Classic Funk A Lost Art
Of course, this is my funk section. Anything from James Brown to George Clinton, to Ohio Players! This was how Black folk grooved back in the day.
Song: I’ll Take You There
Artist: The Staple Singers!
I have to be honest, I didn’t listen to a whole lot of music from the Staple Singers (at least their earlier music anyway). I don’t think there was any particular reason for it (I think). Then again, when my elders played any sort of christian music, it tend to be more traditional music, whereas the Staple Singers’ music seemed more secular. Come to think about it, even @ the beginning of their early music carrier, some people may say it’s gospel, but a lot of the music I heard were more borderline hint of rock music. Almost comparable to a softer version of what Fats Domino would perform. That was a no no for many christian folk when I was growing up.
Their Music Commanded Your Attention!
Unfortunately, because I wasn’t really into a whole lot of christian music growing up, I really don’t have a feel for the scope of their success in the christian world. However, I would imagine they were pretty huge, because in the secular music world, they exploded like a megaton bomb! They would later produce songs with heavy funky beats that would not be ignored! There biggest hit that I remember growing up was a song called “I’ll Take You There (1972).” Fifty years after it’s vinyl release, and into the age of streaming, on Spotify alone they’ve racked up over 83 million plays. In my opinion, that is huge, especially since we’re in an age of short-term memory.
No Doubt, Their Music Has Immortalized Them, Even By Non-christians!
I mean, you either never heard their music before (if that’s possible), but remember their name; or you hear their music and get a rush of nostalgia! There’s just no way you can hear “I’ll Take You There,” and not get an urge to move your body. Even if you don’t like to dance, you will move your body just because of the sheer fact that the song played a major part of our history. At the Cash Box, R&B Chart, & Hot 100, all at #1 placement. In South Africa, the song reached #7. It is incredibly rare that a song hits #1 in so many categories. A christian song at that. Very rare indeed.
They’ve Also Produced A Hit Song To A Soundtrack!
Another song I really loved by them was a song called “Let’s Do It Again (1975).” It was a soundtrack to the movie comedy “Let’s Do It Again,” starring Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, and Jimmy Walker. I was actually taken back by this song. When I listened to the lyrics and compared them to their other music, I would have never expected them to perform something like this. Both songs are super super secular. Another huge favorite of mine was “Respect Yourself (1971).” I loved songs like these growing up, because even back then, we knew the powerful effects that music had in our lives. If Black artists wanted to give a reminder to their fans about certain negative behaviors in our community, or just share political awareness, the best way to do it is put it in our music! “Respect Yourself” reached #2 on the R&B chart, and #12 on the Top 100.
Artist: Midnight Star
🤣 I can’t stop laughing at this album cover! It’s like watching one of those old 70s magazine ads for wigs! 😜 You gotta love the eighties! We’ve done some crazy stuff to ourselves in the name of “style,” yet in reality all we did was copy other people. We may not want to admit it, but many Black styles from the eighties WERE in fact inspired by Prince (for the most part). It’s so weird because listening to this type of music now, synth music, somehow sounds older than what it actually is for some reason. Is it me? Or perhaps I was listening to too much music! 🙄
Listening To Their Music Now Makes Me Feel So Ancient!
You know, now that I think about it, it must be that unique “space age sound” that indirectly makes it sound older. I mean, when I hear it, it kind of reminded of movies like the first Star Wars and earlier movies. Let me tell you, Midnight Star was a pretty huge 80s group back in the day. They sang all kinds of music, but I think it is safe to say that they’ve been best known for their almost disco infused dance music. Now, I’m having some trouble finding their information on Billboard. However, from what I can tell eyeballing the various streaming services, I estimate that the song “Midas Touch (1986)” was their biggest hit. The song was ok… Mind you, I didn’t hate it, it just wasn’t my favorite song by them.
In fact, I don’t remember hearing it a lot (at least in my neighborhood). The huge money maker for me was their song “Freak-A-Zoid (1983).” I absolutely loved this tune. Unfortunately, I don’t remember if this was a “barbecue favorite,” but I do remember a lot of people playing it. Although the lyrics were naughty, the overall song itself was an easy song to dance to for the whole family. Another song I enjoyed was their hit “No Parking (On The Dance Floor) (1983).” I really do feel that this classic group is worth searching for. Every member of that group can sing. Although they didn’t have many hits (relatively speaking), I think you’ll still enjoy some of their albums. It appears that they’re still performing. However, the last album I found was released in 2002.
