What makes a song funky? Is it the lyrics? The rhythm? The smell? No, wait, that’s socks.
The best funk songs of all time are the tracks with the thickest beats, the stankiest bass, and the most danceable feel. Fantastic funk can have groovy guitar riffs, blaring brass, and brilliant vocals. But one thing’s for certain. A great funk song has to get you up out of your seat and down on the dance floor. It needs a groove that just won’t quit, so you can boogie all night long.
From the 1960s pioneers to the modern day funktronica, funk is still going strong. So let’s explore the Greatest Funk Songs of All Time that helped to define this genre of music, starting with the classic…
Top 65 Best Funk Songs of All Time
“Get Up I Feel Like Being Like A Sex Machine” – James Brown
There’s no talking about funk without talking about Mr. Dynamite himself, James Brown. Although he’s known as the Godfather of Soul and Soul Brother No. 1, he deserves equal respect as the godfather of funk music. His signature groove was basically the foundation of all funk music to come, and his style permeated funk forever.
“Get Up I Feel Like Being Like A Sex Machine” might be his funkiest song. This 1970 track was sung with Bobby Bryd on backing vocals and features a thick, danceable beat from funk drummer no.1 John Starks. This song is energetic and hits hard with the horns to make you get on up and dance.
“Superstition” – Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder is a musical genius, no doubt about it. He has been a pioneer in soul, R&B, gospel, jazz, and, yes, funk, too. The man can play anything on just about anything. For the 1972 track “Superstition,” he laid down the drums, Moog bass, and of course, the lead vocals himself.
But it was his clavinet playing that gave this song its ultra-funky feel. He makes the instrument sound like an electric guitar through a wah-wah pedal to give one of the funkiest guitar riffs ever that wasn’t played on a guitar.
This song is a perfect funk masterpiece. Check out this live performance for some outfits that may be even funkier than the music!
“Get Up Offa That Thing” – James Brown
Papa’s got a brand new bag, and it’s called “Get Up Offa That Thing.” This 1976 was released as a single and shot up to #4 on the R&B charts bringing James Brown back into the limelight. Brown attributes the song’s lyrics to his frustration with audiences who just sat down and watched him perform. He wanted them to get up and dance and enjoy the show, so he extolled them to “Get up offa that thing / and dance til you feel better!”.
This song has everything – a funky guitar riff, smooth bass, a tight drum beat that ties it all together, and of course, a great chorus. If you can stay in your seat with this track on, you’re probably a robot.
“Rock Steady” Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin on a list of the best funk songs of all time!? If you think Aretha is a soul sister, better think again. She was, first and foremost, a supremely talented singer who moved between soul, gospel, and R&B with ease. And with “Rock Steady,” you can also hear that she got funky with the best of them.
Speaking of the best, this track features a who’s who of musicians from the worlds of funk and soul. Cornell Dupree on guitar, the legendary Bernard Purdie on drums, and even Dr. John on percussion? No wonder this song positively reeks of funk!
“I Want to Take You Higher” – Sly and the Family Stone
Sly and the Family Stone is a legendary band, not only because of their racially and sexually integrated line-up, but because of their influence on rock, funk, and psychedelic music through the 60s.
“I Want to Take You Higher” is one of the funkiest songs ever released. It’s a song full of joy and positivity, but it also has a double-entendre reference to drugs, as shown when the band played an extended version of this song at Woodstock.
And if you wondered where the phrase “boom-shaka-laka-laka” came from, well, here’s a clue!
“Express Yourself” – Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
This is an early funk track that’s a little more laid-back and a little more soulful than funk to come. But you can hear the direction that funk was going to follow here. From the groovy drums to the walking bass line and the twangy guitar chords to the tight brass accents, all the elements of funk are here, just waiting to develop.
This 1970 track did well in the charts and remains a popular and inspiring dance-in-your-underwear song to get you going when you need a little pep talk. It was also sampled by N.W.A. in their song “Express Yourself” and was possibly referenced by Madonna, too.
“Shining Star” – Earth, Wind & Fire
“Shining Star” was a number 1 hit for Earth, Wind & Fire when it came out in 1975. This band played around with jazz, disco, pop, and more, but with “Shining Star,” they hit their highest level of funk.
The beat is tight, the bass thick and groovy, and the guitar riff provides a great rhythm. But what really stands out here is the horns, hitting loud and tight at all the right spots. It also borrowed the clavinet from Stevie. This was truly a funk masterpiece for Earth, Wind & Fire, one of the best-selling bands in history.
