The funk genre came about in the 1960s, and pop culture has not been the same since. After its creation in the African American community, it hit mainstream by the early '70s. It blossomed alongside the disco genre, often working in tandem with soul and R&B.
Now, let’s look at the best funk songs of all time.
“Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry
Song year: 1976
Wild Cherry's “Play That Funky Music” is a staple of the funk genre. The song is one of the most iconic, funkiest songs from the '70s and has a fun anecdote behind it. One of the band's members, Ron Beitle, wrote the song in 15 minutes after a fan approached him at a show and asked, “Are you going to play some funky music, white boys?”
The lyrics describe how difficult it was for a rock band to break into the funk genre in the '70s when disco was rising, and audience members wanted groovy, danceable tunes.
“Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” by Parliament
Song year: 1976
George Clinton founded Parliament in the '60s to bring a fun sense of storytelling and sci-fi influences to the funk genre. Their song “Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” became their first million-selling single, with a danceable, sing-along chorus that fans love.
The notorious tune comes off their album Mothership Connection and kicks off with bass vocals by Ray Davis, a founding band member. The composition includes jazz elements with three main themes and two sub-themes that occur throughout the song.
“Funky Town” by Lipps, Inc.
Song year: 1979
Lipps, Inc. struck gold with “Funky Town,” a 1979 single from their debut album Mouth to Mouth. Steven Greenberg wrote the lyrics about the band's desire to move to Minneapolis, with lead singer Cynthia Johnson on vocals.
The song instantly received international acclaim, with critics and casual listeners claiming it as one of their favorite songs. It stayed at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for nearly four weeks, peaking at number one in multiple countries, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands.
“Flash Light” by Parliament
Song year: 1977
The band Parliament released “Flash Light” in 1978, and it peaked at 16 on the U.S. Billboard pop charts. However, it reached number one on the R&B charts, making it the first P-Funk song to earn that place.
It stayed on the charts for four months, quickly becoming an essential part of pop culture. Fans can hear the funky tune in films like Muppets from Space, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, The Heat, and Straight Outta Compton.
“Super Freak” by Rick James
Song year: 1981
Rick James produced, wrote, and recorded the hit song “Super Freak.” The single is about a sexually adventurous girl who may not be the best partner for a man to take home to his parents.
Funk fans around the globe took an immediate liking to the song, with its highest spot on an international chart being number two in the Netherlands. The tune became one of James' most well-known works, and artists like MC Hammer and Nicki Minaj sampled the funky beat.
“Chameleon” by Herbie Hancock
Song year: 1973
Herbie Hancock, Paul Jackson, Harvey Mason, and Bennie Maupin worked together to write, produce, and record the jazz-funk song “Chameleon.” The full-length version of the tune has an unprecedented length of 15 minutes and 44 seconds for a funk song, which is standard for its jazz roots. The song peaked at number 42 on the Billboard Hot 100 and 18 the hot soul singles.
“More Bounce to the Ounce, Part 1” by ZAPP
Song year: 1980
“More Bounce to the Ounce, Part 1” comes from Zapp's self-titled debut album, Zapp. The electro-funk song repeats the phrase in the title and features a few praises to a sexy woman getting down to the beat on the dance floor.
Roger Troutman, the group's leader, is responsible for the vocals and many instrumentals, giving him the experience he needed before starting his solo career.
The tune peaked at number 86 on the Billboard Hot 100 the year of its release, which helped launch Zapp into their successful career.
“Get Down on It” by Kool and the Gang
Song year: 1981
Kool and the Gang's 1981 single “Get Down on it” comes off their iconic album Something Special. The Recording Industry Association of America certified the funk single as gold or a “Disco de Oro.”
The Australian artist Peter Andre released his version of the song in 1996 on his album Natural. The British pop group Blue also recorded a revision of the tune, and many artists sampled the funky beat.
“Papa's Got a Brand New Bag” by James Brown
Song year: 1965
James Brown wrote and released “Papa's Got a Brand New Bag” as a two-part funk single in 1965. The soul-funk song represents a milestone in James Brown's career, as it won him his first Grammy.
It took home the Best Rhythm and Blues Title award, marking the start of Brown's journey into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Rolling Stone gave the song a spot at 72 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
“She's a Bad Mama Jama (She's Built, She's Stacked)” by Carl Carlton
Song year: 1981
Leon Haywood wrote the song “She's a Bad Mama Jama” for the artist Carl Carlton and is now one of the artist's most identifiable works alongside “Everlasting Love.”
The song peaked at number two on Billboard's Soul Singles chart and received a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance. It is a certified gold single by the Recording Industry Association of America.
“Word Up” by Cameo
Song year: 1986
Cameo recorded “Word Up” in 1986 and released it on their album of the same name, Word Up! It quickly became Cameo's most recognizable song, airing on the radio and in dance clubs internationally.
The music video contributed to the band's success, too. It is known for a funny bit where famous actor LeVar Burton plays a police officer who arrests the band.
“One Nation Under a Groove” by Funkadelic
Song year: 1978
Funkadelic's “One Nation Under a Groove” shares a name with the title of the band's most commercially successful album. The electronic-punk song differed from Funkaledic's usual sound when they released it.
Rather than standard rock elements, it had a more danceable beat that fit the funk trends. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gave the song a spot in the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.