BY BRYN TAYLOR //
Welcome back. This week, we’ll be getting our groove on: exploring three pieces that fully encapsulate the genre of funk. With a beautiful mix of rhythm and soul, funk uses synthesizers, electric organs, and bass guitar lines that lay out an immense amount of groove for the listener. Although it came to popularity in the late 60s early 70s, it still is recreated in modern music. In this volume of Frisson, we will explore three pieces. One within the time period of funk, and two that have escaped its time, but not its sound. Let’s get listening.
In July of 1969, Stevie Wonder’s song “My Cherie Amour” reached No. 4 on both the billboard pop and R&B singles chart. The song is composed of a mix of strings, horns, and a distinct flute line. Instead of using normal percussion for the beat of the song, Wonder uses both a drum kit paired with a bongo line, giving it a distinct beat. The song mixes elements of French jazz, along with Motown soul. The lyrics were originally written for Wonder’s girlfriend while he attended the Michigan School for the Blind. It was then titled “Oh My Marcia”, however, when the song was finally recorded, she was out of the picture, and Wonder changed the lyrics to be about a generic romance, rather than a specific one. The string progression is in a high key, creating a dream like experience for the listener. In fact, “My Cherie Amour” has been used in multiple romance movie soundtracks, most likely creating this very environment within the films.
“Give Me the Night” from the album of the same name, was released by George Benson in 1981, shortly after the funk era had begun to die down. The song, coming at No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, was a commercial hit for Benson, and put him on the map. With production by Quincy Jones and scat vocals by Pat Austin, the song was one of the last “disco” hits. In true funk fashion, the lyrics tell a story of loving nightlife, dancing at the disco tech, and romance. The song uses horns and a juicy bass track to create a strong groove. When the chorus kicks in, there is a sharp build of brass, including trumpets, which really brings the entire song together. After this, there are light bells that step up the scale, creating a wild build towards the funk hook. It is no wonder why this is Benson’s most known/loved track.
Our third and final funk track is Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta” from the 2015 album, To Pimp a Butterfly. Co-Written by modern funk master Thundercat, and using lyrics from the late Michael Jackson, the song is a great example of how the genre is still alive and well today. The song was placed on Rolling Stone’s “50 best songs of 2015”. “King Kunta” put Lamar on the map for being an insanely creative lyricist. The song is based on Kunta Kinte, the rebellious slave from “Roots: the Saga of the American Family”. Lamar also refers to excerpts from Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Not only is it a song with powerful lyrics, but also a powerful beat. It’s drum line is heavy, yet simple. Lamar also uses vocals, such as two “hype girl” voices to echo him, along with a deep voice to announce him, even once saying “by the time you hear the next pop, the funk shall be within you.” These additions create a genre known as “g-funk”, hip-hop literally influenced by 1970s funk.