11 Best Funk Albums to Own

11 Best Funk Albums to Own

Author: Katie Kelley


From Joni Mitchell’s Blue to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, music aficionados are arguably well-aware of the most iconic records to showcase in their collections.

Selecting the finest funk music albums for their (ever-growing) compendium, however? That’s far less straightforward. James Brown and George Clinton are practically universal givens, but how else can you definitively choose what to include when the genre overflows with excellence?

We did the, ahem, work for you. We ran through our recollections of funk, from the hard-edged and aggressive to the joyous and poignant. We jungle boogied to downbeats, searched our wild, psychedelic hearts, and grooved to tunes so solidly entrenched in our collective psyches they evoke visceral memories. In short, we played all the funky music to nail it down to 11 smashing records. 

#1 1999 (Prince)

Funk music officially started in the mid-1960s, but the genre—as infectious as it is inimitable—is the result of years and years of influence, from the late-19th century jazz that filled the streets of New Orleans to the rhythm and blues that electrified the Harlem Renaissance.

In other words, Prince—who blew the roof off with his staggering synthesis of rock, pop, jazz fusion, folk, and, yes, funk—followed the genre’s lead. Meaning, that it’s a mutable form with only one cardinal rule: It must make you want to stand up and dance.

That’s precisely—and undeniably—what 1999 does. The LP—Prince’s magnum opus, we’d contend—went platinum within months of its release and gave us several timeless gems, including:

  • “International Lover”
  • “Little Red Corvette”
  • “Delirious”

Unique? Certainly. Riveting? No doubt. Should you track down a record store that carries it? Oh yes. (And, hey, we’ve got you covered.)

#2 Maggot Brain (Funkadelic)

George Clinton, one of the founding fathers of funk and a veritable force to be reckoned with, opens this trippy, funk-throbbing album with an LSD-inspired monologue before Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Eddie Hazel positively kills it on the guitar.

What emerges from this artistic milieu is one of the most ravishing and phenomenal tracks—and records—in history.

Critics readily agreed, deeming the stirring solo “an emotional apocalypse of sound,” while the funk album itself went on to receive mad accolades—including landing on Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest albums ever made.

#3 Super Fly (Curtis Mayfield)

Gospel singer-turned-songwriter Curtis Mayfield may have acquired legendary status for his work with the Impressions, but Super Fly—his 1972 soundtrack of the influential Blaxploitation film and one of the only albums to have out-grossed the movie it harmonizes—became his 

pièce de résistance.

It’s no wonder. The intoxicating funk album:

  • Narrates the gritty, captivating story of Priest Youngblood while illuminating funk at its fiercest

  • Features treble-heavy wah-wah guitar, blistering brass, and extraordinary vocals

  • Inspired a slew of rap and hip-hop artiststhe album’s sensational “Pusherman,” for one, has been sampled on over 25 rap songs by luminaries ranging from Eminem to Chance the Rapper

To phrase it differently, Super Fly’s inclusion on any discerning best funk albums list is, really, a moral imperative.

#4 Commodores (Commodores)

Few are immune to the power of “Brick House,” the Commodores’ groundbreaking, hip-shaking song from their self-titled 1977 album. 

Possessing several elements of a spectacular funk song, from an irresistible tempo to blazing saxophone peals (the latter performed by the indefatigable Lionel Richie, no less), “Brick House” remains in the echo chambers of most of our ears.

The rest of the album is just as rich and tantalizing; and while it may not be the funk record that put the Motown band on the map, no best funk albums list would be complete without mentioning the LP that brought us one of the most compelling dance songs of the last half-century.

#5 There’s a Riot Goin’ On (Sly and the Family Stone)

Sly and the Family Stone is essentially synonymous with funk—and for a sound reason, too: The San Francisco pack played a fundamental role in funk’s evolution and provided us with a host of exquisite hits, including:

  • “I Want to Take You Higher”
  • “Stand!”

There’s a Riot Goin’ On veers into darker terrain, to be sure. The album was released shortly before the group dispersed due to mounting substance issues, and yet it nonetheless captures the zeitgeist and displays funk’s greatest attributes. It’s percussive and progressive, rhythmic and addictive, a funk record so electrifying you’ll play it on your turntable time and time again. (Attendant dance party optional.)

#6 Electric Ladyland (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)

Hendrix made an indelible mark in several genres—or, somewhat, he bent genres and plied them with unparalleled nuance, surprising beats, and blood-rushing lyrics.

Hendrix took funk to soaring new heights in Electric Ladyland, the final studio album he released as part of the Experience. Within it, he re-texturized the genre and shot it with kaleidoscopic rock and raw, heart-baring soul, leaving audiences eternally stunned with his cover of “All Along the Watchtower.”

