P-Funk Albums From Worst To Best
George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic collective isn’t always posed as a leading candidate for greatest or most important band of the ’70s, but try and imagine what music would sound like without them. You’d still have Stevie pushing forward R&B’s artistry, Kraftwerk doing their thing to turn synthesized pop into a mainstream notion, Donald Byrd finding innovative ways to modernize jazz, Led Zeppelin taking heavy metal to exospheric new heights, the O’Jays hitting the zenith of close-harmony soul, Pink Floyd fusing musical intricacy with concert theatrics, the Ramones injecting pop music with rebellious pulp-culture irreverence, James Brown and Sly Stone and the Ohio Players turning out a fine succession of funk-defining records … and yet you wouldn’t have that one core of musicians that could do all of that, and did so to stunning commercial success without compromising their sound, their look, or an essential perspective on post-civil rights America that still carries through today.
P-Funk were geniuses disguised as weirdos, sentimental populists under the guise of freaky outlanders, and it is damn near impossible to think of some strain of popular music or another that they have nothing to do with. George Clinton grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey, immersed in doo-wop when he wasn’t cutting hair, and by the late ’60s, he and his vocal group the Parliaments had followed that rhythm & blues lineage through Stax and Motown with a revelatory detour through Hendrix and Sly Stone. By the time Clinton had begun to internalize the impact of rock’s new counterculture — his time in the late ’60s was just as often spent in thrall to Cream and Jethro Tull as it was to Smokey and Diana — he was more upfront than anybody about his desires to shake down the “black group = soul/white group = rock” dichotomy. Soon enough, Funkadelic became just the band to crumble those barriers, recruiting Clinton’s Parliaments co-singers — Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon, Ray Davis, and Grady Thomas — into a group that would eventually encompass one of the era’s most down-for-whatever ensemble casts. Throughout their peak, both Parliament and Funkadelic would feature a versatile show-band drummer who could play heavy or jazzy and all points in between (Tyrone Lampkin), a keyboard player with a thing for hi-tech experimentation who could sound like Mozart and Booker T. at the same time (Bernie Worrell), a succession of guitarists who took the precedent of Hendrix’s future-soul psychedelia into even further reaches (Eddie Hazel and Michael Hampton chief amongst them), and a bass player who started out stealing the show from James Brown and just got more spectacular from there (Bootsy Collins).
What Funkadelic and Parliament eventually accomplished in their initial 11-year prime was staggering: Imagine if a band that started as weirdo-niche as the Stooges somehow went on to become as big as Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, without having to compromise to go platinum and notch crossover radio hits. And almost as soon as they disbanded — a side effect of label woes and personnel frustration that only served to make Clinton’s vision even more modular — their effects started shaping the next three decades’ worth of music. Talking Heads, Uncle Jamm’s Army, Prince, Dr. Dre, Mike Watt, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dinosaur Jr., Fishbone, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Prince Paul, Snoop Dogg, OutKast, Missy Elliott, Meshell Ndegeocello, D’Angelo, Dam-Funk … those are just the artists who are the most obviously indebted to P-Funk in some way or another — stylistically, thematically, philosophically, or otherwise. And with Clinton still keeping the P-Funk spirit alive as a rapidly shifting ensemble cast of both original players and younger musicians who came of age looking up to them, it’s become nearly impossible to imagine even a contemporary pop music culture that would be unvisited by the Mothership.
Just as a forewarning, this list doesn’t cover every single album featuring a significant portion of Parliament, Funkadelic, or some mixture thereof. (If it did, we’d be here all week.) Individual members’ solo albums like the Bootsy’s Rubber Band LPs or Hazel’s Game, Dames, And Guitar Thangs are excluded, and that covers solo George Clinton records, too — though exceptions are made for the scattered post-’81 releases that are actually credited to Parliament-Funkadelic or the P-Funk All Stars, whether or not they follow the word “and…” There are no compilations or works featuring the band from multiple years (cf. the archival odds-and-ends Funkadelic collection Toys). And with as many P-Funk concerts as there are floating around out there in bootleg, semi-bootleg, or micro-indie form, we’ve had to limit their live releases to three — though they should provide a strong cross-reference of what made them such a spectacular live act in their various incarnations. With that said, let’s get started — there might be a roof over your head that hasn’t been torn off yet, and that should probably be addressed.