Song: Strawberry Letter 23
Artist: The Brothers Johnson
Album: Right On Time (1977)
Wow! These guys were some talented brothers back in the day. This is another of many group that used to confuse me. The reason being, back in the day Ray Parker Jr. used to have a group called Raydio, and I perceived a couple of their songs had very similar styles to The Brothers Johnson (or vise verse). However, there was no doubt that The Brothers Johnson had their own brand and identity.
These Guys Were Pretty Popular In The 80s!
Although they’ve had quite a few big hits, I think most people remember them for “Strawberry Letter 23,” off their 1977 “Right On Time” album. The song hit #5 on the Top 100, and #1 on the R&B charts. What an odd name for a hit song tho. 🤣 You also may be familiar with another huge hit of theirs called “I’ll Be Good To You (1976).” This song hit #3 on the Top 100 and #1 on the R&B charts. However, I think my second favorite was their hit called “Stomp (1980),” off their “light Up The Night” album. This was a big disco hit in many of the NYC clubs back in the day.
Unfortunately, I was shocked to read that Louis E Johnson recently passed away about 5 years ago. He was 60 years old. I also learned that Louis was responsible for laying down that sick baseline we heard in Michael Jackson’s cult classic “Billie Jean.” I always seem to find out about these amazing things after these celebrities die. We’ve lost a legend indeed!
Song: Love’s Train
Artist: Con Funk Shun
Wow!! Blast from the past, for your nerves!!! Are those memory cells burning up yet? I hope so, because I’ve got limitless classics to share with my readers! I can’t keep up. Well, it’s been a really long time since I’ve heard anything from Con Funk Shun. Do you remember them? Man I used to love how they used to harmonize together. It was as tho they were born as septuplets, singing together in harmony. Although the word “Funk” is in their name, they actually made different types of music, ranging from funk to disco.
Although Funk Is In Their Name, They Sang Different Types Of Music
However, there was one romantic song that became my absolute favorite! That song was “Love’s Train (1982).” Now, I’m a bit surprised to find out that the song hit only #47 on the R&B charts. It’s hard for me to believe that because the song was so popular growing up. I heard it on the radio all the time! But, like I said before, this goes to show you, the stations you listen to back in the day unfortunately made a bit of a difference.
Now, despite the song reaching only #47 (which technically isn’t a horrible number in my opinion, just not recognized as a top hit), in terms of streaming, this song earned the most plays of all their other songs. And that even includes across several of their greatest hits albums. Over 5+ million plays “Love’s Train” received ya’ll! The second most popular hit was this funk dance tune called “Ffun (1977).” I hate to call Con Funk Shun a one hit wonder group (although I guess technically they are when it comes to stats), but they did make some good music. I guess the other truth of the matter is that their music was also very typical of the 80s, and a lot of bands like them were producing the same funk sounds.
Song: Play That Funky Music
Artist: Wild Cherry
Album: Wild Cherry (1976)
This is another perfect situation of just how important music streaming is (at least those little of us who still value music history). Depending on just how obscure a band or artist is, we may not be able to find a whole lot of information about said artist or band, but at least using amazing technologies such as Shazam (which many of you refuse to learn how to use), we can quickly know their names, and most times discover a picture now and then.
All Throughout My Childhood, I Thought This Group Was Black!
I know for a fact that many people think I’m an *sswhole for holding older parents accountable for not using streaming technology. Well, I really don’t give a sh*t, because it’s true. Because if you actually used some of these technologies, you’d quickly realize how important they are to our classic American music culture, that is currently dwindling away. I remember growing up, I’ve seen many family members and family friends have huge arguments about the identity of an artist. And back then, it was so difficult because so many artists were groomed to sound so much a like, it was easy to assume that a song was from one band, but in actuality the song is from another.
Just imagine, if growing up we had Shazam then?! It would have stopped arguments in it’s tracks! Not only that, no one would make bets as to who was who anymore either!! Although we were all broke, we had no business betting anyway! 🤣 So, anyways, enough of my rants. It was unfortunate that “Play Thank Funky Music,” by Wild Cherry was the only hit of their entire career. The song hit #1 and stayed on the charts for 25 weeks. In my opinion, I think this was the best funk & rock infused song that came out of the 70s! They produced about 4 other songs that registered on the Music Billboards, however, they were very low ranking. I never really cared for them. I mean, that music was awesome, I just think the vocals were terribly over done. But out of those 4 poorly ranked songs, I think “Hold On,” from the same album, is the second only one worth listening to. The track peaked at #61 in 1977. This should have ranked much higher tho.
Song: Get Up And Dance
The story of this group is so sad. This was a group that created a funky disco song that was so popular back in the day. Now, the group known as “Freedom,” is so obscure, I struggle to even find photos of them. Growing up as a child, I remember “Get Up And Dance,” being one of the most favorite barbecue dance music in the Black community.
