Soul, Funk and Disco

Can “Monster Movie” (Music Factory, 1969)

Choosing a favorite Can album is like pinpointing your favorite orgasm—damn near impossible, but fun to contemplate. As with many things music-oriented, it depends on your mood. One of the great things about these German geniuses (plus their American and Japanese vocalists) is how different each LP is. On any given day, your fave could be the unique funk bomb of Ege Bamyasi, the aquatic space-out of Future Days, the psych-rock/musique-concrète amalgam of Tago Mago, the proto-techno rhythmagic of Soon Over Babaluma, the alien dub and robo-funk of Flow Motion, or the raw-nerved, Velvet Underground-inflected trips and trance jams of Monster Movie. Or yet another one. Choose your adventure, etc.

My lifelong love affair with Can—whom I consider the greatest rock band ever—began with Monster Movie in the very early ’80s. I was smitten from the first seconds of “Father Cannot Yell,” which is a skewed, avant-garde take on the Velvet Underground at their most adrenalized—but with a loose-cannon, African-American sculptor on vocals instead of a NYC hipster. Nothing else really sounded like this in 1969: Holger Czukay’s ominous pulsations of sinewy bass; Jaki Liebezeit’s robust, tricky beats; Irmin Schmidt’s synapse-sizzling keyboard fibrillations; and Michael Karoli’s radiant guitar; Mooney’s spluttering of a disturbing, primal, parental scenario. “Father Cannot Yell” is not so much a traditional rock song as it is a surge of panicky energy that makes you think earth is spinning off its axis.

The next track, “Mary, Mary So Contrary,” ushers in a 180º shift to slack, clanging rock in the vein of the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” and Cream’s “World Of Pain.” Karoli’s articulate guitar lead whines and snakes through the song like a tortuous siren and is underpinned by Liebezeit’s emphatic, deceptive funk beats. Mooney’s obsessive, lyrics about the titular woman are strange, but this might be the most conventional love song in Can’s canon, outside of “She Brings The Rain.” “Outside My Door” features a wonderfully doleful train-whistle harmonica wafting over a spasming psych-rock roar that’s somewhere between 13th Floor Elevators ca. Bull Of The Woods and Mass In F Minor-era Electric Prunes. Mooney looses a stream of discombobulated consciousness in which the standout line is “Any color is bad.”

Monster Movie climaxes on “Yoo Doo Right.” A 20-minute Ouroboros jam of throbbing intensity and sublime subterranean tremors, this is really Holger and Jaki’s show. The formidable rhythm section creates an undulating foundation of low frequencies, heavy on the bass twang and tom-toms, over which Schmidt’s keys and Karoli’s guitar fill the firmament with aching drones that hint at VU’s “Black Angel’s Death Song.” Mooney sings his lust-object mantras as if possessed: “once I was blind now I can see/now that you’re in love with me/you made a believer out of me, babe/you made a believer out of me/she said, ‘yoo doo right, yoo doo right.’” At around 8 minutes, the song reduces to rimshots and Mooney sadly intoning the lyrics for a minute; then the rest of the band resume forging periodic swells of keyboard burbles and a fuzzed-out guitar riff that’s like a fanfare for a super race. Czukay and Liebezeit continue to build a mountain of rhythm out of bare necessities. Mooney’s OCD rants and tender singing capture the mindset of a man in an agitated state of romantic thralldom. It’s an exhausting yet exhilarating trip.

Monster Movie contains some of Can’s most straightforward rock moments, but also their most prodigious improv epic (just nudging out “Halleluwah”). It’s a start-to-finish mind-bender and a rewarding entry point into their incomparable catalog. -Buckley Mayfield

Betty Davis “Nasty Gal” (Island, 1975)

Betty Davis (1973) and They Say I’m Different (1974) are such flamboyant juggernauts of funk and soul that they overshadow all that came after. But Ms. Davis (née Mabry, ex-wife and muse of Miles Davis) still had plenty of creative fire in her belly, as her “difficult” third album, Nasty Gal, proves. This X-rated singer/songwriter may have lost Sly & The Family Stone drummer Greg Errico and bassist Larry Graham, Headhunters drummer Mike Clark, and Santana guitarist Neal Schon from the first two LPs’ lineups, but she still dropped gems with regularity. So while the band she enlisted for Nasty Gal may not be as renowned, but it is damned tight.

