Including this double dude…
Literally nothing is more embarrassing than having someone burst into the shower just as you’re about to hit your peak during an emotive soul recital. You’re naked, you’re squealing, those vocal runs you’re doing are much more impressive in your head, they’re pointing at you and sharing crude pictures with their mates on Instagram. It’s a sorry situation for everyone involved. But that wouldn’t be a problem for any of these guys, who can sing the fuck out of shit because they’re bloody amazing… MY FAVOURITE MALE SOUL SINGERS LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. Feel free to go absolutely apeshit in the comments section because I’ve got it all wrong and didn’t include Stevie Wonder…
The greatest of them all, his voice is smoother than a long piece of wood you’ve spent the last week sanding down for eight hours a day without stopping. Do the maths, that’s basically smooth as fuck. Stupidly, he decided to kill himself in 1979 by jumping out of a window. I was just three at the time, which is neither here nor there.
It’s nuts to think that Otis Redding was just 26 when he was killed in a plane crash, he sounds so mature and borderline-elderly when he sings. Confession time guys! Otis Blue is one of the few records I own that I could listen to from start to finish every single day without tiring of. I have no idea why I just made out that was a big confession.
You might not have heard of this cat, because Frankie Beverly was never a solo star in his own right. He sung with the band Maze in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and possibly beyond, and those cats were funkier than a stink on a hot summer’s day. Some of you might have noticed that I’ve suddenly started saying “cat” a lot in this paragraph. Go with it, I’m just trying it out.
Bobby Womack’s enjoying another blast in the sunshine after collaborating with Damon Albarn on that album about a year ago. Everyone liked it because it combined modern day sounds with old style singing. I didn’t listen to it because I’m a bearded vinyl twat who pretends to only like old stuff like 1970s albums and vintage shirts. I do love Bobby Womack though, he always sounds about this close to a violent coughing fit.
I’m going through a big Isley Brothers moment that doesn’t appear to be stopping any time soon. I love them because they looked like a great big pile of fat black Elvis impersonators, I like that they could throw down serious funk jams next to syrupy soul ballads. I adore them especially because Ron Isley has one of the most slippery voices the world has ever seen. And I mean that in a good way.
If I had to pick my favourite Marvin Gaye album I’d go for I Want You because it’s the sexiest record ever made, full of secret messages in between the lines saying stuff like “come here woman” and “I’m gonna hold you real tight”. Chicks love that kind of shit. I also like What’s Going On, Trouble Man, Let’s Get It On, Here My Dear, and basically every other record he ever made.
Whether fat or thin Luther could sing the phone book and while everyone would listen for a minute then whisper “is this guy actually singing the PHONE BOOK?” to each other with an incredulous look in their eyes, they’d all agree that the lyrics might be boring as fuck, but that fat guy’s got the voice of an angel.
When I was a student in Bristol I spent my days frying up pieces of bread for my world famous fried bread fried bread sandwiches and listening to Brown Sugar by D’Angelo. Man that cat could groove. That’s right everyone I’m back to saying “cat” again. Deal with it.
Obviously I’m never going to die, but if I did – IF I DID – during the bit where my coffin is lowered into the ground while all manner of beautiful women in black howl to the heavens I’d like someone to put on Hercules by Aaron Neville. It tells the story of a man just trying to get through life and deal with the struggles. I know what you’re thinking – that’s me in a nutshell. Great song, and what a voice.
Ah man, the last spot was always going to be a nightmare. Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, even Lionel Richie had a shout. Then you’ve got Bill Withers and Gil Scott-Heron who I adore. Terry Callier’s amazing. Sam Cooke. White soul singers like Joe Cocker and Rod Stewart. James Brown who grunted a lot but could also sing amazingly well, Michael Jackson who took soul to the billions. Smokey Robinson, any of the Temptations, I even like R Kelly a little bit. But in the end I went with Willie Hutch who’s just plain wicked.
Crazy cartoon funk!
