June 11, 2015 6:52 PM   Subscribe

On an episode of The Cosby Show, Stevie Wonder asked Theo Huxtable what he would say if he was at a party. His answer was "Jammin on the one". But what does it mean?

A recent answer on Yahoo Answers states: "It's a funk reference. Other cross-references include Lakeside or any 70's/80's funk group, who would always say that real funk was 'on the one' which at its most complicated is a dig on jazz players' interpretation of funk, which often has too much syncopation for the actual funk idiom. So, it has meaning on a few levels but it is rooted in funk."

This is the only answer I've seen that takes the question a little more seriously than others I've found. Is this answer on the right track?
posted by keli to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I wound say so. From the wikipedia entry on Funk:

By the mid-1960s, James Brown had developed his signature groove that emphasized the downbeat—with heavy emphasis on the first beat of every measure to etch his distinctive sound, rather than the backbeat that typified African American music. Brown often cued his band with the command "On the one!," changing the percussion emphasis/accent from the one-two-three-four backbeat of traditional soul music to the one-two-three-four downbeat – but with an even-note syncopated guitar rhythm (on quarter notes two and four) featuring a hard-driving, repetitive brassy swing.
posted by jquinby at 6:58 PM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

In simple terms, it emphasizes the first beat of every measure. So in a 4/4 beat, it's
BOOM beat beat beat
BOOM beat beat beat
Instead of
BOOM beat BOOM beat
BOOM beat BOOM beat

At least that's how I've always understood it.
posted by The Deej at 7:15 PM on June 11, 2015

That's totally the right explanation. I'm at work so I can't link to specifics but if you do a search on youtube for "Bootsy on the one" you're sure to find videos of Bootsy Collins demonstrating this principle - once you hear him demonstrate it it'll be totally clear
posted by coleboptera at 7:21 PM on June 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: coleboptera: "I'm at work so I can't link to specifics but if you do a search on youtube for "Bootsy on the one" you're sure to find videos of Bootsy Collins demonstrating this principle"

Probably this video. Starting at 0:50
Interviewer: We've heard a lot throughout the filming that we've done about "the one" and nobody's really defined it truly. Could you explain to people who don't know about the one in funk, what it is?

Bootsy Collins: Well, what I got from it, James was explaining to me when I came to the band we were playing a lot of crazy lines, lead lines. [plays bass riff] And then James said "Wait a minute. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute, man. Where's the one?" And I'm saying, "One? Ok, what does he mean 'where's the one?'" So, he starts doing the thing [imitates James Brown going "uh" along with snapping] So he says "You hear where that 'uh' is at?" And I say yeah. And he says "That's the one". And I say "Oh, you mean something like" [plays funkier bass riff]
posted by mhum at 7:35 PM on June 11, 2015 [24 favorites]

The documentary The Story of Funk: One Nation Under a Groove discusses this. The whole thing is worth watching, but they specifically address "on the one" starting at about 50:11.
posted by Lexica at 7:48 PM on June 11, 2015 [8 favorites]

Probably this video

Yep, from the transcript that's exactly the one I was think of
posted by coleboptera at 9:28 PM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is something I wondered about years ago, and it's good to finally know. Who would've guessed that Theo Huxtable was such a fan of vintage funk?

The full clip is here. Gaze in wonder at those spectacular 1980s fashions! (Also, try not to shed a tear at how creepy this whole show feels now. God damn it, Bill.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:28 AM on June 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another one from Bootsy
posted by scruss at 5:04 AM on June 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

The first thing that comes to my mind as an example is the main riff from Superstition. Am I doing it right?
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 12:14 PM on June 12, 2015

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