Tag Archives: funk

Song of the Day: “Stand!” – Sly & The Family Stone


It all begins with a snare crack and roll. Right from the beginning, you know it’s a call to arms. But Sly Stone quickly turns the idea on its head right away, by proclaiming in the very line, “in the end you’ll still be you.” Usually, this type of declaration would be made at the end of the song; especially a song that lists all the types of things you should do be a socially consciousness and upstanding part of society. By beginning the song with the concept of still being one’s self through personal and political change, the message is clearer and more direct for the listener. It doesn’t necessarily make it easier to accomplish these things though.

Despite being over 45 years old, “Stand!” still seems particularly relevant and potent in today’s society. Like the late ’60s, society is changing at a rapid pace, and while much progress has been made, there’s still a lot of work to be done. The song is a good reminder to “Stand! for the things you know are right.” There’s also an acknowledgement that not everyone will come along for the ride, because, “they will try to make you crawl, and they know what you’re saying makes sense and all.” “Stand!” ends up a high note by suggesting that you are free, “well at least if you know you want to be.”

And that should be the end of the song. Any other songwriter might have concluded on that note. Really, how do you follow a philosophical statement like that? And just like the beginning of the song, Sly bucks conventional wisdom and completely turns the song inside out. What was a funky R&B tune, is suddenly transformed into straight up Gospel. With that musical interlude, Sly is suggesting that there is much here that just us and there’s a bigger picture than what we know.

Check out “Stand!” below.

Song of the Day: “Thank You (Falentinme Be Mice Elf Again)” – Sly & The Family Stone


“Thank You (Falentinme Be Mice Elf Again)” has got to be one of the funkiest tracks ever put to wax, mainly due to Larry Graham’s inventive slap bass that spawned a decades worth of imitators. Even Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers owes his signature sound to Graham’s playing on this song.

As for the rest of the band, they sound incredibly tight on this track. Greg Errico’s simple snare drums lock perfectly with Graham’s bass, giving Sly, Rose and Freddie Stone (and Graham as well) plenty of room to harmonize. Their co-lead vocals aren’t exactly complex, but like everything else in the song, the vocals are their own rhythm.

Sly & the Family Stone were such a forward thinking group (musically and lyrically) that’s it’s worth noting that they dip into a bit of nostalgia and name-check their own past hits in the third verse including “Every Day People”, “Dance to the Music” and “Sing a Simple Song”.

The song is only 5 minutes long, but I could listen to a 15-minute rendition no problem.


Feature: “Say Somethin'” (EP) – Nik West



Funk/rock bassist Nik West has rightfully received numerous accolades from high-profile artists such as Steven Tyler, Prince and former Eurythmics mastermind, Dave Stewart.  One listen to her latest EP, the ridiculously funky Say Somethin’and it’s easy to understand why West has garnered such praise.

Say Somethin’ plays like an updated version of late 70’s Soul Classics. It rocks as just equally as it swings. Its filled with thick, melodic bass lines, distorted guitars and drum beats that move the music along.  This is particularly true of the title track which starts thing off with a bang with its explosive groove and catchy chorus. There are shades of early ’80s Prince, as well as Lenny Kravitz but make no mistake, this is no Name-That-Influence set of songs.  Even the covers (AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and Rudy Toomb’s “I’m Shakin'”) are beaming with originality and spark.

If you’re a fan of impressive bass playing, Say Somethin’offers plenty of that. West knows when to lock in with the drummer and provide the backbone of her great rhythm section.  But she’s also not one to shy away from showing off her impressive chops as evident on her  slow and seductive cover of “I’m Shakin'” or “My Relationship (Reprise)”.  Not surprisingly, West has been featured on the cover of several bass magazines including Bass Musician Magazine and Bass Player.

For more information on Nik West, visit her web-site.  Take a listen to “My Relationship” below.


Song of the Week: “B.O.B.” – Outkast


There are songs that you vividly remember the first time you heard them.  Most of the time these types of songs are radically different than anything else you’ve ever heard.  They’re the type of song that alters your perception of what music can sound like and where it will go afterwards.

I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one who had that type of reaction the first time they heard Outkast’s “B.O.B”.  Even 13 years afters its release, it still sounds unlike anything else, even in Outkast’ genre-bending style of hip-hop.

