KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #131: Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson, featuring, Bruno Mars.

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 official website for Mark Ronson and for Bruno Mars, can be found here and 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.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #377: Higher Ground by Stevie Wonder.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, 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. 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 #377: Higher Ground by Stevie Wonder.

Stevie Wonder spent most of his childhood in The Motor City of Detroit, Michigan. That is noteworthy because Detroit was, also, the home of Motown Records. When Stevie was a child, he sang all around Detroit in church choirs. At age 11, he wrote and performed an original composition that was heard by one of “The Miracles” (of “Smokey Robinson and the Miracles” fame) who, in turn, brought Stevie to the attention of Motown head, Barry Gordy. Gordy liked what he heard and signed Wonder to his first recording contract. After, initially, recording cover versions of existing songs (including an album entirely comprised of Ray Charles tunes called, “Tribute to Uncle Ray”), Stevie began touring with The Motortown Revue. One of his live sets (20 minutes long) was recorded and released as an album called “Recorded Live: The 12 year old Genius”. In that set was a song called, “Fingertips”. “Fingertips” went to #1 on the charts, making Stevie Wonder the youngest singer to ever top the charts. Needless to say, that song was just the beginning of a career that remains relevant to this day.

Overall, Stevie Wonder has sold hundreds of millions of albums, has earned 25 Grammy Awards and countless other accolades, he has released dozens of #1 hits songs such as “Superstition”, “My Cherie Amour”, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours”, “You are the Sunshine of my Life”, “Living in the City” and many more. One of his funkiest songs was a song that eerily predicted a life-altering event that almost cost Wonder his life. That song was, “Higher Ground”.

“Higher Ground” was released in 1973 from an album entitled, “Innervisions”. The song deals with themes of reincarnation. Wonder is quoted as saying that he was of a mind that believed in the possibility of our human spirit transcending our time on earth and that our soul had a strength that might enable it live on even after our the shell of our body was diminished and gone. Not long after the release of this song, Stevie Wonder was involved in a serious car accident that left him in a coma for several days. Like many who have experienced similar situations, Wonder emerged from his hospitalization with a renewed determination to make his life count for something more than just fame and fortune. As such, he took the stirrings for Civil Rights and for Social Justice that had always existed within him and brought them to the forefront of his public life. Consequently, Stevie Wonder has been lauded with many Humanitarian Awards and has lent his name to many important causes throughout the rest of his days.

The song, “Higher Ground” incorporated many aspects of a style of music called, “Funk” that was becoming popularized by artists such as James Brown, at the time. In fact, although many musicians are present in the video you are about to see, the reality is that Stevie Wonder played all instruments used in the recording of this song. He did this on most of his songs and, as a result, Stevie Wonder has been often called a “genius” and “a one-man band”. “Higher Ground” was a Top Ten hit for Stevie Wonder. It was, also, a Top Ten hit, many years later, for “The Red Hot Chili Peppers”, who began their career as Funk-Rockers. So, get ready to move and groove because here comes Stevie Wonder and, as well, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, with one of the most funked-up songs of all-time, “Higher Ground”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Stevie Wonder, can be found here.

The link to the video for”Higher Ground” 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.

Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.