True funk music is infectious thanks to its deep grooves and infectious hooks. Without funk, you probably wouldn’t have hip hop. If you want a fun playlist, start with funk music. Here are 35 of the best funk songs to choose from:
1. Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine – James Brown
James Brown is the archetypal funk musician and this is one of his most successful songs. It came out as a single in two different parts in 1970. The popularity of the song helped it climb to number two on the R&B charts that year. On top of this, the song also ranked at number 196 on Rolling Stone’s list of the top 500 songs of all time. The hit is also a smash on the dance floor at weddings.
Next: The greatest R&B musicians in music history
2. Theme From Shaft – Isaac Hayes
This movie Shaft is just as well-known for the theme song as it is for the movie itself. The song, composed by Isaac Hayes, is a long-form jam peppered by lines from Hayes’ soothing baritone vocals. It was released in 1971 along with the movie and is one of the best-performing movie theme songs of all time. It even won the Academy Award for Best Original Song the next year at the Oscars.
3. War – Edwin Starr
Edwin Starr was a Motown artist in the late 60s and 70s and War is easily his biggest hit. The song was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong in 1969 for the Motown label. It was later recorded by both Edwin Starr and The Temptations. The Edwin Starr version is much more intense, reflecting the social outlook on the Vietnam War at the time perfectly. The song struck a chord, helping it reach number one on the charts for three weeks in 1970.
Next: The greatest “war songs” of all time (or “anti-war” songs)
4. Car Wash – Rose Royce
Funk comes in many different forms and one of those forms is disco. The disco era’s success was largely driven by the funk influence and the happy-go-lucky vibes of Car Wash by Rose Royce encapsulates this perfectly. This is another Motown hit, released in 1976 as the theme to the film of the same name. The success of the song has far outpaced that of the film as you still hear it on the radio today.
Next: Ultimate list of the best disco songs ever
5. Pick Up the Pieces – Average White Band
When you think of funk music, one of the first things that comes to mind is tight horn sections. Pick Up the Pieces, the instrumental hit Average White Band, is a great song for fans of horn-driven music. The Scottish band released the song in 1974 on their second album and it made them stars in the United States. It was a late bloomer, not charting at first. In 1975, it was the first ranked song of the year according to Billboard.
Next: Songs with an infectious, steady beat
6. Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin) – Sly & The Family Stone
Sly & The Family Stone took the music world by storm in the mid-70s and Thank You (Fallentinme Be Mice Elf Again) is their biggest hit. This is another song released in the 60s changed into the 70s and reflects the style of that time. It is on Rolling Stone’s top 500 Songs of All Time list. It also reached number one on the charts for 5 weeks in 1970, making it the 19th ranked song on the Billboard charts for that year.
7. Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker) – Parliament
Parliament, led by funk legend George Clinton, has had one of the longest careers in the genre. In fact, the band just had their farewell tour in 2002 around the United States. This is their breakout song. Instead of just being known by funk-obsessed music fans, it’s a household name. It’s a classic in the Parliament style of a repetitive loop with gang vocals over the top.
8. Cold Sweat – James Brown and the Famous Flames
Cold Sweat was James Brown’s coming out party. It was one of his biggest hits and one of the songs that created and inspired funk musicians for generations to come. Brown wrote the song along with his saxophonist and long-time band member, Pee Wee Ellis. Ellis is one of the foremost saxophonists in the funk genre thanks to his association with James Brown and his own solo work. Heads up, this isn’t going to be the last time you see James Brown on this list.
Next: Top sax players of all time (greatest saxophonists list)
9. Kiss – Prince
The featured song on Prince and The Revolution’s album, Parade, was Kiss. It’s about time we included some synth-driven 80s funk on this list. The song is actually written in the blues form, just twice as long on each chord. The single certified gold as it shipped more than one million units in 1986. It also reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks. Rolling Stone listed it as the 85th best song of all time.
Next: The top guitarists in music history (our full-featured list)
10. More Bounce to the Ounce – Zapp & Roger
Zapp and Roger were an iconic funk duo from Dayton, Ohio, famous for utilizing the Talkbox to get their signature computerized vocal sound. It’s the first track on the band’s debut album and what a perfect way to debut. You still hear this song from time to time used in movie soundtracks. Sadly, they stopped making music in 1999 after the murder of Roger Troutman by his brother.
