You have to be a very specific kind of soul music fan (or you have to be a massive charts nerd) for the name “Gwen McCrae” to mean anything for you. Her only big pop hit was a funky little tune called “Rockin’ Chair” from the mid ’70s. Like most soul singers, Gwen found herself moving towards disco as the ’70s ended and the ’80s began. In 1981, she hooked up with Kenton Nix, a writer-producer who was coming off of Taana Gardner’s massive club hit “Heartbeat”. They concocted a sassy jam called “Funky Sensation” and that became a pretty big dance hit as well.
“Funky Sensation” fits nicely into that post-disco boogie pocket. It’s danceable but not frantic and monotonous. You can get a nice little two-step going to Nix’s groove. For her part, Gwen sells the song with a throaty, joyous vocal injected with a little bit of down-home sass. She almost comes across as a female James Brown here. “This funk is like an extra-strength pain reliever/I make you feel better than you ever have before!” is a line from the song that always makes me giggle. Gwen is insistent that the funk is going to make you move, exhorting the listener towards the end of the song to “lean left! Lean right! Lean front! Lean back!” Girlish background vocals offset McCrae’s more womanly tone, and that walking bassline never hesitates to get asses in motion. Given how many songs from the late ’70s and early ’80s have belatedly become iconic due to samples, I wonder how come “Funky Sensation” has never been afforded the Puffy/Trackmasters treatment.