Funk went forking off in numerous directions during the 1970s. Excellent bands like Kool and The Gang put down their handfuls of grit, and picked up bottles of baby oil. James Brown went even harder and funkier, whilst a few of his old band members seemingly wolfed down giant clusters of zany psychedelic drugs, and began acting weird. Mostly under the tutorage of arch weirdo George Clinton. This record was released in 1977, bang in the middle of the hazy Clinton days, and features ex-JB’s superstars Fred Wesley, Bootsy Collins and Maceo Parker. The cover reflected this freaky new direction, with some kind of gargantuan cartoon woman holding a trumpeter in her hand, whilst a massive Fred Wesley smiles like a maniac with a trippy lady perched atop his wizard-like hat. Also featured are a tiny little frightened looking Maceo, and a white dude in what looks like a purple Nazi helmet. What the cover is saying is this… erm, okay, we’re not sure what it’s saying. We have no idea. That Funk bands like drugs too? Yeah, probably that. Great album though. Here’s a cut from it…
Women who can sing the FUNK…
There is a world of difference between being a good soul singer and a good funk singer. Mariah Carey, for example, is a good sweet soul singer, but if she were to suddenly start grunting into the mic and demanding snare kicks from the drummer, her people would rush the stage within seconds to drag her off to the mad house. Presumed breakdown. She hasn’t got the funk. Sadly, neither have many of today’s fine young singers, with the possible exceptions of Beth Ditto, Mary J, Beyonce and that’s about it. Even the greatest soul singer of them all, Aretha Franklin, doesn’t quite have the funk chops to be a BOLD SOUL SISTER. Our top four female funk sensations read like this…
1. Betty Davis
One part of possibly the greatest model/musical genius combo of them all, Betty was the great Mile Davis’ second wife. Back then, in the 1960s, she was just a sexy young model who was friends with Hendrix and Sly Stone, then in the 1970s she emerged as a funk/rock force of nature, with a trio of albums brimming with sexual aggression. An amazing woman, and our top female funk singer.
2. Tina Turner
Before she became Tina Turner with the feathery Rod Stewart hair, and the enormously popular soft rock ballads, Tina Turner was a funk goddess – touring the world with angry, punchy Ike and the magnificent Ikettes. What really marks her out are her excellent dance moves, and a growling voice that sounds like Cathy Beale after a big night on the cigs.
3. Marva Whitney
Featured before as one of our favourite Underrated Soul Stars, Whitney’s piercing, raw voice was the perfect match for James Brown’s band, The JB’s. Alongside other female funk greats like Lyn Collins and Vicki Anderson – both of whom just missed out on a place in the top four – she became a part of the gigantic James Brown family in the 1960s, although she only managed one solo studio album – It’s My Thing, from 1969. Great record.
4. Mary Jane Hooper
Not much is known of this funky Mary Jane Hooper woman. What we do know is that her real name was Sena Fletcher, she had gritty vocal talent that really floated the magnificent Eddie Bo‘s onions, and she churned out about three bona fide funk classics in the 1960s. We also know that she’s our fourth favourite female funk singer.
James Brown, Michael Jackson and Prince
Much is going to be written about Michael Jackson for the coming weeks, after he finally lost out to a bastard heart attack or some such. He was only 50. And what a life. Brilliant Jackson Five records, often overlooked but completely fantastic tracks during the band’s young-adult incarnation as The Jacksons, and then all of the solo magic – particularly Off The Wall. Obviously the whole thing was slightly marred by his weird monkey, the melty-face stuff, and the eyebrow-raising sleepovers. Still, we thought we’d get him a couple of gifts as a thank you for the music, so we drank heavily until we became forgetful, and it soon boiled down to a toss up between a James Brown gig clip in which Michael is invited on stage, shortly followed by a far more overconfident Prince, or a dodgy recording of Rock With You… ahhh, or the James Brown clip! In the end we got him both. RIP Michael Jackson!
Michael Jackson, Rock With You
Lalomie Washburn, Try My Love
Brilliant, it’s Tuesday, or as we call it, Jazz Day. We love Jazz Day. It’s a time to pull on a sexy set of slacks, balance a cool pork pie hat atop your head, and allow some brass instruments to take you for a motorbike ride. Today, Lalomie Washburn showcases the funkier side of jazz-funk.
Look away now, scaredy-cats
Presumably as a cap doff to the artist Hieronymus Bosch, James Brown created his own version of The Garden of Earthly Delights for his Hell album in 1974. Bosch fans will already be familiar with his cruel and terrifying depiction of life in eternal damnation – pigs dressed as nuns, daggers thrusting through giant ears, naked men impaled on mandolins, demons everywhere. It’s one scary 15th century vision, with more than a hint of Salvador Dali about it. And so to The Hardest Working Man In Showbusiness and his painting of what hell must be like. Well, there’s a soldier, a junkie, a big nod to Vietnam, a Watergate reel-to-reel, a man behind bars, and the words Food Shortage and Tax Increases literally spelt out. Most startling of all, however, is the image of a woman standing in the garage forecourt, unable to fill her car up. They’ve run out of petrol. What next? A strike at the Ginsters factory? Now that really would be hell. Here’s a brilliant track from the album.