In the fall of 2000, I was a freshmen in college.  In between classes, I occasionally watched MTV in my room to bide some time.  Most of the time, the videos were really shitty.  It was the era of The Backstreet Boys and Blink 182 (who were essentially The Backstreet Boys disguised as punks).

I’m not a morning person.  I need coffee to function in the morning and it usually takes back 30 minutes for it to work its affects.  One morning, I was startled and taken out of my morning haze by a strange chant coming from the TV along with an absurdly fast rap.  As my eyes adjusted to the TV, at first I just assumed I was still asleep.

It was too weird to be a dream. Images of purple grass and green roads flashed on the screen trying to keep up with the song’s fast-paced momentum.   While most other hip-hop videos of the time exuded a laid-back cool (unless of course you were Eminem), this one reveled in its sheer flashiness and energy.  Both Andre 3000 and Big Boi tried their hardest to make sure their bodies moved almost as fast as their lips.

But it was the music that was the most jarring.  The rapid-fire pace of the rhythm was both radical and mind-blowing.  The duo’s fast-paced flow was a feat of super-human vocal dexterity.  It was a hip-hop version of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” – the words jumped out of the speakers like lightning with imagination and creativity.  As if that weren’t enough there was the song’s hook – the soul chant of “bombs over Baghdad!” – and a guitar solo that sounded like it was played by a voodoo priest.  All of it added up to a declaration of “instant classic”.

Right then I knew that popular music would never quite be the same.  With a mix of soul, funk and a little bit of Jimi Hendrix thrown in for good measure hip-hop seemed to be a crossroads.  “B.O.B.” paved the way for other artists to expand their sound beyond a great beat.  The likes of other genre-busting hip-hop luminaries like Kanye West, The Roots (though they’ve been around just as long as Outkast), Kid Cudi and Common -just to name a few – owe a lot to this song somehow getting through the cracks.

Because the song is now so familiar, it can be easy to forget how different the song was (and still is) than anything else.  Outkast may have gone on to greater fame with the likes of “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move”, but they were never this fearless or bold again.


New Music: “Make It Rain” – Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds


Remember when gospel and funk were virtually interchangeable and Sly and the Family Stone was the sickest band on the planet?  Me neither, but Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Bird’s “Make it Rain” is almost as good as the real thing with loud horns, tight rhythm section and bouncy beat. “Make it Rain” is the type of song you’ll want to keep you warm during these cold winter nights, but won’t be tired of come summer time.

Album of the Week: “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” – Sly and the Family Stone


On the surface, “Thank You for Talkin’ to Me, Africa” is essentially a re-write of “Thank You (Falentinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”.  But where that song sounds like a proto-funk party anthem,  “Thank You for Talkin’ to Me, Africa” is a slow-burn.  The groove is slower and darker.  Both songs contain the same lyrics, but the paranoia seeps in.  What was once a rave-up with a goofy title becomes something much more sinister. “Lookin’ at the devil, grinning at his gun,” Sly sings slowly over the dark and distorted bass.  A little bit later, he sounds defeated when he sings, “Thank you for the party.  I could never stay.”

There’s little doubt that the party he’s referring to is the late 60’s idealism. In the late 1960’s Sly and the Family Stone were one of the most groundbreaking acts around – politically and musically. Their previous album, Stand! was a call to arms for anybody and everybody. The album’s breakthrough single “Everyday People” was a soulful ode to end prejudices of al kind.   The very fact that the band was a multi-racial and multi-sex act was a statement by itself.

But There’s a Riot Goin’ On contains very little of that idealism.  Sly’s cynicism seeps through every single song and every funky rhythm the band takes on.  Like “Thank You For Talkin’ to Me, Africa” most of the songs on the album are slowed down forcing the listener to engage in the music and the mood it emotes.  But still, this being Sly he doesn’t alienate his audience.  Much of the album is a trip through his stoned and weary mind, but it’s not a psychological expose like John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band.  The proto-funk of the album keeps it from being depressing, even as it crawls again.

