2. doing it to death

“Because there had to be at least one James Brown track on this list — Godfather of Soul, Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Soul Brother No. 1 and a bunch more, I’m sure. Including I hope some reference to funk. He did invent funk, didn’t he? What do I know? I’m just some white guy from the suburbs. I’ll tell you what I know. I know that whatever it is we’re all doing here, this being alive, this ever expanding sustained chain reaction of possibilities that comes with breathing, moving, growing, learning, dreaming, DANCING — we’re doing it to death. And even death is no end, because trust that whatever happens (or doesn’t) after we die — the groove goes on, the song doesn’t end, we’re fated to life eternal. Not any of our mortal stuff obviously. That all plays itself out in time even if you go vegan, pump iron, take your vitamins – you are gonna die, your flesh is gonna rot. No it’s the immortal stuff I’m thinking about, the noise we make, the light we shine and reflect, the seeds we plant, and how they grow. By which I mean ideas, passions, commitments, sacrifices, songs – the grooves in particular. None of that stuff ever dies.

Which is all just an approximation of a pile of thoughts I had this past New Years (into 2001), while DJing on some unnamed island, monster sound system, high on some of the local shrooms — not hallucinating or anything, just elevated enough to see (and feel) that the crowd were finally at the point where they’d dance to anything. But what the DJ wants at such a moment, is to give them exactly the right thing. And there it was: The JBs’ Doing It To Death. Not even a James Brown album per say. He gave this one to his band, because who was he really without his JBs? The album itself kind of a rarity, my copy pressed in Germany, 1973, one of those records you spend a long time looking for. And yeah, the title track‘s the treasure that makes it all worth the trouble. Like the intro says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, there are seven acknowledged wonders of the world. You are about to witness the eighth’. No clever DJ tricks required, just drop the needle, slay everyone in the room, give them eternal life. Call it a paradox. I won’t argue. We need more paradoxes.” (Philip Random)

(photo: Universal Music archives)

83. ball of confusion

“The Temptations had the big hit with Ball of Confusion but the Undisputed Truth (also signed to Motown, and working with the song’s co-writer Norman Whitfield in the producer’s chair) took it way further, bigger, louder. Seriously, did any Motown record before or since rock harder than this? So yeah, take a bow, Mr. Whitfield, and Undisputed Truth for being up to that groove. And then there’s that band I saw at a school dance, maybe Grade ten, doing their own long and sloppy rock take, all jammed out and obviously memorable, because here I am remembering it. I had no idea it was a Motown cover at the time, just caught some of the lyrics and couldn’t help relating. Because that’s what the world was (even fifteen year old me had that much figured out) – a ball of confusion indeed. Just turn on the six o’clock news – everything pumping with paranoia, unease, threat. And the band played on.” (Philip Random)

89. one nation under a groove

“Because it made John the drug dealer cry. Tough guy, carried a gun sometimes (or claimed to anyway), you did not f*** with him. It was 86 Street nightclub, 1988, maybe three hours into the 19-piece P-Funk All Stars extravaganza, George Clinton and company riding a groove that had been building all evening, just wave after wave of funk infused fabulousness, everything building, building … and finally shifting slightly, evolving into a recognizable song, the one about there only being one nation, the one which entices us to all move in groovy unity. That’s when John nudged me, pointed to a tear on his cheek. If that musical moment had somehow been pressed to vinyl in all its power and glory, it would probably be number one on this list. But I guess we’ll just have to go with the album version from a decade previous, which like so much of the Parliament-Funkadelic stuff, works fine even as it falls magnitudes short of the live item. Oh well. Maybe you had to be there. I was.” (Philip Random)

179. give up the funk [tear the roof off]

“And because it really is that great an album, another selection from Parliament’s 1975 gem, Mothership Connection, George Clinton and his crowd tearing the roof off reality itself … live anyway. Which is how I first really encountered Give Up The Funk. First via that aforementioned TV broadcast, then thirteen years later, in the flesh. The outfit was called the P-Funk All Stars now, which simplified things somewhat, but not the music. The music remained a complex and fabulous beast, multi-headed but working only one heartbeat, everything in service of the groove. They played for the better part of four hours and I don’t think anyone anywhere ever stopped moving. Phenomenal.” (Philip Random)

(photo: Lynn Goldsmith)

215. funky music sho nuff turns me on

Edwin Starr is mostly known nowadays for the song known simply as War. He didn’t write it but he did own it. Absolutely. And the same can be said of Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On. It didn’t rise as high in the charts as War, didn’t cross over so emphatically. But I still managed to hear it back when it was new, one of many soul-funk rave-ups you encountered on commercial radio back in the early 1970s before the corporate types got organized and ruined everything. But the real discovery came twenty odd years later, a flea market find, and proof in advertising all the way, the funk being fiercely evident from the first squall of guitar. What a turn on!” (Philip Random)

EdwinStarr-1971-cu

262. keep on truckin’

“Growing up in suburban wherever back in the latter part of the early 1970s, you didn’t get much so-called black music on the radio, or the record stores for that matter. But every now and then, something epic like Keep On Truckin’ managed to blaze on through. I had no idea who Eddie Kendricks was (though I had heard of the Temptations), but man if my head didn’t turn whenever it came on, particularly the long album version which, to my then fourteen year old ears, just seemed to go on forever in the best possible way, expanding my soul and my consciousness as to what music could and should be. And honestly, it still does.” (Philip Random)

EddieKendricks-1973-truckin.jpg

323. trampled under foot

“Funky Zeppelin. Sort of. Trampled Underfoot‘s not exactly easy to dance to, yet it is most definitely a groove, and relentless at that. Found on Physical Graffiti, the last truly great Led Zeppelin album, which I didn’t properly discover more than a decade after the fact. But that’s something that pretty much all the records on this list have in common, perhaps the only thing. It doesn’t matter how many times you miss them, get caught looking the other way. They will find you in time. Oblivion just can’t contain them.” (Philip Random)

LedZeppelin-1975-live

331. funky stuff

Kool + the Gang are one of those bands that sadly had to change because of the Disco eruptions of the mid-1970s, which sucks. Because they had a great thing going (as Funky Stuff clearly indicates) before all dance music suddenly had to be 4-4, boomp-boomp-boomp with cheesy strings on top. Even James Brown was afraid of them, or so I’ve heard.” (Philip Random)

kool+theGang-1973

406. What is Hip?

“I actually turned down a free ticket to see Tower of Power at a small club. It would’ve been about 1978. They probably would’ve played this song. And yeah, it would’ve blown me the f*** away. The towering power of it, and the tightness. What a band! But I was an idiot. I said no. Because I didn’t get funk in those days, or jazz, and how the two could brilliantly fuse. I had it all confused with disco. And I had all kinds of issues with disco. What can I say? I was young and foolish, not remotely hip.” (Philip Random)