With the musical canon still the province of emotionally constipated white men, much of the great funk of the '70s has been passed over by the pantheon. Funk is often reduced to a cliché, but it's as complex and far ranging as any other genre. And for the uninitiated, these albums are every bit as good as anything Pitchfork has rated a 10 lately.
Beginners: Funk starts with "Cold Sweat," where James Brown finally cut out the chord changes. But the best funk album is There's a Riot Goin' On, Sly and the Family Stone's drugged, disturbed masterpiece. Larry Graham puts in one of the great bass performances ever seen on a pop album while Sly gurgles and rasps, and together they stave off suffering and dread with lethargy and sad resignation.
Next Steps: Mothership Connection and Maggot Brain are the two Parliament-Funkadelic albums you might've heard, but the best Parliament album is Motor Booty Affair—which begins with fish puns and mermaid jokes and ends with George Clinton being escorted backstage by security—and the self-titled Funkadelic is the best approximation of squirming, acid-damaged human guts ever put to record.
Further Out: Funk had few female auteurs, but they account for much of its best music. Betty Davis' They Say I'm Different represents funk's shit-kicking hard-rock extreme, Erykah Badu's New Amerykah albums are wreathed in incense. And the Brides of Funkenstein's Never Buy Texas From a Cowboy is one of the best P-Funk side projects.
The Deep End: If you're ready, dive into Miles Davis' '70s work. You've heard Bitches Brew, but Dark Magus and In Concert make just about everything else ever recorded by anyone look puny—and they probably wouldn't exist had his wife, Betty (see above), not introduced him to Sly, Hendrix and all the other cool stuff the kids were listening to at the time.
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