11. Shining Star – Earth, Wind & Fire
This might be the biggest hit on this list. Shining Star was released by Earth, Wind & Fire in 1975 and had immediate success. It was the first single in music industry history to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the Billboard Hot Soul Songs chart. It appeared on EWF’s album, That’s the Way Of the World in 1975 and is still heard on the radio today. It’s a must-add to any good funk playlist.
12. Give It to Me Baby – Rick James
A disco beat, high-energy vocals, and blistering horn hooks, what more could a person want? Those things are all heavily featured in Give It to Me Baby by 80s star, Rick James, who both performed and wrote the song. One interesting trivia fact about this song is one of the background vocal parts is former The Temptations member, Melvin Franklin.
13. Get Down On It – Kool & The Gang
Get Down On is the only certified gold single from long-running funk band, Kool & The Gang. The recording came out in 1981 with perfect timing as disco was dying down. This song charted all over the world on the dance and R&B charts. The song is still regularly played on the radio. It’s a big part of the reason Kool & The Gang is still touring today.
14. Say It Loud I’m Black and Proud – James Brown
Social justice and the division between white and black people in America were a central theme of much of the funk music of the 60s and 70s. James Brown’s Say It Loud I’m Black and Proud displays this perfectly. This song held the number one spot on the R&B charts for six weeks and reached number 10 on the Billboard 100 when it debuted in 1968. Like many of Brown’s hits, the co-writer is Wee Ellis.
15. Cissy Strut – The Meters
The Meters are the unsung heroes of funk music. While they are not as popular as their counterparts, like James Brown or Sly Stone, they have had a massive influence on the genre. The band combined the traditional styles of New Orleans with the modern funk of the time to create something wholly unique on their biggest hit, Cissy Strut.
16. Fire – Ohio Players
The state of Ohio has had a huge influence on the funk genre thanks to the number of great funk musicians that have come from there. Only the Ohio Players put the name of the state in their band, though. The Ohio Players released Fire on their sixth album. Cooking show fans may recognize the song as the theme song to Hell’s Kitchen in 2010.
17. Word Up! – Cameo
Word Up! is about as 80s as an 80s funk song can be. It even features drums programmed on a drum machine. Reading Rainbow starred as a detective in the video for the 1986 release. Thanks to the video, it was one of the most successful songs to appear on MTV.
18. Love Rollercoaster – Ohio Players
Love Rollercoaster by Ohio Players is the only funk song with an urban legend. There is a scream heard at the intro of the song, along a couple of other times during the recording. Some people have theorized that the scream is from an murder while the song was being recorded. Of course, the band denies this. Famously, this song was covered in the 1990s by California funk rockers, Red Hot Chili Peppers.
19. Shakey Ground – The Temptations
It seems, no matter where we are in history, it seems like we’re standing on shaky ground. The song Shakey Ground by The Temptations puts this feeling to song. This tunes credit go to the vocal group, but is really a collaboration with Funkadelic. Guitarist, Eddie Hazel, co-wrote the song and plays lead guitar on the recording. Funkadelic bassist, Billy “Bass” Nelson, also plays on the track.
20. Fantastic Voyage – Lakeside
Lakeside is another great product of Dayton, OH. Fantastic Voyage is the band’s biggest hit, reaching number one on the R&B charts in 1980. It is also well known as the backing track on rapper Coolio’s tune of the same name in 1994.
21. Jungle Boogie – Kool & The Gang
1973’s Jungle Boogie came out in a very competitive year on the charts. It still managed to reach number four on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Overall, Billboard ranked it as 12th for the year in 1974. There is a spoken word part throughout the song that was actually performed by one of the band’s roadies.
22. One Nation Under a Groove – Funkadelic
It would be nice if we could live as one nation under a groove like Funkadelic wanted to in 1978. It seemed that the nation was doing that with this song, though. It is the title track of the most commercially successful tune of Funkadelic’s career. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot R&B Charts. The album is also mentioned on Vibe’s 100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century List. This is largely thanks to this song.
