Funk and wax go together like peanut butter and jelly. As a genre, funk emerged in the mid 60’s (thanks to James Brown) and ever since has been one of the most influential movements worldwide to this day.
Hundreds of other genres from jazz to rock borrow elements of funk and the groove is not going away. We live in a time where one can experience funk through seemingly endless mediums, be it vinyl or CDs or streaming services.
With us being deeply devoted to vinyl, of course, we’re going to give you our top 10 funk albums that you must run out and purchase on wax!
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The Best Funk Albums on Vinyl
Let’s begin with the Godfather of Soul–James Brown.
1) The Payback (1973) – James Brown
I couldn’t make a funkiest album to own on wax list without setting it off with Mr. Dynamite, the hardest working man in show business…ladies and gentleman the godfather of soul…JAAAAAAAMES BROWN.
This album was originally considered as the soundtrack for the blaxploitation film “Hell Up In Harlem” but was dismissed because it was “too black.” If that’s not an indication for a great funk album I don’t know what is.
In terms of artwork, The Payback is fun because it has enough going on to pique one’s interest but also requires further listening and analyzing to see the story being expressed.
Taking up the majority of the cover is an illustration of James Brown face wearing a hat and looking up against a sandy yellow background of clouds and a tree with some sort of exchange taking place in the bottom left corner. In the bottom right corner is one can make out a silhouette of a woman in a doorway looking at a man that seems to be in the middle of getting dressed, and upon further inspection, one can read “We got a right to the tree of life” across James’ hat.
One could argue that this album was part of James Brown role in the Black Consciousness movement, which is further reaffirmed by the profile illustration under the declaration that shows various equations and formulas going on inside the head with the words “MIND POWER” written in bold gold lettering above.
Aside from the incredible artwork, there are even more incredible tracks, like the title track “The Payback” and one referred to in the artwork “Mind Power.” To say these tracks are grooving would be such an understatement, I’d press charges on anyone who downplayed them as such.
The infectious bass lines with rhythmic melodies layered on top and a passionately outspoken James Brown makes for funk that will stay on your mind for days and if you dare listen closely and make out the lyrics of Browns grunts you’ll get a message of will strength and justice. There’s good reason why this album sold over 500,000 copies and has even been referred to as the last great album of James Brown career.
2) AWB (1974) – Average White Band
No funk group has defied funk-based stereotypes more than the Average White Band—they’re essentially the “white boys” in “play the funky music white boy.”
Funk was and has always been considered “black music.” However, AWB broke boundaries with its Scottish based funk sounds.
The album cover is black & white and has very clean minimal artwork which to this day is one of the best logos any musician/ group has had. The top simply reads “Average White Band” and the bottom has “AWB” written in a curvy typeface which upon a closer look reveals the outline of woman with her back turned and her posterior resting in the “W.”
The standout tracks of this album are “Pick Up the Pieces” and “Work To Do.” Pick Up the Pieces has become a funk standard, which is covered time and time again due to its impressive instrumentation with almost no lyrics.
“Work To Do,” however, has the same impressive instrumentation with much more lyrics, and features the legendary Isley Brothers known for their work in doo wop, rock, RnB and of course funk since the late 50s.
AWB is a different funk from The Payback and is better suited for background setting as opposed to getting a party started but it’s a must have for any fan of funk on wax.
3) Gratitude – Earth, Wind & Fire (1975)
This wouldn’t be a complete funk list if it didn’t have Earth, Wind & Fire. Truly one of the most elemental (see what I did there?) groups of the genre, they’ve released countless classics and are known for their smash single “September.”
However, before those days there was Gratitude, and for that we are forever thankful.
A mostly live album, this release was truly impressive in its mixing and sound design, especially keeping in mind its time period. Live albums can come off distorted and overbearing in relation to the audience, but this is a rare exception.
The energy and soul of the musicians can be felt on the tracks “Celebrate” and “Shining Star,” both of which are sure to make you move. The artwork is even more minimal than AWB, until one opens the cover to reveal an in-depth collage of cloudy candid concert pictures revealing a window into 1975. The pictures reveal a camaraderie and showmanship that was unique to Earth, Wind and Fire.
4) C’est Chic (1978) – Chic
SAMPLE ALERT If anyone reading this is a Hip Hop Producer/DJ/ Fan of classic samples, then this album/artist is for you. The amount of songs that sample this album is easily in the thousands. The title track “Chic Cheer” was most notably used in Fatman Scoops hit 90s/Early 2000s single “Be Faithful,” which fully incorporates the groove that is Chic Cheer.
Other tracks on this album, such as Savoir Fair and Le Freak, are dance floor classics that will make any old head reminisce on disco days. The cover shows an image of the Chic group just lounging around in pristine 70s apparel against a lovely spring day. Impressively enough, the guitarist on this album—Nile Rodgers—is still making hit music to this day (like with Daft Punk’s recent single “Get Lucky” and Laura Mvulas “Overcome”).