You can suss that from the first few seconds of the title track: seething, filthy funk apropos for its titular subject. Davis shifts from guttural growl that telegraphs feral lust to seductive purrs as the guitar, bass, drums, synths, and congas bump and grind with pornographic single-mindedness. The libidinous, swaggering funk of “Talkin Trash” evokes Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” thanks to James Allen Smith’s clavinet-like synth squawks. That seductive, squelchy sound recurs throughout Nasty Gal like a mating call.

This Is It!” is slamming, thrusting funk that takes no prisoners—so lusty, it could make even men pregnant. “F.U.N.K.” telegraphs its intent, serving as Davis’ manifesto for the funk genre while big-upping her musical inspirations (Stevie, Sly, Tina Turner, Ann Peebles, Al Green, Barry White, Isaac Hayes, O’Jays, Jimi, Aretha, Chaka, the Funkadelics [sic]). “Shut Off The Light” bears uncanny similarities to the lubricious funk romp “Turn Off The Lights” from Larry Young’s Fuel LP (which also came out in 1975 and which I also reviewed on this blog). Great minds think alike, for sure.

To show she’s not strictly sex-obsessed, Davis wrote “Dedicated To The Press,” a sarcastic dig at the media set to a throbbing, bubbling funk attack. Betty seems quite worked up about critics’ inability to understand where she’s coming from. Sadly, that’s what happens when you’re too far ahead of your time.

The only real dud on Nasty Gal is “You And I”—shocking, because this should’ve been a highlight; it was co-written with Miles and boasts brass arrangements by Gil Evans. Instead, it’s a somewhat limp ballad with Betty at her most tender and sincere. Curiously, this stab at serious airplay didn’t succeed.

That Betty Davis remains more of a cult icon than a household name on the level with Tina or Chaka might derive from her being too sexy and in your face for most heads to handle. Luckily, you sexy readers are more than up for the task.

(The good folks at Light In The Attic Records reissued Nasty Gal in 2009, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find—or very expensive.) -Buckley Mayfield

Bee Gees “Bee Gees 1st” (Polydor/ATCO, 1967)

Rock bands that emulated the Beatles were 10 a penny in the mid/late ’60s. But among the legions of Fab Four disciples from that era, few sounded as sublime as Bee Gees. They decisively proved this point with Bee Gees’ 1st (actually their third LP, but first to be released worldwide). It’s a cornucopia of baroque psychedelic pop that out-John-Paul-Georged nearly everybody in the field. (Klaus Voorman, the brilliant artist who designed the cover for Revolver, also did a fantastic job with 1st.)

1st came out about six weeks after Sgt. Pepper’s in the UK, and peaked at #7 on the Billboard album chart. That’s how sophisticated pop-music consumers were in 1967. At this point, the Gibb brothers—Barry, Robin, and Maurice—were working with Australian musicians Vince Melouney on guitar and drummer Colin Petersen on drums. Bill Shepherd and Phil Dennys handled the orchestral arrangements with panache. These musicians made for a formidable team.

Right off the bat, “Turn Of The Century” and “Holiday,” show Bee Gees’ vast emotional range. The former’s ebullient baroque pop with echt Beatlesque vocal harmonies, which contrasts with the latter’s lachrymose ballad of precious intimacy, although Shepherd’s orchestrations nudge “Holiday” into Moody Blues/Left Banke territory.

The album really takes off with “Red Chair Fade Away,” an eerie efflorescence of psychedelic pop in the “Strawberry Fields Forever” vein. It pushes a profound nostalgic button for people who love songs in which instruments such as flute and violin seem to be melting in the studio—a number larger than you’d think. Out of sheer quirkiness, Robin brays like a sheep after Barry repeatedly sings “red chair fade away” near song’s end, and “I can feel the speaking sky” is brilliant and terrifying synesthesia. Another towering high point is “In My Own Time,” whose strutting garage-psych recalls “Taxman,” a style I wish the Gibb bros attempted more often. (By the way, the Three O’Clock did a nice cover of this tune on 1983’s Sixteen Tambourines.)

New York Mining Disaster” uh, mines the old-timey vibe of the Beatles’ “Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite.” However, it is the Gibbs’ perverse genius to turn a tragic story about a worker being trapped in a mine into a soaring, feel-good hit. The bittersweet vocal harmonies and phrasing come off as a combo of “Good Day Sunshine” and “Eleanor Rigby.” The delightful psych lite of “Please Read Me” is as shaggily wonderful as your favorite Help! or Rubber Soul tune. “I Close My Eyes” is a very special song, bristling with strange beauty, staunch drumming, bravura fragile vocalizing à la 1966-era John Lennon, and a bizarre ee-ew sound that seems like a mistake that producer Robert Stigwood decided to keep for sheer WTF? value.

