In celebration of my recent spurt of musical inspiration - a 45 that you can read about, order, and listen to here - the crew suggested I run down a list of some of my favorite 7”s. A list like this will be met with mixed responses because many serious crate-diggers are snobs with expendable income or enjoy the prospect of going broke for an $800 piece of wax. $40 was my max price paid in 25 years on the hunt - I’ve got bills to pay.
45s have made a niche resurgence as of late, so a lot of folks buy 'em for the sake of having a song in that format. But I’ve always felt the 7” record embodies one aesthetic above all: grime. Throughout my earliest memories of record-hunting, I always saw 45s in bad shape, funky, and on a curb awaiting trash pick-up. And the ones that often grabbed my attention featured music never released on LP. It may have been spat on, pissed on by 6 foot rats and placed in a project elevator shaft for five years, but you bought it for $2 anyway, took it home, and put a lil’ alcohol on it. When you play it out today, it crackles, pops, and you know where the skip is, but that’s what 45s always were to me. Thus, I never became a snob about mint condition and having '90s rap jams on that format never meant much to me. I’d rather have those on 12” single or the album, fuck it. That said, here are 15 of my personal favorite funky, filthy and downright bizarre 45s in my collection.
CLICK THE THUMBNAILS ABOVE TO CHECK OUT J-ZONE'S FAVORITE 45S
15. James Brown - “Soul Pride (Parts 1 & 2)” (King, 1969)
My pops and I were debating the other day about which James Brown era was better: The Bootsy / J.B.s / Polydor Records era or the Famous Flames / King Records era. “Soul Pride” is one of the reasons I have to go with the Flames era - that was one bad-ass group of musicians. This is a nice uptempo cut that I love playing out, but I’ve also been playing drums for about a year and am floored by Clyde Stubblefield’s use of dynamics. I like the drumming on here better than “Funky Drummer.” That cat had a left hand that could mow a fuckin’ lawn and he was rocking the traditional grip back then.
14. Paul Humphrey & His Cool Aid Chemists - "Baby Rice" (Lizard, 1969)
It doesn't really smack you in the face at first. You're like: "Aight cool." But then shit just goes haywire - the organs, the fuzz guitars. Listening to this shit progress is like a really crazy acid trip. I never know how to drop it in sets, either, because the tempo is tricky. It sounds slow, but it's actually uptempo. It's just such an eccentric and bizarre 45 with a wide array of influences - I don't even know what genre this is. It's like fusion / rock / funk. And it's funny to see the mixed reactions it gets when I play it out.
13. James Crawford - “Fat Eddie” (King, 1967)
As the years roll on and James Brown’s musicians give recollections of studio sessions, we’ve learned that most of his songs were grooves that the band made up before he got to the studio. Then the Godfather added his flavor. This particular record made me wonder what James’ contribution was, though he’s credited as writer. (It’s an instrumental and the featured artist is a lesser-known singer in his camp.) No way of knowing for sure, but me thinks this is another Famous Flames jam session (or possibly The Dapps, JB’s all-white group of funky studio musicians). “Fat Eddie” almost sounds like your average funk band practicing in a garage. But that rawness, lack of structure, and spontaneity are what make it great. Oh, and the drum break.
12. Symtec Simmons & Wylie Dixon - “Socking Soul Power” (Toddlin' Town, 1968)
Most people know these guys for the “Bootleggin’” joint that came out years later, but this was one of their early sides. The actual sound quality of the song is what makes it jump - it's got this noisy, semi-distorted sound. The brief drum break...the way the drums are EQd and tuned...it’s as raw as you’re gonna hear it. I went out and bought an old ‘60s drum set and a 4-track tape machine because I wanted to emulate that drum sound so badly. Close, but can’t nail it. The shitty, antiquated studio gear, imperfections, and technological limitations that existed when these records were made are what made that sound so dope and thus, nearly unattainable today.
11. James Stuart and The Dynamic Eight - “I Heard What You Said” (J&J)
This is a pretty standard, regional, late ‘60s funky soul 45, but the way it drops sounds so dope in a set. It just comes in with so much energy... the drum fill, that bassline, and those horns. Plus, the singer sounds greasy and country as hell. You know he’s a big chitterling and grits-eatin’ cat with high blood pressure. His voice is great. The harmonica solo throws you off, so I cut out of this one before that part, but they get points for soloing an instrument you don’t hear often in this genre.
10. Ohio Players - “Funky Worm” (Westbound, 1973)
This is in here mainly because it was the first 45 I ever owned. I swiped it from my mother’s collection when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I remember I played it 46 consecutive times the night I found it. That synth sound, as abused as it is, just fucked me up.
I always wondered about that drum break at the beginning. It was also on the Detroit Emeralds' joint and they were Ohio Players' label mates. The drums in that break match the Detroit Emeralds record, but don't match this one and the album version doesn't have the break at the top. I always thought that was random-ass editing move, but I ain't complaining.
