This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #131: Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson, featuring, Bruno Mars.
This post is almost ten posts in one! There is an awful lot going on in this song; way more than one would simply think. So, let’s dive right in with the fact that this is not a Bruno Mars song. In previous posts, when I have stated that a song is not quite what you may have thought it was, I was often referring to the fact that the famous version may have, in fact, been a cover song or else, that the meaning was completely different than generally believed. That is not the case with “Uptown Funk”. The issue with this song starts with the fact that Bruno Mars, as talented a man as he is, did not write “Uptown Funk”. The song was written by a man named Mark Ronson who, if you are not familiar with him, is a man with a star-studded resume of his own when it comes to music. So, I am going to start this post by giving Mr. Ronson his due and then, from there, we will talk about the controversy associated with this song and what the song was really aiming to accomplish when it was created. So, buckle up, this post will be a treat by the time it is done. Here we go!
Mark Ronson has won Grammy Awards and Brit Awards for his own music but, he is most well-known for his work as a songwriter and as a record producer. For example, he helped Amy Winehouse produce her classic album, “Back to Black” and won numerous awards for that, as producer and as songwriter for songs such as “Rehab”. Ronson, also, won an Academy Award for Best Song for writing “Shallows” for Lady Gaga to sing with Bradley Cooper in the latest iteration of “A Star is Born”. Prior to that, Ronson had gained much fame as a DJ and currently runs a record label with fellow DJ-ing powerhouses such as Diplo. The inspiration for “Uptown Funk” arose out of his love of being a DJ in dance clubs. One of Ronson’s DJing calling cards was his ability to make retro music feel modern. Ronson was known for integrating old Funk tunes into modern electronic dance music suites which, added much to both styles of music. Thus, when he sat down to start work on “Uptown Funk”, it was always his intention to pay homage to the history of Funk-driven music. So, the cool words and phrasings in the lyrics are, actually, from the pen of Mark Ronson and not, Bruno Mars. One of Ronson’s great attributes is knowing where his strengths lay which is why he knew that he didn’t have the chops or the swagger to pull off a Funk tribute on his own which is why he asked Bruno Mars to guest sing. Mars agreed and, as the saying goes, the rest is history because the combination of the two helped to create a perfect song for the times when it was released.
Now, this is where the controversy comes in. When “Uptown Funk” hit the airwaves in 2013/14, it was hailed as a Funk masterpiece….and it truly is. The initial rush to judgment from fans annointed Mars and Ronson as having created something new and innovative. For many, “Uptown Funk” served as their introduction to the slickness, stylishness and bass-driven power of Funk. The song was a powerhouse and blew them all away. However, there was a huge push back from people who were familiar with Funk’s long, rich legacy in the history of Music. Critics came out in droves, damning “Uptown Funk”, along with Mars and Ronson, as actually bringing nothing new to the musical table and, instead, simply dressing up old Funk sensibilities and proclaiming them as being new. To those who stated these criticisms, Mark Ronson replied by saying that “Uptown Funk” was never presented as being new and innovative. Instead, it was meant as a celebration of the past and was meant to honour those original creators. So, let’s take a quick look at what and who Ronson was talking about.
In our countdown, we have encountered the original purveyors of Funk a few times already. James Brown is known for the Funk stylings that are inter-woven into all that he sings. George Clinton and his band, Parliament and his later band, Parliament-Funkedelic were among the original heavyweights of the genre of Funk. From those roots, came a young man known as Prince, who picked up their bass-slapping torch and created a new Funk-Rock hybrid sound that became known as the “Minneapolis Sound” because of where Prince’s Paisley Park Studio was. If you watched the movie, “Purple Rain” or have seen music videos for “Let’s Go Crazy”, you will have been introduced to a man named Morris Day who, along with his band, The Time, helped perpetuate that Funk-Rock sound with songs such as “Jungle Love”. It is Morris Day and the Time, more than anyone else, that “Uptown Funk” is based upon. In the videos below, I will play for you, “Uptown Funk”, as well as, “Jungle Love” by Morris Day and the Time. If you watch Morris Day first, and then watch “Uptown Funk”, you will see where Bruno Mars came up with so many of his moves. Things to look for that link the two songs are: the utter stylishness of the clothes worn by the men, the coolness of their swagger, the way the back-up dancers use their moves as a spotlight to draw attention to the lead singer, the use of a horn section to add power to the sound of the song and, finally, the powerful, driving bass-driven beat that acts as the heartbeat of all Funk songs. “Jungle Love” is the original and “Uptown Funk” is the faithful reproduction; lovingly staged as an homage to a time in music history when, according to some, music, as a powerful, living force, was most alive and relevant. I can guarantee you, if you think “Uptown Funk” swings then, you will like Morris Day and the Time and “Word Up!” by Cameo and “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince and “Higher Ground” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers and a whole host of other great Funk-Rock songs from the early 1980s, when Prince was King and Minnesota was the centre of the Funk universe.
As a treat, I will play ALL of these songs below. It is not quite a Spotify Funk playlist but, it is the best I can do for now. So, get ready to move and groove. I shall start with “Uptown Funk” as the main video but, I encourage you to watch “Jungle Love” by Morris Day and the Time FIRST and then, “Uptown Funk”. Getting back to Mark Ronson, he is the stiff-looking white boy who plays lead guitar on “UpTown Funk”. Anyway, this is an awesome collection of songs. I hope that you enjoy them all. First up, the official video for “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson, featuring Bruno Mars. Enjoy!
The link to the “official” video for the song, “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson, featuring, Bruno Mars, can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “Jungle Love” by Morris Day and the Time, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Morris Day and the Time, can be found here.
The link to the video for the “live” version of the song, “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson, featuring, Bruno Mars, can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “Word Up” by Cameo, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Cameo, can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder, as covered by The Red Hot Chili Peppers, can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Red Hot Chili Peppers, can be found here.
And finally, the link to the video for the Tribute to Prince by Morris Day and Bruno Mars, can be found here.