Beatles panto is fine and all, but do Bee Gees have soul? Oh, they certainly do. Dig “One Minute Woman,” a blue-eyed-soul charmer with sophisticated swagger and elevated by sumptuous strings and horn charts akin to a Lee Hazlewood production. “To Love Somebody” was originally written for Otis Redding, and it shows. One of the greatest love songs ever, it bursts with soul as it swims in a profound orchestral pathos and Barry sings his ass off. No wonder it’s been covered by Nina Simone, Rod Stewart, Roberta Flack, Gram Parson, Janis Joplin, and many others.

Saving the best for last, we come to “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You.” Featuring anguished mellotron played by Maurice and Gregorian-like chants (“o solo dominique”), Bee Gees set a Moody Blues tone before shifting into a stoned bliss psych-rock gem that stands up to the best of Sgt. Pepper’s and Magical Mystery Tour. Amazing that this song, with its odd dynamics and strange atmospheres, appeared on the B-side of the “Holiday” 45. I can’t be the only one who freaked upon hearing “Every Christian” on the radio for the first time. In the context of commercial airwaves, it’s hard not to gasp, “What is this?”

It’s that mad combo of sonic adventurousness and indelible catchiness that makes Bee Gees 1st the group’s zenith and a stone-cold classic. -Buckley Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield “Back To The World” (Curtom, 1973)

Imagine having to follow up Super Fly, one of the greatest soundtracks of all time and, to many listeners, a pinnacle of blaxploitation-film scores. No problem, though, for guitarist/vocalist Curtis Mayfield (no relation, by the way). The veteran R&B/soul/funk magus who established his rep with the Impressions showed he had plenty more inspiration from that gritty yet sumptuous palette on Back To The World, which peaked at #16 on the Billboard album chart and #1 on the R&B chart.

Wielding his supple falsetto and presenting himself as a sage street philosopher, Mayfield offered a concept album of sorts about a soldier returning from the Vietnam War and struggling to adjust to society and find a job. The buoyant, loping soul of “Back To The World” introduces you to this scenario, as it bursts with uplifting, swirling strings and punchy brass. Here and everywhere on Back To The World, Richard Tufo kills it with his ambitious arrangements, encompassing triumph and despair with panache. In a similar vein, “Right On For The Darkness” brings more dynamic, orchestral-funk drama. Sampled by everyone from Gang Starr to Insane Clown Posse, the song’s a lament for the human condition, particularly greed and temptation.

As for “Future Shock,” its stark, funky break has been sampled at least 23 times, and has been covered by Herbie Hancock on the same 1983 LP that bore “Rockit.” It’s certainly one of Mayfield’s most potent slices of message-heavy funk, laced with an ecological warning amid urgent horn stabs and weeping guitar interjections. Speaking of sample-worthy tracks, parts of “Can’t Say Nothin’” were lifted by Canadian hip-hop unit Dream Warriors for “U Could Get Arrested.” No wonder: its stealthy funk is as sleek and stylish as Dr. J breezing to the hoop during his ABA phase.

Back To The World climaxes on “If I Were Only A Child Again,” whose euphoric funk flaunts horn charts that inflate your heart to a planet-sized organ of joy. Mayfield’s protagonist expresses a desire to return to a state of innocence to avoid the grief caused by the way adults fuck up society. The music sweeps away any consternation the lyrics induce, exemplifying Curtis’ greatest feat—writing verses that depict hard times while composing music that elevates you far above their grim reality. -Buckley Mayfield

Larry Coryell “Barefoot Boy” (Flying Dutchman, 1971)

From 1969 to 1975, guitar virtuoso Larry Coryell had a phenomenal run of solo albums for prestigious labels such as Vanguard, Flying Dutchman, and Arista. (His date with German avant-jazz keyboardist Wolfgang Dauner on Et Cetera’s Knirsch LP is essential, too.) During this time, Coryell was challenging hotshots such as John McLaughlin, Sonny Sharrock, Pete Cosey, Ray Russell, and John Abercrombie for jazz-rock-guitar supremacy.

