Funk was born in the 1960s and polished in the 1970s, but some of its finest music was recorded in the 1980s, much of it by MN2S musicians such as Chaka Khan, Fatback Band, George Clinton, and Kool and the Gang. We'll take a look at the genre during this phenomenal decade.
Few performers have been in charge of the growth of a complete musical genre. One of them is James Brown. The American singer and bandleader almost originated the style that became known as funk. “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” was not the first funk record, but it was the first significant hit for the genre. Brown was already a well-known soul singer in 1964, due to the success of the previous year’s Live at the Apollo record. But, when his stock began to collapse, he began to concentrate on a new form of music based on the musical interludes in his presentations
Brown came up with a dramatic shift in emphasis. Pop and soul songs frequently emphasize the second and fourth beats of the bar. Brown moved it to the first beat, which became known as “on the one.” This provided room for phrases and riffs, which were frequently syncopated around the beat, resulting in a complicated, interconnecting grid that might go on and on.
Out of this came “Out of Sight” (1964), which Brown subsequently claimed was the first funk record. It was written in his own songwriting approach, in which songs were built through a form of controlled improvisation (though it has been said that the contributions of band members, especially Parker, went uncredited).
Due to a contractual dispute, Brown couldn’t record for a year after “Out of Sight.” In 1965, during a one-hour break from touring, his band recorded a revamped version of “Out of Sight” in one take, with new lyrics and newly hired guitarist Jimmy Nolen, whose jangly-twangy guitar break was key to the song’s character and endurance. “Papa’s Got a Brand Fresh Bag” is a 12-bar blues song about a dancing guy with new ideas. It was divided into a double-sided 7-minute single. The recording was sped up and the tempo and pitch were increased. It was a smash hit, and the world had found a new rhythm. Brown followed with a succession of funk classics, including the incomparable “Mother Popcorn.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, Brown continued to create and perform amazing music, but he was no longer funk's leading musician.
George Clinton brought the funk genre to new heights with his bands Parliament and Funkadelic. The first two P-Funk bands were inactive in the 1980s. Funkdelic’s The Electric Spanking of War Babies was released in 1980, but solo careers took priority for the remainder of the decade.
1982 was George Clinton’s solo debut. Computer Games, which featured several original P-Funk members, was unlike their 1970s work. Computer Games is symbolic of the new path funk took at the start of the decade and of the minimalist, electronic sound that dominated 80s dance floors. As rock and pop musicians used synthesizers to create New Wave, funk performers recreated the genre.
Clinton's Computer Games was successful, but another P-Funk trio inaugurated funk's electro period. Zapp's 1980 first album, featuring vocoder master Roger Troutman, topped the US R&B charts.
Funk has been prominent on the US R&B charts since its beginnings. Although James Brown achieved mainstream chart success, it wasn't until the 1980s that the genre became a Billboard Hot 100 fixture. Chaka Khan was one among the artists that effectively brought funk into the mainstream.
In the 1980s, Rufus (now Rufus and Chaka Khan) released the single ‘Ain’t Nobody’ It was a shift from the band’s typical instrumentation, as indicated by its inclusion as a studio bonus track on Live at the Savoy.
Though its pop choruses, ‘Ain’t Nobody’ was unquestionably groovy. Number 22 on the Billboard chart. The solo track ‘I Feel For You’ would be Khan’s biggest mainstream hit. This was number one in the UK and number three on the Billboard chart for 26 weeks. Chaka’s 1985 Grammy went to the song’s composer, Prince.
Prince performed in several genres, but funk remained his base. 1982’s 1999 was one of the first funk albums to dominate the charts, and following hits like ‘Kiss’ became funk classics. Prince was indeed a multi-instrumentalist. His music is full of revolutionary drum machine and synthesizer experiments.
We may recognize the 1970s as the peak of funk, but with the advent of electronic instruments, many of the most successful funk singles were reaching the mainstream charts in the 1980s.