Rick James: 10 Essential Tracks

The punk-funk king gets freaky on everything from a 1966 Neil Young collaboration to a groundbreaking 1988 rap duet

The Mynah Birds, "It's My Time" b/w "Go on and Cry" (1966)

After going AWOL from the Navy and fleeing to Toronto, Canada, James "Rick James" Johnson eventually ended up in a local rock group called the Mynah Birds, which featured future members of Buffalo Springfield and Steppenwolf. After the group signed a deal with Motown, the label discovered that James (working under the Matthews alias) was wanted by military authorities and terminated the band's contract. James served a year in jail, but when he got out, he was arrested again and deported. At some point, he traveled to Detroit with a reformed version of the Mynahs and recording this single. The A-side, co-written by ex-Mynah Birds member Neil Young, was a stirring garage-soul nugget that showed the group's unique mix of grit, shimmy and twinkle. The flip is a James rarity in more ways than one – a tender ballad that actually sounds sincere of heart.