Of all the great recordings Coryell cut in that golden period, Barefoot Boy may be the strongest. At points, it predates the fury and finesse of Miles Davis’ On The Corner by about a year. In 1969, Village Voice critic Robert Christgau called Coryell “the greatest thing to happen to the guitar since stretched gut,” and for a change, I agree with him.

Recorded at New York’s Electric Lady Studios and produced by Flying Dutchman label owner Bob Thiele, Barefoot Boy charges out of the gate as if ablaze. Coryell and company radically intensify Gábor Szabó’s “Gypsy Queen” to nearly 12 minutes, forging thrumming, seething jazz rock over which saxophonist Steve Marcus breathes rococo fire while Coryell unleashes a Hendrixian vernacular on guitar: scultped feedback, fleet wah-wah riffs, divebombs. The rhythm’s monomaniacally repetitive and robust, thanks to Roy Haynes’ drumming and Lawrence Killian’s conga. Surely, Mr. Szabó was impressed.

It may take a while to catch your breath after that, but hurry, because “The Great Escape” is gonna make you move some more. It’s a brazen funk cut redolent of the torqued tension of Axis: Bold As Love and On The Corner, with Haynes’ clanging cymbal work accentuating the roiling rhythm. Coryell goes into hyperdrive with thick, corrugated riffs and mercurial, pointillistic runs while Mervin Bronson’s bass line churns lubriciously. Icing this groovy cake, Marcus gets off a Wayne Shorter-esque solo of concise brilliance. Was Miles taking notes?

The 20-minute “Call To The Higher Consciousness” begins with an uplifting fanfare not unlike the one in Pharoah Sanders’ “The Creator Has A Master Plan,” with Mike Mandel’s piano emulating the rolling bliss of Lonnie Liston Smith’s. Marcus takes the lead in the early stages, blowing golden arabesques over a lovely, loping rhythm. Eventually, Coryell emits a flurry of crystalline notes that ripple with mind-boggling fluency. There’s room for everyone to take a solo in this sidelong journey, including Mandel’s gorgeous shower of high-pitched chords and Haynes’ nimble and rugged drum workout. When the group barge back in, they spew a geyser of spiritual-jazz euphoria akin to that heard on Alice Coltrane and Carlos Santana’s Illuminations. After several bursts of febrile joy, the song downshifts into subdued mode in the last few minutes.

Although rarely touted as such, Barefoot Boy belongs in the fusion pantheon, with your Spectrums, your Emergency!s, your Birds Of Fires, etc. -Buckley Mayfield

Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul “Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul” (GSF, 1973)

Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul never became household names, except in those homes where serious crate-diggers have dwelled. For one thing, that name is a goddamn mouthful. For another, their label likely lacked the marketing muscle to get the band the notice they deserved. That theirs is a common story doesn’t make it any less of a shame. SJQ and his crafty mates should’ve been much better known, but at least their debut album has been reissued frequently (both officially and not), making it not too hard to grip this start-to-finish heater.

The album starts with the group’s best-known song, “(I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind,” a Top 30 hit in 1973. It’s highly torqued funk that would make James Brown do the splits three times and pass out. Not surprisingly, “Trouble” has been sampled over a dozen times. The tight groove, brash horn charts, and caustic, Dennis Coffey-esque guitar solo make it an irresistible force of supernature. Yes, Joe’s voice isn’t JB or Sly Stone caliber, but it more than adequately reaches the era’s demanding gritty-soul quotient. Gamers may recognize it from the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

The greatness continues with “I Made A Promise,” whose devastatingly cool funk boasts a zig-zagging bass line worthy of the Meters’ George Porter Jr. while “The Trouble With Trouble” flexes bravura, horn-laden funk that could score a sports highlight program. Fans of J.B.s ax-slinger Jimmy Nolen’s percussive guitar attack will dig this one. The peppy, feel-good funk of “Gonna Get Me A Friend” will—yes, indeed—likely help you make friends if you play it. That’s some meta genius, even if it wasn’t intentional.

“I Feel Like This” falls very much in the vein of the Meters’ “Just Kissed My Baby,” and I’m not complaining, because this methodical, wah-wah-enhanced funk acts as a libido enhancer. Even though it’s less celebrated than “(I Got) So Much Trouble On My Mind,” “The Way They Do My Life” might be the album’s peak. Marvin Gaye-like, orchestral funk in the What’s Going On/Trouble Man vein, with wicked chikka-wakka guitar (the title derives from a line in Gaye’s “Inner City Blues [Make Me Wanna Holler”]).

