#1. Dance to the Music by Sly and the Family Stone
Sly & the Family Stone belong on a lot of lists, and will reappear on my page many times in the future. Sly was certainly not the first funk band, nor was his music purely Funk, but it is so upbeat, so contagious, and so approachable that he earns the top slot on my list of prerequisites. Stylistically, "Dance to the Music" can be considered Pop, Soul, Dance, and even Jazz, but it is also tremendously funky and earns it's #1 position. Here's an interesting little video of his appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show (note that he plays live with no playback assistance!), and the video has the added treat of having a quick history of the band using a voice-over at the beginning.
#2. Make it Funky by James Brown
Another song that crosses genres. James Brown is the 'Godfather of Soul' (and the hardest working man in show business), but with the spoken word introduction to this song he put a stake in the ground as to what his preferences were. The intro to this song alone deserves it's very own spot on your playlist. Like Sly (above) James Brown will reappear on these lists many times, and you've GOT to have a little James Brown on any Funk playlist.
#3. Give up the Funk by Parliament Funkadelic
The band that took Funk from a phrase to a genre. There was so much talent in this band it is difficult to pick the most iconic Funk song in their catalogue. But as this is an 'intro' course, I suppose we should start with the song that gave Funk anchors that became an anthem.
#4. Love Rollercoaster by Ohio Players
I'll get pushback on this choice for a lot of reasons, but I stand by my placement of the Ohio Players in the 4th spot. 'Rollercoaster' was not their funkiest song, was not even their most popular song, and the video link (below) takes you to a rather terrible version of the song. So WTF? Well I'll tell you wtf. Funk at its roots is a live music phenomenon. Getting funky was getting a crowd groove going that was so strong everyone would dance. Getting funky was a beat, a rhythm and vocals that was rebellious, contagious, and, well.... just funky. The Ohio Players were a rough and ready live band that started a party every time they played. Love Rollercoaster' was always a crowd favorite, and until this song, there were almost NO songs with a rhythm guitar taking the lead roll of laying down the funk (that was usually the job of the bass). One quick word about the video - I chose this particular video because, while it is not even close to their best rendition (many of the band were stoned out of their minds during the performance by their own admission), the setting is so emblematic of the mid 1970's that visually the video is historic.
#5. Brick House by the Commodores
If you are going to list prerequisites, you are going to list cliches. Brick House is one of those songs that became so widely known as to shoot past popularity into something of a joke / meme. However, that does no reduce its importance as a standard bearer for the genre. If you are offended by its overt sexism, then stop listening to Funk right now - Funk IS sex. It is a celebration of sex, it is raw, unconstrained, foreplay. That is its purpose.
I am sure that many will say 'Hey! There are MUCH better representations of Funk out there! What an awful list!" I would be one of those people myself - in fact my original list was almost completely different than the one above (James Brown always gets a spot, but the Sly selection was 'If You Want Me To Stay' and the P Funk selection was either 'Flashlight' or Dr. Funkenstein' and neither the Ohio Players or Commodores made the first list). But I settled on this list as the best way to direct people towards funk. A 'prerequisite' to the intermediate class, so to speak. So let me know your funk favorites and when the next funk list comes out they may be on it!