Funk as a genre is quite hard to nail down. There were so many changes and fusions with other genres that it extended well past its conception in the late 1960s.
Funk has had such a massive influence in more music than you can imagine since it first came to prominence, that even if you don’t think of yourself as a funk fan you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how quickly you take to it - and it’s an important part of any musical education too.
So here’s a few of the best funk albums on vinyl ever recorded (why Vinyl? Cos that's the format they were released on, so they're going to sound better right?).
We’re including albums from the three godfathers of the funk genre, George Clinton and his P-Funk collective, Sly and the Family Stone and (of course) the great James Brown.
At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 7 Best Funk Albums On Vinyl On The Market
Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon. If you do purchase something we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.
7 Best Funk Albums On Vinyl
1. There’s a Riot Goin’ On - Sly and the Family Stone
Any list of the best funk albums on vinyl wouldn’t be complete without including Sly and the Family Stone. They are among the founding fathers of the genre, and There’s a Riot Goin’ On is one that proved why they were so instrumental in shaping the funk genre as we know it today.
There’s a Riot Goin’ On is a lot more subdued than other funk records. It’s an authentic voice of the social unrest and grim climate that gripped America at the time, and it doesn’t gloss over or romanticize the events that surrounded the time period. It’s a more cerebral funk style, but it still has plenty of great grooves you can get into.
2. Earth, Wind, and Fire - Earth, Wind, and Fire
Before Earth, Wind and Fire became famous, their self-titled debut album left a lasting mark on funk music. Although the band line-up was very different from what we know them as now, it shouldn’t be discounted because of this. Amusingly, at the time of release it was harshly criticised as unoriginal and uninspiring, but the critics’ opinion has subsequently shifted to show just how great an album it really was. It’s one of the most free spirited albums ever recorded, with each musician having plenty of time in the limelight with the almost chaotic arrangements. Culturally, it’s a fundamental part of the civil rights movements and is a keyhole into understanding the social context of the time.
3. Hell - James Brown
You knew there was going to be a James Brown album on here somewhere. It just wouldn’t be sane not to include at least one. The problem with James Brown is it’s so bloody difficult to pick the album to represent his best funk work.
In the end, we went with Hell. This album was, for many people, the soundtrack to the mid to late 1970s - and for good reason. If you don’t instantly find yourself on your feet with the irresistible urge to follow the insanely danceable rhythms of the tracks on this album, you need to ask yourself one question.
Do you even funk bro?
4. Maggot Brain - Funkadelic
Another George Clinton production, this is possibly the hardest rock-funk fusion style that was ever made by P-Funk. It has a Jimmy Hendrix vibe and a lot of confusing, anguish laden guitar riffs that make the album stand out from the purer vein of the funk genre.
Like the Mothership Connection, it has a somewhat surreal feel. It doesn’t just lay down the typical syncopated guitar rhythms and slap bass that comes to mind when you imagine funk music - it’s aggressive and raw and shows off a totally different side of the funk genre that you can’t afford to miss.
5. Mothership Connection - Parliament
One of the most important albums in the history of funk - it marks the beginning of the mythology concept albums produced by P-Funk. It was where we were first introduced to the weird characters and unusual themes that George Clinton would pursue further.
It’s weird. It’s wonderful. Sometimes it’s not really music - but it’s one of the great icons of the funk genre. If you aren’t at the very least familiar with this album, you’re going to find it difficult to fully appreciate the immense creative freedom and achievements that the funk movement was able to produce.
6. The Meters - The Meters
It’s the album that shaped The Meters’ identity. It’d be an insult to funk and the band not to own this. It features a huge range of instruments and heavily reflects their early improvisational style.
They never quite made the same splash as James Brown among the larger music world - but they were an integral part of the funk wave of music and it can all be traced back to those early experimental and wildly free tracks of their early work - in particular their debut album.
7. 1999 - Prince
The best funk album on vinyl of the synth heavy era - there is a variety of styles and funk subgenres featured in 1999 and it’s one of Prince’s most thematically coherent works. It also shows off a lot of Prince’s vocal range and talent - and is an album that any funk or Prince fan should definitely include in their vinyl collection.
So there you have it, our favourite seven funk albums. Buy hey, they're our favourites, don't have to be yours. Which do you think should be on the list?
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.