To be blunt, funk albums that are great from front to back are rare. Often, these ensembles feel obligated to fill out their records with ballads, which usually drag down the mood and overall quality. When you’re up against superstars of that mode such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Bill Withers, you can’t help coming up short. But Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul realized what their strengths were and manifested them to the max. -Buckley Mayfield

The Undisputed Truth “Cosmic Truth” (Gordy, 1975)

The plaything of producer/composer/arranger Norman Whitfield, the Undisputed Truth were Motown’s great black freak-soul hopes—basically, the Temptations’ younger, wilder siblings. UT even recorded several songs cut by the Tempts (and Rare Earth, for that matter), a ploy that demonstrated Motown boss Berry Gordy’s practice of recycling the catalog in order to milk hits for all they’re worth. Because Whitfield and his songwriting partner Barrett Strong were on a scorching creative roll in the ’70s, the Undisputed Truth reaped the artistic rewards of their genius, if not the commercial successes of Motown’s more palatable acts.

Cosmic Truth is UT’s sixth album and their second of 1975, following the flamboyantly soulful and funky Higher Than High. For me, Cosmic Truth is the group’s peak. It should be discussed with the same reverence people reserve for classics such as Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis: Bold As Love, Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain, and Love’s Four Sail.

The LP’s gatefold spread features UT’s five core members wearing garish silver makeup and sporting huge white afros, a visual analogue to what you’ll hear in the grooves. Opener “Earthquake Shake” immediately tips you off that Cosmic Truth isn’t going to be your father’s typical Motown release. This brassy, tumultuous psych funk is the sonic embodiment of the title. A bit beyond the halfway point, a massive drum break enters and the whole song gets about 77 percent funkier and stranger. The coda of birdsong, distant backwards strings, oboe (?), more earthquake rumble unexpectedly takes the song into prog territory (Moody Blues or early King Crimson). So far, so surprising.

But you ain’t heard nothing yet. How about an oozing-molasses cover of “Down By The River”? Undisputed Truth soul up Neil Young’s 1969 epic to the max, elevated by an absolutely heavenly keyboard performance by Mark Davis. The guitar solo here—it sounds like Motown session badass Dennis Coffey—is a shimmering helix of spun gold. Neil had to have been gobsmacked by how godly this version was.

However, “UFO’s” [sic] is not a surprise; it’s spacey, psychedelic funk with guitars that sound like gnarly, alien engines. It’s also the LP’s most explicit Parliament-Funkadelic homage, with vocals evoking Bootsy Collins’. Similarly, “Lil’ Red Ridin’ Hood”’s sleazy funk could’ve easily slotted on Free Your Ass And Your Mind Will Follow. “Spaced Out” is my go-to track on Cosmic Truth for DJing purposes. Its strutting and rutting funkadelia with exceptional dynamics, caustic guitar pyrotechnics, and the echoed unison backing vocals send this interstellar lust song over the edge.

1990” features mad guitar heroics in a dank, midtempo, War-like vein, harmonica and all. Finally, the fantastic, heartbreaking “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” which the Temptations made a hit in 1966, receives a supremely soulful treatment with a sweet piano solo, subtly effective congas, and masterly vocal arrangements. It’s up there with the commanding renditions by Rod Stewart and the Faces and Rare Earth.

The aptly titled Cosmic Truth is one of Motown’s most fascinating, undersung magnum opuses. -Buckley Mayfield

Ohio Players “Ecstasy” (Westbound, 1973)

Throughout the ’70s, Ohio Players were the Buckeyes to Westbound label mates Funkadelic’s Wolverines. Both excellent funk bands seemed to be trying to outdo each other in a Beatles/Stones-style competition, but for black Midwestern musicians. Consequently, Ohio Players and Funkadelic had a torrid run of albums in the aforementioned decade. While consensus opinion over the last 40-plus years has given the advantage to the latter, Ohio Players definitely dropped several great platters, including their third LP, Ecstasy.

One way to gauge a group’s worth is how often hip-hop producers have sampled their tracks. By that metric, Ohio Players are hall-of-famers, with 600 samples to their name, as catalogued by Whosampled. “Funky Worm” alone has been used over 260 times in other artists’ works. Ecstasy has its share of sample-worthy moments, too. Beyond that, though, are simply some fantastic songs, exemplified by the title track. It’s one of the ultimate soulful expressions of love in extremis ever to perfume the airways and reach the US singles chart (#31). Marshall “Rock” Jones’ bass line is a tumescent tumble of desire, Walter “Junie” Morrison’s organ a swollen wail of pleasure, and vocalist Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner delivers one of the most extravagant examples of devotion ever waxed.