Though the two albums are musically different, I’ve always thought of There’s a Riot Goin’ On as the funky brother of the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers.  Both albums are fueled by their creators’ reaction to the end of the 60’s and of course, their drug-use. There’s a murky under-tone to both albums that was ground-breaking in each of their respective genres. Sticky Fingers found the Stones embracing their bad-boy and hedonistic image more than before, and set the path for most hard-rock bands afterwards.  There’s a Riot Goin’ On paved the way for funk and many of its songs were used as samples in early hip-hop.

However history looks at There’s a Riot Goin’ On, ultimately none of it would really matter if Sly wasn’t able to deliver songs.  “Luv n’ Haight” contains some of the group’s best vocal melodies along with Sly’s trademark wails.  “Spaced Out Cowboy” is one of the album’s lighter moments and despite being an instrumental it contains some great harmonica playing and some weird yodeling by Sly.  As always with a Sly and the Family Stone album, the rhythm section remains one of the best in rock.  It’s not easy to sound both loose and tight at the same time, but somehow the group manages to do it throughout There’s a Riot Goin’ On.

There’s a Riot Goin’ On might not have many of the group’s best known songs, but it contains some of their best and most engaging music.

Top 10 James Brown Songs

I probably should have made this list back around Christmas, since it was the anniversary of James Brown’s death.  But for the Wednesday Lists, I thought I’d start things off with a bang.

1.) “I Got You (I Feel Good)” – 1965

Probably the quintessential James Brown song. His wordless wails here (including one that opens the song) are legendary as the musical breakdown, which could be considered a forerunner to funk.  The best part of the song is when Brown declares: “when I hold you in my arms, I know I can do no wrong” with the band behind him not believing one word of it.

2.) Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (1965)

“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” is probably best remembered for its ringing guitar followed by a blast of horns. For what its worth, the song would easily justify its status for that part alone.  But the rest of the song is proto-funk with Brown listing off a bunch of dances (The Monkey, The Mashed Potato, etc) as if to suggest they’re all passé when the Godfather of Soul is around.

3.) “Please Please Please” – 1956

The centerpiece of Brown’s show during the late 50s and early 60s. The recorded version is pretty great and soulful, but the version on Live at the Apollo is even better. It’s given a funky treatment, and Brown’s vocals are more tortured.  Brown and his band sing several different songs before finally coming back to “Please Please Please”.

4.) “Cold Sweat” – 1967

Brown takes the pro to-funk of “Papa’s Got a New Bag” and twists it around on “Cold Sweat”. If garage-rockers were making funky dance music, it would probably sound something like “Cold Sweat”.  The song is also noteworthy of its lack of melody and odd structure, and Brown yelling for a drum-solo.

5.) “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine)” – 1970

Where are the horns? That was my question when I first heard this song.  They’re still there, but the song is defined by the never-ending guitar riff courtesy of Catfish Collins (Bootsy plays the bass).  The vocal interplay between Brown and Bobby Bryd, while borderline ridiculous,is quite intricate and engaging.

6.) “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” – 1968

Surprisingly, up until 1968 Brown never commented on the Civil Rights Movement.  “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” was his attempt to rectify this. Brown’s vocals are at his most defiant at he observes: “We’re tired of beating our head against the wall/and workin’ for someone else”.

7.) “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” – 1966

It’s hard to talk about this song without calling out its misogynistic lyrics.  Some have argued that it is saved by the chorus: “but it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl” but I’m not buying it.  Still, as a piece of music it’s pretty great – including the funky false start and spiraling strings. The rest of the song is a slow burn, and Brown’s sympathetic vocals almost make up for the lyrics.

8.) “Super Bad”- 1970

“I got soul and I’m Super Baaaaad!” might as well be Brown’s personal motto. Upon first listen, “Super Bad” seems like a less impressive younger brother to “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine”), but the guitar work is pretty fantastic, and Brown seems positively giddy during the last minute of the song.

9.) “Get Up Offa That Thing” -1976

There’s no many lyrics in this song, but thats precisely the point. It’s designed to make you get up and dance.  Released in 1976 as Disco was about to peak in popularity, “Get Up Offa That Thing” proved that even twenty some years into his career, nobody could get you on your feet like Soul Brother Number One.  This song also gets bonus points for a crack at Barry White.