Caleb Tyrone Armstrong and Ray Smith Formed Their Group “Freedom.”
Caleb Tyrone Armstrong and Ray Smith met in college. Their friendship grew until eventually they decided to form “Freedom.” As with many famous artist, they started their career singing gospel until eventually they turned secular. When they finally got their record deal, “Get Up And Dance” was the first song off their first album in 1979. I’m unsure of the name of their first album tho.
Sadly, and tragically, by the time the group released their third album called “Changes Of Time,” in 1981, the lead singer, Joe Leslie, was killed. Shortly after Joe’s death, the group began to split apart. Unfortunately, I couldn’t obtain the numbers for all three albums. However, today’s feature album “The Best Of: Get Up And Dance,” supposedly has their best music. So far, in addition to “Get Up And Dance,” I also like “All For You,” and I think “Set You Free,” is nice also (has an Earth Wind & Fire style to it). These were great performers, stunned by a major tragedy.
Song: Loosey’s Rap
Artist: Rick James
Album: Wonderful (1988)
You know, after all these years, I didn’t even realize, or remembered that legendary rapper Roxanne Shante was on this record! Holy crap 🤣!! By the way, I saw her in person about a decade ago. Very very nice human being. She shared a lot of her personal stories, was very inspiring. You should watch her NetFlix documentary (if it’s still there). At the time of the “Wonderful” album release, it also took me a while to realize that the person singing was actually the late Rick James. When I heard the song for the first time on the radio, for a long time I really thought it was the band Cameo, trying to do something new. Back in the day, the one thing that was so annoying listening to the radio was, the dj didn’t always say the name of the artist. I guess sometimes it depends on the station you listened to. Advertisement/sponsors were more important than informing their listeners of the artist’s name.
This cute, Prince(ish) song called “Loosey’s Rap,” hit #1 on the Hot 100 Charts. I believe this was the only hit from this album. I used to love me some Rick James, but this was not his best album. I’m glad I only got the 45RPM single. In my opinion, I think the best album Rick James ever made, was his album called “Street Songs (1981),” Just about all his biggest hits are on that album. That included the massive smash hit ballad “Fire & Desire,” a duet with the late Teena Marie. They sure don’t make music like that anymore. Hey, did you know that (according to one of National Public Radio’s websites) a Rick James Museum is supposed to be in the works? I would have loved to see that. I do hope someone would be kind enough to post photos when it’s all complete.
Song: Walking In Rhythm
Artist: The Blackbyrds
Album: Greatest Hits (1989)
This was a badass group right there!! I loved a lot of their music!! This was another one of those groups where it is difficult to put them in any sort of category. There are so many different sounds and cultures within one song. Sometimes it’s funk mixed with African beats, sometimes R&B with touch of psychedelic, sometimes something crazy infused with disco. Indeed they were an eccentric group back in the day, and perhaps an acquired taste. The Blackbyrds are the kind of old school group, you’ll have to sift through their songs, like being in a vinyl store before you find some masterpieces.
However, the one thing we can say about this group is, these guys can sing! I can’t recall any group right now, that harmonized so well, while doing their type of music. In fact, a couple of their songs I’ve listened to reminded me very much of the O’Jays. If it were not for the fact that The Blackbyrds’s music was so different, I could easily mistaken them.
The Blackbyrds Knew How To Harmonize
A perfect example of their vocal skills, was their hit song “Walking In Rhythm (1975).” This was one of my FAVORITE R&B, disco infused song. I used to dance my ass off as a kid. I was only 8 years old when this song came out. It hit #6 on the Top 100 Chart, and #4 on the R&B chart. I’m sorry, that song should have been number one; I can’t think of any song that was more rhythmic and danceable from that year.
There are a few songs from the Blackbyrds I recommend taking a listen to. “Rock Creek Park (1976),” is another dance groove song I think you’d enjoy. Sadly it only peaked at #93 on the Top 100; and #37 on the R&B Chart; but, screw that Billboard, that song is still hot in my opinion. Moving up to something a little more recent, they have an album called “Gotta Fly (2012).” There’s a soft house mix I really like called “No Stopping,” you should check out. With the exception of “No Stopping,” the album is mostly geared towards modern jazz. It’s a pretty good album, and very relevant in my opinion. Check out “Ride,” they almost got that “Kool & The Gang” sound goin’ on. By the way, looks like they’ve added a female to the group? Her name is Theresa Hall. I’m having trouble figuring out if she’s a new member, or just a guest on the album. Hmmm Whoever she is, she sounds good.