That peak is followed by “You And Me,” a carefree, summer-romance R&B jam with falsetto vocals that’s almost absurdly euphoric. Why it’s interrupted for a few seconds by martial beats and military march orders is totally inexplicable, but funny. In a similar vein is “Silly Billy,” an endearing, falsetto-laced ballad pitched somewhere between Smokey Robinson and Swamp Dogg, and “Spinning,” which groovily gyrates like Sly & The Family Stone at their most vivacious (e.g., “[You Caught Me] Smilin’”).

Most of the rest of Ecstasy captures the feeling that leads to the titular state: to paraphrase Prince, it’s a sexy motherfucker. “(I Wanna Know) Do You Feel It” is a stealthy boudoir joint that bursts into aggressive strutting in the last minute. “Black Cat” complements that song with more filthy, sophisticated funk poised between the subliminal and the flamboyant. The greasy funk instrumental “Food Stamps Y’all” will make you want to do the horizontal bop and add your DNA to the gene pool, while the grunting, grinding funk of “Sleep Talk” flaunts window-steaming potency. “Short Change” closes Ecstasy with rugged funk geared for a righteous fight scene in a high-class blaxploitation flick.

Damn, Ohio Players. I’m spent. -Buckley Mayfield

The Headhunters “Survival Of The Fittest” (Arista, 1975)

It’s baffling how certain albums of unimpeachable greatness don’t enter the canon—and even more puzzling, how they remain available for reasonable prices in used bins. One such record is Survival Of The Fittest by Herbie Hancock’s early-’70s group. Free of their leader (who co-produces the LP), the Headhunters let their funk freak flag fly ridiculously high, and the results are stunning.

You know you’re in for a scorching ride as soon opener “God Make Me Funky” starts. It boasts one of the most famous, stripped-down funky breaks ever; no wonder it’s been sampled about 300 times. When DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight’s sly, warped guitar and Paul Jackson’s unstinting bass creep their way in, your libido skyrockets. After this, vocalist Bill Summers’ line, “God can give you anything want and you can do anything you want. God make me funky!” seems totally plausible. Later, Bennie Maupin’s bass clarinet solo is a wonder of economical ecstasy. Then near the end, things get hectic and chaotic, with the Pointers Sisters’ chorus of “anything you want!” culminating in a soul-jazz bacchanal. Jesus, how do you follow up such a burner?

It ain’t easy, but the Headhunters do keep the greatness flowing, if not at quite as lofty a level. With “Mugic,” they embark on an Afrocentric spiritual-jazz trip with looped flute, deeply earthy hand drums, and sonorous chants. It builds in intensity, with a monomaniacal, minimalist bass line and slamming congas igniting serious rhythmic heat. “Here And Now” offers a meditative reverie, featuring Joyce Jackson’s blissful flute sighs, but the track gradually shifts into a fleet jazz-funk charge akin to Julian Priester’s Love, Love, but in double time. Our man Maupin gets off an absolutely strafing sax solo.

We’re back to the libidinous funk on “Daffy’s Dance,” with McKnight’s lean, chikka-wah guitar, Jackson’s pimp-struttin’ bass, and Clark’s shuffling, hip-swiveling beats contrasting wonderfully with Maupin’s soaring sax and belafon tinkles. A bizarrely tuned wind instrument’s melody periodically arises from the funky turbulence like an alien mating call before the song inevitably cascades into a controlled frenzy, which is this album’s trademark. “Rima” is the most intriguing work here—a low-key fever dream of Joyce Jackson’s alto flute wisps, Paul Jackson’s suspenseful bass plunges, McKnight’s Pete Cosey-esque guitar squalls, and Maupin’s woozy bass clarinet.