#7 In the Jungle Groove (James Brown)

The epic James Brown may have passed in 2006, but the “Godfather of Soul” surely isn’t out of sight. To this day, the foremost forebearer of funk permeates airwaves and emboldens artists—and any best funk albums catalog would be remiss without mentioning his superb contributions to the genre.

The slick tunes found on In the Jungle Groove—from “Funky Drummer” to “Hot Pants”---underscore Brown’s transfixing talent. But, truth be told, nearly all of his albums deserve a tip of the fedora.

#8 Why Can’t We Bring Friends (War)

The unequivocally cool Long Beach band gave us the cult classic, “Low Rider.” Need we say more? Well, we needn’t, but we will

Once the energetic bassline and melodic saxophone of “Low Rider” get you on your feet, stay there and groove (on repeat) to your heart’s content. Then, wind down with a couple of the album’s softer (and oh-so-dreamy) hits, including:

  • “In Mazatlán” – Turn this soothing number on the next time gray skies have got you down. The trilling güira and the howls of a few distant monkeys are enough to transport you to the Pacific shores of Mexico’s Mazatlán.  

  • “Smile Happy” – If you boogied to Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” back in the early 2000s, you could thank War’s “Smile Happy” for lending the hit a piece of its intro. Go ahead, listen to this track without cracking a smile—we dare you. 

  • Trust us, this is one studio album you’ll sonically savor for decades to come. 

    #9 Blood Sugar Sex Magik (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

    RHCP may have been the It Boys of alternative, but they built their exceedingly successful career on a soul-funk platform, blending art-rock with funk’s signature cadence to create songs that became part of the communal consciousness.

    Blood Sugar Sex Magik, their fifth studio record, hammers this home. The illustrious, unforgettable album boasts such sing (or scream)-along hits as:

    • “Under the Bridge”
    • “Give it Away”
    • “Suck My Kiss”
    • “The Power of Equality”

    While the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ previous album may have bombed, Blood Sugar Sex Magik abolished any doubts about the funk band’s talent and range, solidifying their stance as the arbiters of funk metal and one of the most exhilarating bands ever to grace a stage.

    #10 They Say I’m Different (Betty Davis)

    Sure, she rubbed elbows with Stone and Hendrix. Yes, she had the backing of soul singer Lou Courtney, dallied with Robert Palmer, and married the unsurpassable Miles Davis. And yet, Betty Davis was a virtuoso wholly in her own right: 

    • She began composing songs as an adolescent.

    • Davis not only wrote all of her own songs but also recorded them with powerhouses like Larry Graham and members of Tower of Power.

    • She took tremendous creative risks and forged ahead despite a lack of commercial success.

    Today, Davis is considered one of the most underappreciated funk icons, a diva so feisty and forward-thinking that Miles went so far as to compare her to Madonna. Adding They Say I’m Different to your collection is a way to pay homage to this lost but certainly not forgotten artist.

    #11 I Am (Earth, Wind & Fire)

    Confused about funk vs disco? Disco-infused funk is often at the forefront of this buoyant, foot-stomping album, which skyrocketed to the top of Billboards’ charts upon its release at the tail-end of the 70s.

    In I Am, the Chicago cadre of musical geniuses offers a sublime ride through a number of emotions, including:

    • Glee (“Let Your Feelings Show”)
    • Nostalgia (“After the Love Has Gone”)
    • Exuberance (“Boogie Wonderland”)

    The result of which is a disarmingly hypnotic album that’ll have you humming long after the needle has reached the end of Side One.

    Elevate Your Vinyl Collection

    It’s one thing to stream these seminal albums on Spotify; it’s another thing entirely to relish them on a retro-meets-modern turntable.

    Why, you may ask? 

    Because not only do vinyl records provide the most authentic listening experience—brilliantly catching even the subtlest of breaths and complexities—but the very act of playing a vinyl record exalts the experience.

    Amplify Your Auditory Experience with Victrola

    Victrola has provided music lovers with such genuineness and refinement since their inception in the early 1900s but has taken its concept well into the 21st century. 

    Knowing first-hand that, unlike digital music, vinyl records are immune to data loss and sound precisely as producers planned, we’ve crafted gorgeous turntables to honor the warmth and intricacy of original productions. The outcome: The closest sound you’ll find to a live concert (and who hasn’t wanted to hear Hendrix in the flesh?).

    Get your super freak on with one of our impeccable record players—and the best funk albums to go along with it.


    Google Books. All music guide to rock: the definitive guide to rock, pop, and soul. 

    All Music Guide to Rock: The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop, and Soul - Google Books

    Science Focus. Does vinyl really sound better?

    Does vinyl really sound better? | BBC Science Focus Magazine

    Fast Company. “Super Fly” influenced hip-hop. And hip-hop influenced the remake