Monday, October 3, 2011

Con Funk Shun: or, I'm somewhat ConFunked

So you know I'm a huge fan of Soul music, Funk, Jazz-Funk fusion, etc. And back in the day, Con Funk Shun was one of those groups that got the nod from a lot of folks, but never really got any radio play aside from "Ffun", their one and only hit to cross over Top 40. And "Ffun" was a great song - all backbeat and horns, and with an undeniable hook that drove deep into the ol' cortex.

Con Funk Shun was signed to Mercury in the '70s, at the height of that label's pre-Polydor R&B greatness. A lot of great R&B acts were signed to Mercury's black music division in the '70s, with artists like the Bar-Kays, Bohannon and the Ohio Players pumping out the groove on a non-stop basis. So why was I so unfamiliar with Con Funk Shun? I snagged a copy of "The Best Of Con Funk Shun", part of UMG's "Funk Essentials" series, to do a little more research.

What I figured out after listening is that Con Funk Shun never really crossed over like groups like the Gap Band, P-Funk or Lakeside did was because - how to put this nicely? - their music was generally B-list. Let's be clear: for a group with the word Funk in their name, this best-of is surprisingly heavy on soul ballads. They're very nice soul ballads, something I would expect from, say, late-period Commordores (after Walter Orange had given up trying to get Lionel to be funky) or James Taylor-era Kool & The Gang, but let me repeat... not funky.

Or maybe the problem is that the anthologizers at UMG didn't do their homework. A little research turned up some monstrously funky tracks that the compilers inexplicably left off, like 1979's "Chase Me" and "Touch," from their 1980 Lp of the same name. Seems the guys at Universal forsook the Funk in favor of the silk, and that's too bad.

However, "Ffun" is undeniable, and  "Got To Be Enough" is the followup dancefloor Top 40 hit that should have been. And "(Let Me Put) Love On Your Mind" could have been a really awesome New Soul track, the kind radio embraced from LeVert or Atlantic Starr. But no one was paying attention.

Conclusion: if you want some great laid-back California soul, you'll like this disc. But if you got to get your groove on, there's just not enough fried stuff here.

Links for more research:

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