“Get Down On It” – Kool & the Gang
Kool & the Gang was one of the funkiest bands of the 70s. They experimented with jazz, R&B, funk, and even disco, and in this track, you can hear influences from all of these realms.
While James Brown told you to get up, “Get Down On It” tells you to “get your back up off the wall” and get down on the dance floor. This is one of the most memorable tracks of 70s dance culture, and if this doesn’t make you shake your rump, then I don’t think anything will.
“Brick House” – Commodores
The Commodores began their career as a soulful Motown act in the 1960s. But the sounds of 70s funk pushed the group into new directions and also helped them pen one of the most memorable funk tracks of the 70s.
The strength of this song is the funkier than funky bass line provided by Ronald LaPread, and the “brick house” chorus interspersed with horns. This song really gets down and displays the talent that would allow the Commodores to adapt to the changing times. Who was the girl built like a brick house that the song refers to? For her sake, I hope we never find out!
“Jungle Boogie” – Kool & the Gang
If we’re talking about memorable funk songs, it doesn’t get much more memorable than this. “Jungle Boogie” was one of the top songs of 1973 in the dance clubs of America.
It has a fun, weird, and funky feel, thanks in large part to the strange vocals provided by Don Boyce. Don was a roadie and not even an official member of the band. But his scratchy, gravelly voice was the perfect contrast to the brightness of the trilling horns in this song.
Check out Kool & the Gang on Soul Train in 1974 for a real taste of what was funky in the 70s.
“Superfly” Curtis Mayfield
Soul Singer Curtis Mayfield is best remembered for his concept album for the 1972 blaxploitation film Superfly. In fact, Mayfield’s soundtrack was so popular that it actually out-grossed the film!
Mayfield’s voice and ultra-cool demeanor made tracks like “Pusherman” hits, but the funkiest song on this album is “Superfly.”
The ultra-funky guitar riff works great with the Latin-inspired percussion to produce something that we now recognize as a classic 70s sound but, at the time, was pretty ground-breaking. This song has also been extensively sampled in songs like “Egg Man” by the Beastie Boys, “Ready to Die Intro” by The Notorious B.I.G, and “Tilt Ya Head Back” by Nelly.
“Right Place Wrong Time” – Dr. John
Dr. John was best known for his combination of boogie-woogie piano and New Orleans blues that created his signature sound. But his “Wolfman Jack” scratchy voice was probably just as characteristic of this funky singer. And he did delve into funk, as we can hear on 1973’s “Right Place Wrong Time.”
This song opens with a completely danceable rhythm and perfect brass accents. It also has a strange breakdown that then brings back the funky chorus to get you back to shaking your rear. Despite the lyrics, Dr. John was in the right place at the right time to make this song a hit.
“Flash Light” – Parliament
Next in my rundown of the Best Funk Songs of All Time… Dr. Funkenstein, Star Child, Sir Nose? These were just some of the characters or alter egos adopted by the 70s weirdo funk Band Parliament.
Led by the P-Funk allstar himself, George Clinton, and featuring bass legend Bootsy Collins, guitar slayer Gary Shider, and Bernie Worrell on keys really blew up in the late 70s. And the hugely danceable “Flash Light” was one of their biggest hits.
In fact, this vocal and horn heavy track shot up to #1 in the R&B charts in 1978 and helped propel Parliament into funk history. Want to experience the craziness?
“One Nation Under a Groove” – Funkadelic
George Clinton is one of the funkiest muddas ever. One hit band wasn’t enough for him, and he took a somewhat different direction with Parliament’s sister act Funkadelic. This band combined more psychedelic rock guitar influences into their music and produced a less commercial funkiness.
But that’s not to say they didn’t have their hits. “One Nation Under a Groove” was a bit of an exception for Funkadelic as it had a fairly standard rock/disco sound. But that’s also what helped make it a hit!
So do you promise to funk the whole funk and nothing but the funk?
“She’s a Bad Mama Jama (She’s Built, She’s Stacked)” – Carl Carlton
From the weird, drug-party influence of the 70s, funk transformed in the early 80s. It got cleaner and straighter with more synth sounds and even drum machine beats.
One hit that you can hear this change evolving in is “She’s a Bad Mama Jama (She’s Built, She’s Stacked)” by Carl Carlton. This song was released as a single in 1982, and you can also hear a pop influence here that helped this song become a gold record.
“Funk Funk” – Cameo
Cameo is probably best known for their single “Word Up,” which shows a definite 80s pop-funk sound. However, this band started in 1974, and some of their older tracks are as funky as it gets. And “Funk Funk” has got to be the funkiest of them all.
