You’ll have to excuse me on this one, because it’s been a while since I did this, this whole not sleeping for three days thing like you’re back in freshman year of college and you wanted to stay up all night playing Mario Kart on N64 until you beat that goddamned Princess Peach on Rainbow Road and then you realize it’s 5:45 in the morning and everything in front of you starts to dull and you start getting twitchy and hyper-aware and you start seeing things out of the corner of your eyes, quick movements or blinking flashes of light, flash lights, spot lights, strobe lights, little teeny tiny christmas lights, all of the lights, turn on the lights (I’m lookin’ for her), nite lites (?) or something or other and every small thing invades your brain space like an insidious (funky) worm and then you can’t even focus anymore and suddenly those flashes in the corner of your eye become bigger and bigger and start to take over and become like something out of Mystery Science Theater and you’re shaking your head to get it out but it doesn’t quite ever…
So there I was about three weeks ago, positively drifting through the Paper Box in East Williamsburg, floating above the people dancing around me, I had gone to see this badass funk band named Mokaad and there’s this opening band named Mad Satta, and they’re gettin’ it all together on stage, just about hitting their stride, they go into this song called “Brake Light” and suddenly there’s a red light flashing alarmingly bright in my eyes, blinking on and off, and maybe I’m asleep and it’s the alarm clock, but my alarm clock doesn’t blink, and the words are dangling in front of me, “brake light, brake light,” shifting and twisting through the air, and the music’s moving everyone around, and it doesn’t quite sound exactly like it but then again I’m not quite exactly there all the way, and my brain gears into hyperdrive and beams into hyperspace aboard the Great Mothership in the Sky, and there it is, shining before me, without a doubt, the funkiest song that has ever been created…
Let’s talk about lights. Specifically, let’s talk about lights as they pertain to the funk. You know what? Let’s skip ahead and pick out some of the grooviest, shiniest tracks in funk, those ones that glisten when you take a cloth to ’em, and talk about those. And for a grand finale, we’ll finish off with the funkiest song ever created by humanity (at least, I think they’re human). There is no room for discussion on this point. But we’ll get to that in a minute. First…
1. Sly and the Family Stone – “Shine It On”
First of all, I’m gonna apologize to everyone that it has taken five installments of this column for me to even MENTION Sly and the Family Stone. I’m sorry. These things happen. These things will not ever happen again. I understand my mistakes. Now when it comes to Sly, he may be a crazy motherfucker potentially living in a trailer in a cul-de-sac on the outer limits of Los Angeles, but he’s also a certified genius with a guaranteed spot on Mount Funkmore (we’ll get to that at a later date, I promise), and this track is a classic example of what made the Family Band so great: that bend-but-snap-right-back bassline, accented horns that don’t ever quite take center stage, background singers that do a lot of the leg work, a static guitar line, and Sly shining it down on everyone around him. This is a later cut, and a bit of an obscure one, but whip that out on a sunny day and a field-nap party (which are dynamite, by the way) instantly boils over into a dance orgy right in the middle of Prospect Park. Not, er, that this has ever happened to me before. Am I still awake? It could have just been one of those great dreams where you wake up smiling but don’t remember why, then sigh deeply and get up and rumble to your job with something vaguely positive buzzing around in the back of your head. Whatever. Let’s keep moving.
2. Bootsy Collins – “Shine-O-Mite”
There are a few things that can be said about Bootsy Collins, all of which are 100% true: He’s the best funk bass player of all time. He’s the most insane human being that has ever walked the planet. He has never, ever, ever in his life, taken off his star-shaped sunglasses, not even when he willingly and with no oxygen tank dove to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in search of the Origin of the Funk (he never found it, but rumors say he got close). He rocks the biggest booty on Planet Earth. He was not born in this galaxy. He has at least 37 different personalities, many of which express themselves simultaneously on his albums. When his music comes on, no one has ever asked the question “Who the hell is this?” because he infiltrates the senses in a way that makes the uninitiated uncomfortable with their own ability to Get Down, and makes the initiated begin bopping their heads sagely. He was the architect of many of Parliament and James Brown’s bounciest hits. He is Party Funk Personified. If I were to go to a party and could only invite one person, it would be Bootsy Collins. He has been proclaimed by the United Nations via unanimous vote as the official King of the Wiggle. He also wrote this entire paragraph. Rest in peace to Starchild, word up to the Lollypop Man.
3. Dr. Dre – “Light Speed”
Now follow me on this one, because it takes a couple twists and turns, and also has almost nothing to do with lights, but is great regardless and is a good lesson on how deeply the funk infiltrates everything. This track off 2001 contains a lot of the classic G-Funk elements — that brief, staccato melody line, the synth whine in the background, rappers rapping about rolling up marijuana and recording better videos than other rappers, and the whole shebang (shebang! Didn’t think I’d be able to work that one in here). BUT here’s the deal — “Light Speed” samples Boogie Down Productions’ “I’m Still #1” which, in turn, samples All The People’s dirty, distorted-Meters funk track “Cramp Your Style.”
Get down on that shit at a party some time. I’m telling you though, this music can be traced all the way back to the beginning and end of every great song. Funk is like the Illuminati. You don’t always understand it, but you know it’s infiltrating everything around you.
4. Isaac Hayes – “Moonlight Lovin’ (Menage a Trois)”
Bit of a change of pace here! Got ya! There’s not a lot of bright shinin’ on this track, but that’s because that low groove is meant for one thing and one thing only: midnight seduction. Before you even had to ask, I bet you already knew it was Isaac Hayes. Dude’s voice is like someone whispering unmentionable acts in your ear while you’re at a corporate event or something: you drop everything and follow that person to whatever end you may encounter (old school sexting, but without the paper trail). You light candles to this shit, and then the next time you look up the candle is not only blown out, but shattered and lying in pieces on the floor and you have no idea how it happened. Also, just look at his face on that album cover. Just look at it! Jesus. I need a breather. Where’s my glass of water? Good thing this song is a full ten minutes long. We’re gonna need it.
5. Parliament – “Flash Light”
So here’s the thing: one time in the not-so-distant past, a few funk aficionados and I got together, wore some outrageously over-large zoot suits (the ones with the different colored pinstripes that make it look like you’re all the colors of the rainbow at once or something, I don’t know, I’m colorblind, leave me alone), sat at an overly large round table, took off our fedoras and set down our canes, and debated which song, in the entire historical canon of music, was the single funkiest piece of music ever crafted. This was the shortest meeting I have ever attended while wearing platform shoes. It was no contest. Nobody even took a sip of their banana smoothie before the whole thing was over. “Flash Light” is not only the funkiest song in the history of the known Universe, it contains the funkiest bass riff ever concocted (Check out that wiggle at the 3:26 mark of the video) — and it wasn’t even recorded on a bass! That shit is Bernie Worrell’s left hand making that sound. It’s like the moment you realize that the bass parts on the intro to Seinfeld were actually recorded on a keyboard — nothing will ever be the same again. I don’t even know what else to say. I guess the lesson of this whole column here is to just never ever doubt George Clinton. The man is a goddamn savant to the funk, and nothing he does will ever be wrong. Well, except for all that crack. Dude smokes a TON of crack. Dumptrucks full of crack. I’m not sayin’ it’s wrong, or anything like that, it’s just that…
Well, nevermind. We can talk about crack and its influence on the funk another day. For now, keep that light shinin’, whether it’s the sunlight, street light, moonlight or flash light. And as always, keep it funky.