Some very well dressed men missed out…
The greatest thing about funk music is that it fools men – actual grown men – into believing that they can dance, regardless of the fact that they have never danced before. There’s the strong rhythmic beats, the snare hits, the horn stabs. All you need to do is somehow time your movements so that those noises correspond with a finger click, or a foot stomp. How hard can it be? Unfortunately, very hard, and what looks fantastic in the mind often appears appalling in real life, so while you think that the circle around you is cheering and whooping, just thank Christ that the loud music is drowning out their mocking laughter and mean under-breath comments. You don’t really look like a monkey being electrocuted. Our four favourite funk bands read like this…
1. The Meters
For stripped down funk, you simply can’t do any better than these guys. They came from New Orleans in America, and a couple of members eventually went off and created The Neville Brothers, who weren’t nearly quite so brilliant. Great band.
2. The JBs
The JBs, of course, get their name from being James Brown’s backing band. The line-up changed over the years, but featured at times: Bootsy Collins, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, and Bootsy’s brother Catfish. Half the band eventually joined Parliament/Funkadelic. Here they are backing the amazing Marva Whitney.
3. Eddie Bo and The Soul Finders
Eddie is another one from New Orleans – a fantastic breeding ground for funk. His album Hook and Sling is a funk masterpiece, and below is the best track from it.
4. Kool and The Gang
Don’t be fooled by Ladies Night and Celebration, there was a time when Kool and The Gang specialised in terrifying raw funk. Like so many edgy bands from the 1960s and 1970s, the 80s made them confusingly bad.
Roy Ayers, Everybody Loves The Sunshine
A lo, on the fifth day they listened to excellent jazz music. So says the bible according to Interestment. Today, the fabulous Roy Ayers channels the weather through his magnificent vibraphone.
One song for a thousand parties…
As with any crippling era of financial ruin, the music world is going to go through a massive surgical face lift. Gone will be your Lady Ga Ga (the one-woman Sigue Sigue Sputnik), replaced by troubled wanderers with two-stringed guitars and chewing tabacco. No more devaluing women in VIP sections, instead they will lament the loss of their labido, which can no longer reach cocaine and viagra proportions. It’s a sorry sorry time for discos. Which is why we go crazy for vinyl bargains! Just this weekend, excellent friend of the site, Stu, stumbled across a brilliant party record in his local Scope. “It’s a track by a kid called Foster Sylvers who was like a poor man’s Michael Jackson back in the 70s,” he began, before regaling us with tales of soul dancing, and listening to this particular tune on a mixtape cassette he used to own. “I’ve been after the single for ages,” he wept, finally drawing his extended Shakespearean monologue to a close. He is, however, completely right, it’s a great song. So come on, Stu-pot, how much for this excellent crowd pleaser? “50p”.
Here’s the track:
Making album covers sexy since 1973
As funk bands go, the Ohio Players were great. Not wonderful or marvelous like James Brown, or The Meters. But they were a strong, tight group – they knew how to bring the funk. Their real strength, however, came with choosing album covers. While James Brown would always go for some kind of twisted self portrait, or The Meters pulled something relatively dire out of the bag, these guys knew how to make things seriously sexy. Previous albums Fire and Skin Tight had featured sensual pictures of foxy young women on the cover, then Honey upgraded the sexiness to fantastic levels. The lady in the picture is a Playboy playmate called Ester Cordet, and those lucky enough to own the record will know that it folds out to show her glorious bod in its entirety. The brief was simple: get a nice lady, and have her pouring honey on her face. The results: treeee-mendous.
Listen to a couple of their greatest cuts after the jump…
As funk bands go, Cymande were absolutely up there with the best in the 1970s. Formed in London in 1971, they’re still going, and are still completely excellent.
Oh, there is lots going on
As statements of intent go, they don’t come much more potent and honest as the What’s Going On cover. To the naked eye, it mightn’t look radical – just another picture of a bearded guy in latex. But, should you flick back through your excellent collection of Marvin Gaye records before this 1971 release, you’ll notice that every single cover was shot in a nice clean studio, Gaye in a suit, and this is the first one featuring his trademark facial arrangement. Plus, if you really squint, you’ll notice the beads of cold rain in his hair, and spattered down the side of his gigantic jacket collars. That means that this iconic photograph was taken on a rainy day – no one ever takes iconic pictures on rainy days! Essentially Gaye is declaring the album sleeve unimportant, as, it seems, are his Motown bosses. The whisper on the street being that Berry Gordy – legendary record honcho – thought it was rubbish, which clearly explains the no-expense-spent sleeve. It went on to sell about a million trillion copies, of course, rainy-face cover or not.
Enjoy a fantastic live performance after the jump…