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Funk on film
Part 1

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Funk on Film 1: Early funk scores

By The Man

1. Early funk scores

Funk had become the sound of the street by 1970 thanks to chart successes by the likes of James Brown and Sly And The Family Stone. As the jazz boom of the early 1960s began to fade many jazz musicians joined or formed funk bands in order to stay in work. Another useful source of work for a trained musician was the film score. Film soundtracks have always reflected contemporary musical styles, and funk proved no exception. Its rhythm, instrumentation and tempo made it an ideal style for the action movies that were to come to prominence during the 1970s.

During the 1960s film scores by composers such as Lalo Schifrin featured up-tempo tracks that were heavy on the bass and brass. While these scores were often excellent listening in their own right, the movies for which they were written were generally mainstream Hollywood productions. As a result these albums tended to lack the raw edge which identifies great funk.

Nevertheless, several film soundtracks from the period featured genuine funk tracks. Schifrin's hardest funk cuts were showcased on Medical Center And Other Great Themes and his experimental score for Dirty Harry, later issued on a compilation LP. Other good early funk soundtracks include Quincy Jones' rescore of Jobim's The Adventurers (Coming And Going), Johnny Harris' solo LP Movements (Stepping Stones, Theme, both from the film Fragments of Fear), a good proto-funk score in Mort Steven's Hawaii 5-0 (Front Street), the great Bobby Davis deep funk score Hit 'Em Hard (Being Wise), Galt Dermot's Cotton Comes To Harlem (Theme), and even Pat Boone's religious movie Cross And The Switchblade (Rumble). A number of American International exploitation movies produced prior to AIP's blaxploitation period had great funk scores which were released on LP, for example Les Baxter's superb Hell's Belles (Hot Wind) and the Tony Bruno score Hell's Angels 69 (Chase Of Death).

A brief fad for motorsports movies in the late 60s provided a series of good funk scores including Dave Grusin's Winning (Gasoline Alley), obscure Amos LP Vanishing Point with the JB Pickers, and Dominic Frontiere's superb big band hard funk soundtrack 'On Any Sunday' with Tom Scott.

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