Keyboardist Junie Morrison did most of this song by himself. That cat was a funk genius on the level of George Clinton, Ronald Bell or Maurice White, but he never got his due credit. And Greg Webster, the group’s original drummer, was a monster. He was so crisp with his rolls and fills. I’ll take Westbound-era Ohio Players over Mercury-era Ohio Players any day, even though they didn’t produce many hits in the Westbound era. This was the first song to really turn me on to funk.
9. “My Baby Is Black!”
Yes, this came out on 45. The preview for the movie (yes, it was a movie - apparently a satirical take on miscegenation in the early ‘60s) can be found here. I had no idea the movie existed when I scooped this 45 at Groove Merchant in San Fran awhile back. Every so often I’ll start a DJ set with this just to fuck people up. The 45 actually has multiple versions of the coming attraction - there’s like five or six variations. The b-side has no grooves. I collect bugged comedy shit like this, stag records, etc. If it’s weird or totally irreverent (especially for the time it was released), I’ll always buy it for the fuck of it.
8. Rimshots - “Dance Girl” (Astroscope, 1974)
These drums are rude. You drop this on a good sound system and the whole fuckin’ party moves. But this is just a good dance record all around; it kinda sounds like it could've been one of the blueprints for house music. I didn’t even know what this was when I bought it back in ‘94. I was still in high school and had only been beat diggin’ for about two years, but the Astroscope label had the flyest center labels. It caught my eye and I had to cop it. Just like Wild Pitch did for hip-hop records. A distinct center label is important when it comes to 45s - I’ve bought a lot of wack records on Astroscope just because the label looks so ill. Plus, the group is named Rimshots so you expect a lot of snare drum action.
7. Soul Suspects - “Handle It” (Black Prince, 1969)
I did a write-up on this one on the nerdtorious blog awhile back, but for those who missed it, here it goes again. Standard, uptempo early ‘70s funk at its best. The special effects on the guitars at the end are priceless and my method of finding this record was even more priceless - I scored it off a crackhead for a quarter. This 45 doesn’t pop up everyday, so one time when I brought it out for a gig, I let it ride in the passenger seat and made the girl I was dating ride in the trunk.
6. The Mauroks - “Susan” (De-Lite)
It looks like a Kool and the Gang 45 at first glance - I didn’t even know till a few years ago that there were any other artists on De-Lite Records back around the time their center labels had this design (late ‘60s). Then you see it’s a song about a broad named Susan from a group you’ve never heard of. I’ve been getting into ‘60s psych and garage shit lately. I don’t know much about the artists yet or which records are good, but stuff like this makes me wanna get in the lab and make some shit.
5. Kool and the Gang - “Let the Music Take Your Mind” b/w “Chocolate Buttermilk” (De-Lite, 1969)
It’s actually pretty rare to find a funk 45 that has on slammin’ joint on each side. It’s usually a Part 1-Part 2 affair or there’s a ballad on the flip. Kool and the Gang had a lot of smokin’ 45s in their early days, but this one is straight Hammertime. Two hard drum breaks on one 45? Shit. I always wanted to interview / meet “Funky George” Brown. He’s a monster drummer with a really loose foot.
4. Ricky Williams - “Discotheque Soul (Parts 1 & 2)” (Citadelle, 1973)
Another valuable joint I scored off a crackhead for pocket change. The drum break embodies the spirit of late '80s rap - that 120 BPM shit. But the entire song is just an incredible party record. It’s a classic b-boy joint. A unique thing about this joint is there’s no horns and no guitar, two elements that usually pay the funk mortgage. It’s so stripped down (bass, drums, banter and organ) but it works like a muthafucka.
3. Sam and the Soul Walkers - “Soul Walk” (Trans-American, 1968)
I remember n old Flavor Unit joint that sampled this shit back in 1990. For 20-plus years I could not identify what the fuck the sample was and it drove me nuts because nobody I knew could either. Then a few months ago I found this at Big City Records (R.I.P.) and was just listening to it, then BOOM! It was like I found out who shot J.R. before the next season of Dallas began or something. This is such a hard, raw record. I play it out and listen to it so much that now I don’t even want to sample it.
2. Ray and His Court - “Soul Freedom” b/w “Cookie Crumbs” (Sound Triangle)
Ray and his Court actually played a lot of Latin music, but they did some hard funk shit, too. Their album is a bitch to find; I’ve never actually seen it up close. There are so many influences on this record: “Cookie Crumbs” is straight b-boy funk and “Soul Freedom” is like latin-flavored funk and they utilize a bass clarinet solo to drive it! That shit is next level. No matter which side you play, you can’t go wrong.
1. Warm Excursion: “Hang Up (Parts 1 & 2)” (Pzazz, 1969)
I first heard this when DJ Scratch was cutting doubles of it. That break is the hardest break I know of, with the mean organ hit at the top. Those drums could get a woman pregnant. Then part two has a variation of the break, it’s just psycho. It sounds kind of like The Counts and Booker T. and The MGs had a jam session and everyone had just been audited by the IRS and was pissed the fuck off. I never would’ve found this at a decent price, so I gotta big up my man Kamui for trading me his spare copy.