Album-closer “If You’ve Got It, You’ll Get It” is a relentless avalanche of complex funk. The intro with berimbau and other exotic percussion toys builds anticipation and then WHOMP. In come the wonky bass clarinet and flanged guitar chatter, as Jackson and Clark find a pocket that’s both tight and expansive. McKnight gets off a searing, snaking guitar solo worthy of early-’70s Funkadelic (he would join Parliament-Funkadelic in 1978). “If You’ve Got It” is easily the equal of anything on Herbie Hancock’s Thrust, Man-Child, or Head Hunters. It’s a monumental conclusion to a canonical funk document. Most people just don’t realize it yet. -Buckley Mayfield

Yusef Lateef “The Gentle Giant” (Atlantic, 1972)

I’m by no means an expert of Yusef Lateef’s music, having listened to only a half dozen of his 60 or so albums. But of what I’ve heard, I find The Gentle Giant to be the most satisfying from start to finish. Please allow me to explain.

Have you ever heard “Nubian Lady”? Now this is how you start an album. Lateef transforms the Kenneth Barron composition into one of the most tranquil and seductive funk jams ever to caress your erogenous zones, thanks mainly to Yusef’s mellow, mellifluous flute and the languidly groovy interplay between three bassists and drummer Albert Heath. I play this track in DJ sets when I want to help everyone in the club/bar get laid. Note: If you can’t woo somebody to “Nubian Lady,” you may want to reassess your whole approach to mating.

The rest of side 1 goes on some interesting tangents from that heady opener. “Lowland Lullabye” is a melancholy flute and cello duet that induces special feelings and “Hey Jude” is that world-historical Lennon-McCartney hit, obviously. As I’ve mentioned before, it was the law in the early ’70s for major jazz artists to cover Beatles songs, and “Hey Jude” may have been the most covered of them all. Which is cool, because it’s a splendid ballad with one of the most uplifting codas ever conceived. Here, Lateef builds it from near inaudibility to roaring climax in the space of nine minutes, beginning with oboe, guitar, and vibes to outline the main melody. As the Sweet Inspirations provide distant, soulful backing vocals (such glorious “NA NA NA NAAAAS”), the band gradually gradually accelerates and intensifies the sound into a veritable Mardi Gras of clangorous chimes, madly soaring oboe à la Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay, and an Eric Gale guitar solo of wah-wah’d majesty. Yusef and company done took a sad song and made it better. Hoo boy, did they let it out and let it in…

Starting side 2, “Jungle Plum” is the album’s dance-floor filler, a sly funk number—another classic written Barron tune—that glides with a gritty sophistication and swings like an elephant’s dick. Lateef’s scat singing and wavy flute fanfares really make this cut stand out. By contrast, “The Poor Fisherman” tempers the celebratory mood with a flute solo of utterly poignant desolation. And it’s hard to discern why Lateef titled “African Song” as he did, because it’s more of a smooth jazz piece of sweet languor and delicate beauty. Whatever the case, it’s a nice cut.

On “Below Yellow Bell,” Lateef’s scat singing verges on the goofiness of Bill Cosby’s in the Quincy Jones track “Hikky-Burr,” but the bells, In A Silent Way-like organ drones, slinky bass line, and understated funky drums and percussion balance out the quirkiness. “Below Yellow Bell” is an engrossing oddity and an unexpected way to end an album.

Yusef Lateef was a strange bird, and he soared high for decades. Pick any record of his and dig in; you likely won’t be disappointed—yes, even with his “disco” LP, Autophysiopsychic. -Buckley Mayfield

Howard Wales & Jerry Garcia “Hooteroll?” (Douglas, 1971)

If you ask Siri, “What’s the funkiest album with Jerry Garcia on it?” you’ll probably get the wrong answer—if any. But if you ask me, that would be Hooteroll? Sorry, Merl Saunders.

Garcia and Howard Wales cut Hooteroll? during a brief spell when the Grateful Dead guitarist/vocalist was jamming with the brilliant keyboardist, who had previously played with A.B. Skhy and collaborated with German electronic musician and Irmin Schmidt cohort Bruno Spoerri. The result’s one of the more interesting and DJ-friendly GD spinoff projects.

“South Side Strut” bursts out of the gate with bravado, a brassy soul-jazz effusion with a surplus of greasy, chunky funk in its trunk. (Think the Doors’ “Peace Frog” or Deep Purple’s “Hush.”) This is my go-to track from this LP when I’m DJing. Its sports-highlight-reel brashness really grabs the attention.

“A Trip To What Next” opens with John Kahn’s snaky bass line and the triumphant orange-yellow bursts of sax and trumpet by Martin Fierro and Ken Balzall, but the mid section finds Wales and Garcia going off on a Floydian psychedelic excursion before the song returns to a peppy soul-jazz riff and a final Grateful Dead-meets-early-Chicago flame-out.

