This 2006 Rhino 4-CD box set is in my heavy rotation right now. The label hit it out of the park with this collection of 91 tasty funk and soul cuts dating from 1967 through 1977.
Funk compilations are sort of like Rolling Stones greatest hits packages — the same twenty songs on every release, just in different running orders. I love Parliament, for example, but how many copies of “Flashlight” does one guy need?
What makes What It Is! a must-have for your stacks is that the folks at Rhino didn’t step in the same old mud puddle. Oh, you’ll get some familiar names (The Bar-Kays, The Commodores, Wilson Pickett), but you won’t get the same old songs. Check out this beast from Earth, Wind & Fire, for example:
It’s almost enough to make me forget “Boogie Wonderland” ever happened.
The enclosed booklet describes the box set as “a shadow history of funk,” and I can’t improve on that phrase. What It Is! contains abundant funk rarities so sweet I can’t help but wonder how they’ve slipped into obscurity. Take Rasputin’s Stash’s “Mr. Cool,” a song that makes me want to run for office just so that I can walk onto stage to it:
Back to that booklet: The liner notes on this box are outstanding, with a nice paragraph accompanying each track in the collection. I was particularly pleased to see a nice write up on Bay Area legends Cold Blood, whose better-than-the original cover of Bill Withers’s “Kissing My Love” appears on disc four:
You should be able to find a used copy of What It Is! for about thirty bucks American, but it’s still in print. Amazon currently has it available for fifty bones. That’s 91 jams for $30-$50, plus a bad ass booklet. Try to get that kind of deal on iTunes!