10.) “Try Me” – 1958

Most of Brown’s best known songs are known for their energy and frenetic vocals, but “Try Me” finds Brown laying back for a bit, and settling into a slow soulful groove, and even doing vocal harmonies with the rest of the band.


Music To Listen To This Summer

Each season has their own soundtrack and summer is no exception.  There are numerous albums I listen to in the summer, and find perfect for days when you just can’t seem to cool off.  So here’s my selection of albums to listen to and kick back to.  (Note: I exclude some obvious choices such as Springsteen.)

Elvis CostelloGet Happy!!

Though King of America and Imperial Bedroom might be better albums, Get Happy!! is Costello’s most listenable album from front to back filled with R&B and soul styled songs with a punk twist.  The songs move along at breakneck speed (as do some of the songs) leaving the listener with barely any time to soak in the subtleties. Even when the songs are mean-spirited, the music is sheer fun.  What comes across though is Costello’s melodies and flawless songwriting, making it the perfect soundtrack for a summer day.

Outkast – Speakerboxxx

When Outkast’s double album first came out, most of the press focused on Andre 3000’s half, The Love Below.  As it turns out, Speakerboxxx turns out to be the better of the two, as Big Boi flirts with fast-paced beats, swing and jazz influences and George Clinton-style funk.  And like the rest of the albums on this list, there’s no filler – it’s genre -hopping music that’s perfect for nights with intense heat that never seems to let up.

The Gourds – Blood of the Ram

If you’re outside grilling, and drinking a beer, Blood on the Ram should be an essential addition.  It’s a combination of bluegrass, Band-style Americana, and alt-country.  Each song is a masterpiece in Southern Boogie and sing-alongs.  Songs such as “Do 4 U”,  “Lower 48” and “Cracklins” are designed to get you off your chair and dance.  And if you don’t feel that way, your humanity might come into question.  Plus where else can you sing every single state in the lower 48?

Creedence Clearwater RevivalChronicle

For a long time, I resisted getting this collection because practically every single on this collection is burned into the consciousness of every fan of classic rock.  But song for song, you can’t really ask for a better greatest hits collection.  With a a mix of down home rock and memorable songs, Chronicle feels like a lazy summer day.  And if it’s really hot, let CCR do the hard-work and sweat for you as they tear through their classics.

Al GreenThe Absolute Best

For me, Al Green has the best soul voice anybody’s side of Sam Cooke, and this collection as the title suggests, offers nothing but his best.  There’s straight-up soul classics – “So You’re Leaving”, “Strong as Death (Sweet as Love)”, funk-rock – “I’m a Ram”, “Driving Wheel”, and soul-jam classics – “Look What You For Me”.  Perfect for relaxing, with a strong drink in your hand as the day winds down.

Albums Worth Revisiting: “Ultraglide in Black” – The Dirtbombs

I wrote about the Dirtbombs a few months back, placing them among my “Top 20 Concerts List“.   Ultraglide In Black, an album consisting of (mostly)  old soul and funk songs – (“Your Love Belongs Under a Rock” is the only original).The album will turn 10 this week, so now is the perfect to write about this under-rated gem.  Like the songs that The Dirtbombs tackle here, Ultraglide in Black is a full-on party album.

The Dirtbombs attack these song with punk furor, but never taking away what made the originals so great and timeless. It would be easy to suggest that The Dirtbombs were trying to put a contemporary spin on these songs, but the album plays more like musicians playing songs they love, because they want to.  With two drummers and two bassists, The Dirtbombs have turned these covers into tightly controlled jams, that lie somewhere between absolute chaos and sheer enthusiasm.  Singer Mick Collin’s voice in an instrument in itself.  He’s clearly in command here, pushing his bandmates as he shouts his way through J.J. Barnes’ “Chains of Love”.  Elsewhere on, “Kung Fu”, he croons in a soulful voice that is more than homage to the music that has clearly inspired him.  Smokey Robinson’s “If You Can What” is a sing-along fury, that nearly flies out of control.  Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ For The City” is given a slow, fuzzed out treatment, that sounds like a cross between funk and the noisy experiments of the Velvet Underground.

Ultraglide in Black is the sound of a great band deciding for one drunken night that they are the best soul and funk cover band.  And with one listen to the album, you’d be crazy to think otherwise.