“Up From The Desert” is a beautiful sundown-shimmer of a song, a piece of meditative rock that hints at the grandeur of the Electric Prunes’ Release Of An Oath. Garcia is in prime form, sounding like Wrecking Crew badass Howard Roberts. Another great cut to drop into DJ sets, “DC-502” brings frenetic, funky soul jazz that flaunts Incredible Jimmy Smith/Richard “Groove” Holmes vibes.

The spangling, ECM-ish meditation “One A.M. Approach” offers an exquisite respite while “Uncle Martin’s” foreshadows Medeski, Martin + Wood with its swaggering organ swells while Garcia coaxes articulate wah-wah punches and feints. “Da Birg Song” (sometimes rendered “Da Bird Song”) closes Hooteroll? on a lackadaisical blues note, borne aloft by Fierro’s gorgeous, tranquil flute and Wales’ florid piano. (The 2010 CD reissue contains four bonus tracks, including “Morning In Marin,” which bear a resemblance to Miles Davis’ landmark fusion album, Bitches Brew, and “Evening In Marin,” which exudes a pastoral-cosmic peacefulness akin to Popol Vuh or Ashra.)

Even if you don’t dig the music (you philistine), the cover by Abdul Mati Klarwein—who’s also done work for Santana, Miles Davis, Last Poets, and Jon Hassell—is worth the price of admission alone. -Buckley Mayfield

The Chambers Brothers “The Time Has Come” (Columbia, 1967)

The Chambers Brothers—who included four actual African-American brothers and, oddly, a white drummer named Brian Keenan who lived in England and Ireland as a child—are best known for their hit single “Time Has Come Today.” And rightly so. Recorded in 1966, released a year later, and covered many times since by artists as diverse as Joan Jett, Me’shell Ndegoecello, Smashing Pumpkins, Bootsy Collins, Pearl Jam, and Ramones, “Time Has Come Today” is a landmark in psychedelic rock—especially the full 11-minute version. But more about that later. The Time Has Come has many other great songs on it besides that monster tune.

The Chambers Brothers’ debut LP busts out of the gate fantastically with “All Strung Out Over You.” With its bobbing bass line worthy of Motown session immortal Bob Babbitt, a barrage of cowbell, handclaps, and rough soul belting, this is a full-tilt expression of romantic expression—certified dance-floor dynamite. It’s followed by “People Get Ready,” a faithful cover of the Impressions’ Curtis Mayfield’s gospelized ballad of political resistance, which was deemed by Martin Luther King as the unofficial anthem of Civil Rights movement. But coming right after “All Strung Out Over You” makes it a momentum-killer. Because it’s more moving than a mover, it would’ve fit better at side’s end.

With “I Can’t Stand It,” the Chambers Brothers fling us back into uptempo heart-/groin-throb action, a potent slice of Northern soul slathered with of harmonica and elevated by possessed backing vocals. Dozens of acts have covered Steve Cropper and Wilson Pickett’s Stax soul classic, “In The Midnight Hour,” and unfortunately the Chambers Brothers’ attempt is merely functional. Another cover that doesn’t play to the Chambers Brothers’ strengths is “What The World Needs Now Is Love,” Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s popular 1965 sanguine ditty. I could easily live without this stodgy rendition. The album’s best cover is “Uptown,” which was written by Betty Mabry (aka funk goddess Betty Davis). This is a sleek, slithering soul gem full of diamond-hard guitar jabs and boisterous vocal interplay. It’s one of Betty’s greatest compositions.

The Chambers Brothers definitely saved the best for last: the aforementioned “Time Has Come Today.” Joseph and Willie Chambers wrote this masterpiece, which must have made Lester and George mad jealous. Everything about this track is fire: the tick-tocking cowbell, the rambling main guitar riff, the massed shouts of “TIME,” the lead vocal’s righteous sagacity, the bizarre bridge during which time slows and dilates to nightmarish dimensions, the delayed “TIME”s, the serpentine guitar solo, the build up to the first climax, the most audacious “OOOHHHH” in rock history, the line “my soul’s been psychedelicized,” the conclusive warped-guitar explosion. I could go on, but your eyes are already glazing over.

This song has special personal meaning, as it opened my ears to psychedelic music when I heard it on the radio as a 6 year old. I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since. Eternal gratitude to whichever radio programmer decided the country was ready for such an outré specimen of rock—and to the Chambers Brothers, too, of course. -Buckley Mayfield