Their first record, Cardiac Arrest, came out in 1977 and featured some Parliament-inspired tracks. “Funk Funk” has a slightly slow, heavy groove that’s contrasted with crazy vocals and bright horns. This is definitely a funk track straight out of the functionary.
“Soul Makossa” – Manu Dibango
If you’ve never heard of the song, the album of the same name, or the artist, you’ve got something great to look forward to. Manu Dibango was a Cameroonian artist who created his own special version of funk that blended American musical elements with jazz and Cameroonian music.
An absolute legend, this artist wasn’t fully appreciated until much later. But “Soul Makossa” is actually one of the funkiest, danciest tracks out there. This sound actually came back to influence emerging funk like “Jungle Boogie.” Treat yourself and give the whole album a listen today!
“Groove Is in the Heart” – Deee-Lite
Was there any good funk made in the 90s?
Well, “Groove Is in the Heart,” which came out in 1990, might make the grade. This track by house music group Deee-Lite may not be what you think of as a classic funk song, but it has stood the test of time as a fun dance party song, and that’s true to funk ideals.
The song features samples from “Bring Down the Birds” by Herbie Hancock and “Get Up” by Vernon Burch. It has legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins on bass and vocals, and also features a rap by Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest.
Trust me, when this song goes on even today, things get stanky and funky.
“Virtual Insanity” – Jamiroquai
One track that few people remember was actually a funk song is “Virtual Insanity” by UK band Jamiroquai. More than anything, people remember the groundbreaking music video of singer Jay Kay dancing in a minimalist ever-changing room.
This is a highly produced, very clean-sounding song. But this funk track actually has legs. The beat is tight, the bass is juicy, and the piano riff that drives the whole thing is delicious. Plus, it’s just a great song that anyone can sing along to.
“Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” – Parliament
Ok, so this wasn’t meant to be a list of the best funk songs in any particular order. But I admit that I did save the best for last. “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” has got to be the very best funk song ever.
It has a tight beat, great horns where you need ‘em, funky guitar, and weird and fun vocals. The song is basically just sing-along chorus after sing-along chorus, and anytime it comes on, it gets everyone in the place singing and dancing right away.
This was also a song that went #1 on the R&B charts and was the first gold record by Parliament. When we need the funk and gotta have that funk, this is the first song to go to!
Super Freak by Rick James
Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry
Sex Machine by James Brown
Word Up! by Cameo
Celebration by Kool & The Gang
Atomic Dog by George Clinton
Flashlight by Parliament
Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine by James Brown
You Dropped a Bomb on Me by The Gap Band
Le Freak by Chic
Funky Town by Lipps Inc.
Pick Up the Pieces by Average White Band
Let’s Groove by Earth, Wind & Fire
The Message by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
Ain’t Nobody by Rufus & Chaka Khan
Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) by Sly and the Family Stone
Love Rollercoaster by Ohio Players
Good Times by Chic
Give It to Me Baby by Rick James
I Got You (I Feel Good) by James Brown
Higher Ground by Stevie Wonder
Low Rider by War
Can’t Stop the Feeling! by Justin Timberlake
Closer – Nine Inch Nails
Kiss by Prince
Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag by James Brown
I Wish by Stevie Wonder
Rock Steady by Aretha Franklin
Fantastic Voyage by Lakeside
September by Earth, Wind & Fire
Dazz by Brick
Boogie Wonderland by Earth, Wind & Fire with The Emotions
Jungle Love by The Time
Knee Deep by Funkadelic
Cold Sweat by James Brown
Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars
Use Me by Bill Withers
Funky Cold Medina by Tone-Loc
Superfly by Curtis Mayfield
Chameleon by Herbie Hancock
The Payback by James Brown
Boogie Nights by Heatwave
You Sexy Thing by Hot Chocolate
It’s Your Thing by The Isley Brothers
Do Fries Go with That Shake? by George Clinton
You Haven’t Done Nothin’ by Stevie Wonder
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The 65 Best Funk Songs of All Time
So there you have it – the best funk songs ever. Sure there are others that may have snuck in just as easily, but this is a pretty comprehensive list of original, classic, and even fusion funk. A funk song has to have a tight, hypnotic beat. It needs a guitar hook that grooves and a bass line that gives you stank face. Throw in some fun vocals and brilliant horns, and you get a funk masterpiece.
Funk songs are fun and full of energy. After all, funk music was created as dance and party music. So if it’s funky, get outta your seat and get down on the dance floor!