Synth Pioneers Pt. 3: Synth Funk

Posted by Sam

Stevie Wonder

An good intro can really make the song. It can set the mood, erasing whatever else is around you and make you feel safe from the world.  These songs work because they are incredibly funky and use the impossible elasticity of the synth to great measure.

Another reason these songs still feel fresh is because they represent an era where music and technology had reached a new apex. Stevie Wonder’s synth work in the 70’s is considered by many to be the most influential of it’s era, thanks in part to his work with Tonto’s Expanding Headband and their TONTO synth (watch this little documentary), which allowed the funk to show through the machines.

These songs honor that legacy in different ways.

Carly Simon-Why


Produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of the all-time best disco band Chic, this was a UK chart hit but never on a US album save for a low-key soundtrack. Not as synthy as the rest, but about as good a pop-disco track as you’re likely to hear, skanking along at an easy clip.

The Brothers Johnson – Strawberry Letter 23


A funky version of Shuggie Otis’ deathless original, this cut is synth and bass heaven and helped them reach platinum status. Produced by Quincy Jones no less.

Dexter Wansel – Life On Mars


Dexter Wansel was on Gamble And Huff’s famous Philly International label. Ann Arbor/Detroit legend DJ Carlos Souffront sold me this re-issue at Osborne’s record store in Ann Arbor years ago and it never sees the shelf. The cut breaks into some super funky disco heat, but that cosmic intro makes this one truly staggering.

Yarbrough and Peoples – Don’t Stop The Music


Greatest bassline awards #1 and sits between genres pretty niftily. 1980 was a MONSTER YEAR for synthy funk, the R+B charts were producing some great tracks, fast and slow. Boogie music is getting some love thanks to revivalists like Dam Funk, and with good reason. Feel this video.

9 Comments Leave A Comment


barry says:

July 15, 2009 at 3:16 pm

the yarbrough and peoples track is amazing.

strawberry letter 3 is one of my favourite disco tracks ever.

check out dexter wansels theme from planets, always give it a spin, people dont make music like that anymore.


BP Design Lab says:

July 16, 2009 at 10:47 am

Man, where would the hip hop that we know and love be without such pioneers and great musicians like SHuggie Otis, Stevie, and Quincy? There’s not much rhetoric in that question and it’s not hard to see why our generation (born in mid-to-late 70’s and early 80’s) grew up sampling and influenced by such artists and sounds.

Great Post!


Abe says:

July 17, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Growing up in SoCal (OC) it was a given that we would be listening to funk and that had a big influence on me. This has got to be one of my favorite
funky tracks, I never get tired of it:

I actually have a playlist of funks songs that I would consider underground, so if you’re feeling this, I’ll share some of those as well.

Thanks for posting.