23. It’s Your Thing – Isley Brothers
The Isley Brothers have one of the longest careers in music history. This funk song from them is one of their biggest successes. It came out in 1969 after the band departed from its contract with Motown records. The lyrics reflect the band’s desire to do what they wanted with their own music.
Next: The top musicians from the ’60s (1960s artists)
24. Superstition – Stevie Wonder
There must be a lot of great funk music if it took this long to get Stevie Wonder on the list. Some consider Stevie to be the greatest American musician of the 20th century and it’s hard to come up with an argument against that. The prolific composer put this song out on his fifteenth album Talking Book in 1972. Amazingly, this song started during an improvisation session with guitarist, Jeff Beck.
25. Chameleon – Herbie Hancock
Funk is a genre that crosses over well with the harmonic styling of jazz. There is no track that exemplifies the funk/jazz genre better than Chameleon by Herbie Hancock. The tune, a collaboration with The Headhunters, is now a jazz standard that almost every musician learns on their path to becoming a pro.
Next: The greatest Jazz musicians of all time (our picks)
26. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough – Michael Jackson
Every music fan knows about Thriller, but Off The Wall may be Michael Jackson’s best album. The album featured the funky classic Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough. The tune was good enough to garner Jackson his first Grammy award. It was the singer’s first foray into being a featured solo artist and it obviously paid off.
27. Mr. Big Stuff – Jean Knight
Nobody likes someone with a big ego and this is the song that people think of when it comes to that notion. Jean Knight’s biggest hit came with Mr. Big Stuff on Stax Records in 1971. It reached number two on the Billboard Top 100 for the year and the single even went double platinum.
28. You Sexy Thing – Hot Chocolate
The British weren’t just great pop rockers, they had their fair share of good funk songs too. Hot Chocolate made their splash on the other side of the Atlantic with the hit song You Sexy Thing. The theme is simple and obvious and the groove is infectious. What more do you need for your funk playlist?
29. Ain’t Nobody – Chaka Khan feat. rufus
Chaka Khan may be your favorite singer’s favorite singer. Her song Ain’t Nobody, recorded with Rufus, is one of the biggest hits of her long career. It came out in 1983 on her live album Stompin’ at the Savoy. The live feel of the song is one of the primary reasons the public responded so well to it.
30. What Is Hip? – Tower of Power
Tower of Power should be the first band you think of when it comes to horn-driven funk. The Oakland group’s most recognizable song is What is Hip?, a song about people trying to be cool and in-style instead of just being themselves. It was the first track on the band’s third album, Tower of Power, in 1973.
31. Funkin’ For Jamaica – Tom Browne
You know this song is gonna be a hit as soon as Tom Browne’s trumpet opens the song. It then drops into an undeniable groove. The song pays homage to his home, the Jamaica neighborhood in Queens, NY. The video features a live performance of the song in studio where the musicians are having the time of their lives.
32. Outstanding – Gap Band
This song is a staple at outdoor events and cookouts everywhere. The six-minute track goes on without ever getting boring. The song is on the band’s platinum album IV which came out in 1982. It reached the height of the Billboard R&B charts in early 1983.
33. Get The Funk Out Ma Face – Brothers Johnson
The Brothers Johnson might be the funkiest siblings in music history. This song is an anthem dedicated to standing up for yourself, especially against people that don’t like your music. It is featured in the basketball comedy, Semi-Pro, when Will Ferrell is driving his car at the beginning of the movie.
34. The Jam – Graham Central Station
Larry Graham invented slap bass and is one of the most important instrumentalists in the history of the genre. He was also a seminal member of Sly & The Family Stone. The Jam is a mostly-instrumental track that serves as his biggest hit as a solo artist. There may be no more important bassist in the funk genre outside of Bootsy Collins.
35. Bootzilla – Bootsy Collins
Bassist, Bootsy Collins, was in James Brown’s band at 16 and was also one of the stars of Parliament Funkadelic. Bootzilla was a successful effort by his solo group, Bootsy’s Rubber Band. The song reached number one on the R&B chart for one week in 1978. No best funk songs playlist is complete without an appearance by Bootsy Collins.
Funk is a rich and historical genre that is still influencing the pop music coming out today. Put these 35 songs on your playlist today to get started on learning what the genre of funk is all about.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.