Have you ever been watching some musicians, blending almost perfectly into society as normal functioning humans, until one of them pulls a face like this.
Apologies to the much-memed Este Haim there.
Well, what’s going on? Here at High Row pseudo-psychological research department, we reckon we’ve got the answer. It’s the funk.
The word funk was spotted in English in the seventeenth century, and meant a musty smell, probably from the Latin for blowing smoke (who said smoking hasn’t always been cool?), and it still carries this meaning today, though probably when your milk has gone off and something in the fridge smells a bit funky. It’s unclear when it started to be applied to music, but funk music definitely does something funny to different bits of your brain than other types of music.
Think about it, have you ever met someone who can’t at the very least tap their toe in time to funk music? Even pissed Uncle Dan at the wedding can regain his motor skills to hold it together when James Brown comes on. But it’s not just dancing – funk seems to do something to your face without us knowing too. That wrinkled-up nose, pulling your face back and thinned eyes? The music doesn’t just sound funky – our brain thinks it smells funky. What other style of music can provide such a synaesthetic experience?
According to wikipedia (yep, really blew the budget on this one), funk “focuses on a strong rhythmic groove of a bassline played by an electric bassist and a drum part”, and even without any melody, harmony, or lyrics, that simple groove is enough to carry the party on its own. Hell, you could be saying anything over that, and the most famous funk artists such as James Brown basically did. Papa’s got a brand new what? Oh who cares, let’s dance. Even in his dubious Christmas albums, his manic shouts of ‘It’s Christmastime!’ do nothing to detract from the groove over which they are shouted (though what they add is perhaps up for discussion).
But add some properly soulful vocals over the top, and now we’re talking. Take Prince (or, the former artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince, if we’re being pernickity), and, for instance, his smash hit 1999. Although it perhaps failed correctly to determine what partying like it was 1999 actually felt like (I think Britney would have something to say about that), the tale of Prince’s vocal on that song is legendary, if perhaps apocryphal. The story goes that three session singers were booked to complement Prince’s tenor voice, two higher female vocalists and a deep bass male. The original opening verse was to be sung in four-part harmony, and that is what they did in the studio. But when Prince heard the individual harmony parts back, he decided that it sounded more interesting to isolate the different parts for each line, ending up with a swooping piece-meal vocal take that jumps all over the place. A great idea for the studio perhaps, but surely that would mean that performing it live would require all four different voices? Not according to the outrageous singing abilities and acrobatics of Prince – who up until his passing a few years ago casually and regularly performed all four parts at his famously-long concerts. Now that’s a vocal.
What else could you throw into this melting pot to create your perfect band? Why, how about everyone’s favourite acoustic instrument, the saxophone? Regular followers of this blog won’t be strangers to our thoughts on this – feel free to visit https://highrowmusic.com/the-power-of-sax/ to be persuaded – but if you wanted a fourth instrument to add to our dream band, this would be the one.
So, our dream band to tap into to all those subconscious feelings would need our funky grooving bass and drums, some soulful vocals (perhaps in the style of the famous ‘Channel Orange’ singer) and a saxophone. Ahh, if only such a band existed.