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Funk on film
Part 3

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Funk on film 3: Black music's big guns step in

By The Man

3. Black music's big guns step in

Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield released two funk classics at this time. Gaye's Trouble Man album featured heavy funk instrumentals alongside vocal numbers and a beautiful jazz theme. Mayfield's Superfly is an acknowledged classic and represents his finest work. Arranged by Johnny Pate, its lyrics completely undercut the savagery of the movie. Tracks like Freddie's Dead and Pusherman have lost none of their impact. The sequel's soundtrack was performed by Osibisa and isn't too funky. Donny Hathaway's superb Little Ghetto Boy was featured on the Come Back Charleston Blue soundtrack LP, while Solomon Burke turned funky with the strong Cool Breeze LP (The Bus). JJ Johnson arranged 'Across 110th Street' with Bobby Womack featuring a classic theme and an outstanding funk instrumental, Harlem Clavinette. Gene Page's Blacula (Blacula - The Stalkwalk) is a consistently funky album, raw and filled with strong breakbeats. Roy Ayers produced the superb Coffy (Coffy, Aragon, Brawling Broads) the following year with its insistent funk theme and tight instrumentals. JJ Johnson enlisted Joe Simon and Millie Jackson for the Cleopatra Jones soundtrack LP: the sequel featured a Dominic Frontiere score that was never issued. Johnson also teamed up with Bill Withers for the groovy Man And Boy LP from a Bill Cosby film, and later with Martha Reeves for the funk classic Willie Dynamite movie LP. Willie Hutch produced two quality soundtrack LPs in The Mack and the excellent Foxy Brown, both issued on Motown. The Impressions released a non-too-funky score in Three The Hard Way.

Major-league soul star James Brown, ably assisted by Fred Wesley, released two soundtracks in quick succession. While Black Caesar and Slaughter's Big Rip-Off are inconsistent - they contained material Brown didn't feel was good enough for his studio LPs - both albums contain funk classics. Mama Feelgood and People Get Up And Shake Your Funky Soul are guaranteed floor-fillers. Billy Preston performed the theme to the first Slaughter movie but no soundtrack LP was issued. Brown actually wrote the soundtrack to Black Caesar's sequel, Hell Up In Harlem, but it was rejected by the film's director and later scored by Edwin Starr with Freddie Perrin and Fonze Mizzell. Starr's Easin' In is a classic cut, the opening breakbeat being a hip hop sample favourite. Brown's score was later released under his own name as The Payback.

Observing that these soundtracks sold in reasonable quantities and often spawned hit singles, record labels started to fight to get their artists included on a tie-in. Barbara Mason appears on two good funk scores, the hard funk classic Gordon's War (Just Plain Luther, Hot Wheels - The Chase) and the jazzier Sheba, Baby with Pam Grier. Dennis Coffey's classic Black Belt Jones theme saw a single release but no LP. Jerry Butler and Jerry Peters issued the Melinda (Theme) soundtrack LP, Jim Kelly's first feature, in psychedelic funk style. Don Costa and Lou Rawls got seriously funky on the Soul Of Nigger Charley (Sometime Day, Theme) soundtrack LP. Tiny California label Money put out Don Julian's hard funk score to Savage! (Lay It On Your Head) on LP although his other soundtrack, Shorty The Pimp, was only released on single until the full score was issued on CD recently. Barry White's soundtrack LP to Together Brothers is tight and very funky. Independent label Fantasy weighed in with two animated film scores, Fritz The Cat and Heavy Traffic, and a score to the social commentary movie Black Girl (BJ's Step), all featuring solid old-school jazz funk. The other Fritz The Cat movie, Nine Lives Of Fritz The Cat, had a score by Tom Scott and LA Express that was never issued on LP. Prestige released a good old school funk soundtrack in Dynamite Brothers (Kung Fusion), scored by Charles Earland. Blue Note's only soundtrack was the obscure Final Comedown (Slight Fear And Terror) LP by Grant Green. The blues influenced another obscure soundtrack LP, Book Of Numbers, which features the smooth funky soul track I'm So Glad. Lalo Schifrin adopted a genre funk feel with Enter The Dragon while Leon Ware featured on the funky Education Of Sonny Carson soundtrack LP.

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