Instant Funk – The Albums 1977-1983: Album Review

Instant Funk get the Cherry Red treatment with their seven albums of disco/funk goodness reappraised and reissued. Expect to be moving when you listen to this!

Release Date: July 28th 2023

Label: Cherry Red Records / Robinsongs

Format: 5CD Boxset

Instant Funk’s story is one of real graft. From their early incarnations in the early 1970’s they went on to be practically the in house backing band at Philadelphia International Records. This was before they got the chance to start putting out their own records with the help of the wildly influential Walter “Bunny” Sigler.

Hailing from Trenton, sandwiched between New York and Philadelphia, Instant Funk began their own recording career in 1975 with the Muhammed Ali inspired single, Float Like A Butterfly. It was this song that led to their debut album, Get Down With The Philly Jump. It Ain’t Reggae (But It’s Funky) bursts out of the blocks with a driving up and down bassline and plenty of percussive elements to help with the groove.

Groove is key throughout the whole set here. The Mack Is Back slows the groove but it still hits hard. Horns stab and again the bass rolls. Vocally, it is built around repetition of the song title. Philly Jump does just that; it jumps. There is nothing not to like here. Hup Two, Hup Two (Get In Line, Say Get In Line) is another high octane, driving track. The military style vocal would have been a dancefloor workout! Funky Africa is a smoother cut with a luxurious bed of horns and a distorted guitar line lurking in the mix. Float Like A Butterfly wasn’t on the album but is included as a bonus track here.

Get Down With The Philly Jump proved to be the only album Instant Funk would release via Philadelphia International Records. The band would go on to find their home on New York’s Salsoul Records.

When the band released their self titled second album, it would prove to be a step up from Philly Jump and provide the band with their biggest hit. I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl) was a smash in America and served as the platform for the band to increase their presence. In a sound indicative of the time, the track has an incredibly strong disco groove with rising horns, punchy bass, and well placed hand claps and multiple ‘Say what?!’s!

Elsewhere on Instant Funk’s second effort, there is the brilliant Dark Vader which plays on the hype of a certain fictional villain that was very popular. A pulsing drum beat eventually gives way to a synthesised style bassline that has a real darkness flying off it. This is funk for another world. Crying is an up-tempo number that sees the single edit included as a bonus track.

I’ll Be Doggone is a slower jam and sees some great work on the keys. This kind of track is the DNA of what Prince went on to create. Vocally, it just leaves a rainbow of eccentricity, lighting up the album. Although Instant Funk was one of the bands most successful record, the best was still yet to come.

The sounds of the late seventies in NYC were ones of Disco and Punk. Rap and Hip-Hop were both slowly burgeoning scenes but it was Disco that was shifting units.

Striking whilst the iron was hot, Instant Funk released another album in 1979; Witch Doctor. Sporting a great album cover, the album is where the band really hit their stride creatively.

Slap, Slap, Lickedy Lap walks the line between the sublime and the absurd. It falls down on the former. Vocal hooks, infectious bass and pounding drums give a strong groove. It is a real earworm and a tonne of fun. You can’t have funk without the f-u-n! Another solid cut from Witch Doctor is Bodyshine. Teasing guitars and loose bass form the track with the vocals again infecting the mind. As previously mentioned; this would have been a serious dancefloor workout. It really is aural dynamite.

Scream & Shout closes out the album in polished fashion. Witch Doctor is perhaps the creative peak of Instant Funk in terms of their 1970’s albums. The album is packaged with single versions of Slap, Bodyshine and Witch Doctor.

As Instant Funk moved into the 1980’s, so did music. The Funk Is On feels a little rawer and uses more electronic percussion. Whilst Prince would have been influenced by the sound of Instant Funk, it’s hard not to think of those early Prince cuts when hearing a few of the tracks here. There is even a track called Funk-N-Roll; a song title that Prince used on his 3RDEYEGIRL releases. The track here has no semblance to the Prince cut, but it is a wonderfully funky cut. Disco guitars move into overdrive and the horns puncture the sound raising the temperature.

You’re Not Getting Older feels like a bit of a credo to live by…’You’re not getting older, you’re just getting better!’ A sign of the times is evident in the use of manipulated voice sounds; not quite vocoder but there were clearly toys in the studio! It is great to feel the optimism in this track…age is just a number.

In this release, The Funk Is On is paired with 1982 release, Looks So Fine. Opening with the title track, the band waste no time in upping the pace. Some early influences of hip hop seem to be creeping in a little of the more frequently used vocal manipulation. Little did bands like Instant Funk know that hip hop would rely on them for the wild world of sampling in hit records. 2Pac, Public Enemy and De La Soul used Instant Funk samples in their songs.

Slam Dunk The Funk is nothing to do with the boyband, Five. As you can imagine, Instant Funk take the basketball analogy and slam dunk the sound. The sound is reminiscent of Parliament’s Agony Of Defeet from their wildly underrated 1980 album, Trombipulation. Punk Rockin’ closes out Looks So Fine and whilst not a punk track, it retains a harder edge and some nice solo guitar work.

Disc Five of this Instant Funk collection pulls together the bands 1983 albums, V & Kinky. Again, the sound evolves and sees the band trying to move with the time.

Who Took The Funk Away is an early highlight of V. It is bright and breezy and shows the band have no intention of letting up. Perhaps the quality in the mix from Tom Moulton helps the song breathe. It is arguably the highlight of the bands 1980’s albums.

A stellar version of The Beatles Hard Day’s Night follows with aplomb and the band veer into ballad territory with Smack Dab In The Middle. The latter shows how skilled the band were in shifting gears and were able to change up their styles and genre. It is an impassioned song that showcases the collective harmonies that Instant Funk had in their arsenal.

Kinky bring the box to a close. Also released in 1983, the album was a commercial flop and the band/label parted ways. That being said, there is some gold here. (Just Because) You’ll Be Mine is mixed by the legendary Shep Pettibone and opens the album gloriously. More synthesized sounds creep in but the synth and bass line would not be out of place on the dancefloor of any era. Don’t Call Me Brother has a Sugarhill Gang vibe with the sound and groove, but also in the lyrical content.

Keep It Up sails back into balladry and Funkiest Party In The World feels like an apt closer for the bands time with Salsoul. Again, early hip hop influences are rife and shows the dynamism that Instant Funk offered. They might not have hit the nail on the head like other acts did, and streaming shows which song they’re remembered most for; I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl). It is a classic song and is rightfully lauded, however there is so much more on offer under the Instant Funk banner. The band still perform today and continue to bring the good times. Take a trip back and witness the musical evolution of a band at a time when music was a fervent hotbed of experimentation. You can find out more from the extensive liner notes included in the set. This is a must for any funk fan.

Instant Funk: Website / Facebook

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