5) Cheryl Lynn (1978) – Cheryl Lynn – Common
Sometimes considered a one hit wonder, this breakout EP for Cheryl Lynn has not only one of the most recognizable horn lines of all time, but is also certified platinum.
From the second you let the needle drop on the record, it’s only a matter of seconds until the trumpet and trombones come blaring in with a riff that you know you’ve heard before—even if you can’t place your finger on it.
“Got To Be Real” is one of the most iconic female funk staples, it’s been used in so many films and film credits thanks to its universally feel good vibes. However, “Got To Be Real” is only the tip of the iceberg. From there, you’ll encounter tracks such as “Star Love,” which will fill you with a fire that only a dance floor can release.
The transition Cheryl makes from soulful ballads to upbeat waist shakers is impressive. The cover is a cute candid image of Cheryl staring right at you.
6) Hotter Than July (1980) – Stevie Wonder
This one was tough, and it’s important to note a bit of bias, because when it comes to Stevie Wonder, any and every record of his is a classic.
However, as one can quickly make out from the cover and title, this album is loaded with HEAT. The front cover is an illustration of Stevie Wonder from the neck up looking into the sun with rolling droplets of sweat running down his face.
The back cover is literally a piano fully enflamed in fire. The inside cover has the credits and lyrics for each song, so you can sing along—which you’re going to want to do.
Standout track? Well, some might consider “Master Blaster (Jammin)” as more reggae and less funk but the groove is there and undeniable. It also show’s Motown’s appreciation of Bob Marley. The track “Happy Birthday” also bears significance in its powerful message to make Martin Luther King Jrs birthday a national holiday.
Stevie Wonder could honestly have his own list.
7) Street Songs (1981) – Rick James
If one ever wondered what Rick James is about, they only need look at the cover of “Street Songs.” The front cover shows Rick on the street corner at night in full 80s black leather attire with knee high red boots and a bass guitar hanging round his neck with his chest softly protruding.
The back cover shows Rick and two women (presumably prostitutes) being arrested/ frisked by an officer and the look on Ricks face is priceless. James was a perfect combination of socially conscious lyrics and fat, thick grooves.
The bass lines on this album will hurt your neck and feet from dancing. Not only that but SAMPLE ALERT, if you want to feel like MC Hammer did hearing the loop for “You Can’t Touch This” simply turn on side 2 and let “Super Freak” hit you. Despite that, the first song on the album, “Give It To Me Baby,” will turn any party up from 0-100.
Nothing goes better with the grunts of Rick James slapping to bass than the crackle and pop of hot wax spinning on your record player.
8) Ice Cream Castle (1984)- The Time
Any fans of Jay and Silent Bob or Prince should be familiar with this 80s classic record. The cover is dripping in 80s swag; the outfits, the hair, the poses are all on point.
The album transitions from track to track with the music of an ice cream truck, finally finishing with a jamming song that’s sure have a special place in your heart.
“The Bird” is not only a great and underrated dance move but one of the funkiest, grooviest tracks of the 80s. The song itself even includes an instrumental solo, while the lead singer goes on a break to “talk to these girls” and features continuous pauses where you think the songs.
But the fun has only begun.
The album also features The Time’s breakout hit “Jungle Love,” often referred to as the “oohwee oohwee oh” song, another jam classic to sweat it out to. This album will have you repeating the Bird lyrics “I pledge allegiance, to the time.”
9) Voodoo (1999) – D’Angelo
If I could only listen to 5 albums for the rest of my life, this album would be in the top 3. The album artwork features shirtless and seemingly ripped D’Angelo staring into the camera.
Not only that, but the record discs come in a crisp white coloration (well, at least one pressing did) with special liner notes for each track.
The funkiest tracks are easily “Chicken Grease” and “Playa Playa,” both of which will teach you what it means to be “in the pocket.” The album features Pino Palladino on bass and Questlove on drums—it simply doesn’t get any better than that.
This album is so good the outtakes are worth checking out. As the most contemporary album on this list, Voodoo is the perfect encapsulation of soul, funk and jazz with undertones of Hip Hop.
10) Mothership Connection (1975) – Parliament Funkadelic
Not only is this album a milestone in the black Afrofuturism movement, it’s also been sampled on classic G Funk Hip Hop tracks by none other than Dr. Dre (SAMPLE ALERT) and is one pillars of P Funk, which went on to heavily influence rock, jazz and dance music (as was declared when this album entered in the national registry).
The front cover features a funky dressed individual with platform boots and space suit all in silver, hanging out of a UFO ship in space. The back features the same individual and ship parked in some back alleyway.
No matter what album you choose to listen to, the odds are high that you’re going to have a great time spinning any one of these ten vinyl records.
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