songwriter, producer, and musician Isaac Hayes launched a career as a solo artist – his second album, Hot Buttered Soul, is rightly lauded as one of the greatest soul albums of all time. But it was his soundtrack to the 1971 Blaxploitation movie Shaft that showed quite how funky Hayes could be. Shaft! – you’re damn right!
1: James Brown – The Payback
Where to begin with James Brown, one of funk’s foremost founding fathers and greatest exponents? Well, 1973’s The Payback is probably as good a place as any. Legendary trombonist Fred Wesley had significant input into this double album, one of a run of records that redefined Brown as an albums artist and one of the best funk albums ever made.
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