Funkadelic, By Way Of The Drum (1989, 2007)
The general feeling among fans who bootlegged the bejesus out By Way Of The Drum was that MCA shelved the album in 1989 because the label didn't get what they expected. And with the masters found a couple decades later, when the legacy of P-Funk felt far deeper than any late-'80s comeback attempt would hint at, you could say most fans who'd only heard rumor of it didn't get what they expected, either -- at least not unless they expected an overproduced, laminated funk record that sonically lagged six steps behind Prince. The band's vitally raw freakiness is tamped down by edge-dulling gloss; even the logo on the title track's original '89 12" release omits the skull over the "i" in "Funkadelic".
This vault exhumation is technically more of a legit Funkadelic record than the infamous 1981 FINO hijack job Connections & Disconnections, thanks to the actual presence of George Clinton and a few P-Funk vets like Garry Shider and Dewayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight in the ranks. But with no sign of either Bootsy or Bernie, it's still something of a ringer, especially in the moments Shider's guitar isn't wailing; the rest of the time it sounds like a bunch of hired hands concocting some okay-I-guess boogie funk driven by the kind of drum machines people like to invoke when they claim drum machines have no soul. A go-go take on Cream's "Sunshine Of Your Love" is one of those unprecedented moments they stoop to the nostalgia-cover game, "Freaks Bearing Gifts" fails to dredge some party vibes from warnings of child-kidnapper come-ons ("little girl, do you want some candy/little boy, do you want to go for a ride"), the opening lines to "Yadadada" lifts the "Ricky Ricky Ricky, can't you see" hook from Slick Rick's "Mona Lisa" and turns it into an annoying, nasal ode to fancy liquor, and "Some Fresh Delic" is merely a string of uninspired chants and noodly shredding over an unchanging go-go beat. Weirdest of all is the title cut, which would make for a decent electro/New Jack Swing hybrid under a lesser group's banner but sounds significantly further away of any right-minded notion of what a turn-of-the-'90s Funkadelic would sound like. Thank god Digital Underground were around to fill that duty for a while.
George Clinton Presents The P-Funk All Stars, How Late Do U Have 2BB4UR Absent? (2005)
The title of this double-disc set comes from the fact that this was the first album Clinton put out in nine years, largely owing to his difficulty at the time in trying to balance making music and schlepping through court dates trying to reclaim ownership of his recordings. So, hey, absence and the heart's fondness capacity and all that, right? Yet there's a lot of slapdash stuff here, an accumulation of work he'd recorded since 1996 but felt unmotivated to release due to his frustration with the record industry. There's no real theme, not much of a consistent aesthetic throughline, and not a lot worth nominating as career highlights -- it's a two-CD snapshot of nearly ten years spent in limbo, careening from gangsta rap crossover to noodly hard rock and hard-to-grasp points in between. Even the promise of Clinton and the All-Stars collaborating with Prince (the bouncy if chilly "Paradigm," which plays like a Musicology outtake) and Bobby Womack (the processed bar-band rock of "Whole Lotta Shakin'") falls a bit short, and the wafer-thin lyrics actually somehow find the breaking point for how long the average person can tolerate Clinton singing about butts. One song, "I Can Dance," is basically a stripper's comedic monologue over a loop of well-worn sample source "Nappy Dugout" -- and it goes on for more than 15 minutes.
Still, there's enough decent material to glean an hour's worth of not-that-bad from two-and-a-half's worth of eh-whatever, and a lot of it comes from the women in the All-Stars' ranks. Singer Belita Woods, a Detroit-area veteran of '60s soul and '70s disco, joined up with Clinton around '89 and became a regular in the ranks; her sharp yet soaring voice elevates the watery production of ballad "Saddest Day" and pop-R&B cut "Don't Dance Too Close" into something sneakily resonant. And Kendra Foster, who became an integral piece of the collective in the early '00s before going on to co-write much of D'Angelo's Black Messiah, brings a welcome dose of that Brides of Funkenstein spirit -- g-funk torchy one moment ("Bounce 2 This"), sweetly sultry the next ("U Can Depend On Me"). Even if Clinton wasn't at his best here, he at least made an effort to ensure some of his most unsung collaborators were.
Parliament, Gloryhallastoopid (Or Pin The Tail On The Funky) (1979)
There's something remarkably deceptive about this record, which came out literally one year to the day after the fantastic Motor Booty Affair and, at least on the surface, has some of the promise of that simultaneously provocative and silly masterpiece, right down to its giddy Overton Loyd artwork. But there are a combined 19 minutes and change on this record that flash some deeper problems in vivid neon. The first is "Party People," an uptempo borderline-Hi-NRG cut with a pace/energy imbalance that makes it feel like the band's obligated to rush through an empty-meaning "all about having fun" autopilot mission. Then they forget to stop -- it goes on for more than ten minutes, churning away like an example of what Funkadelic meant that same year when they invoked "that one-move groovalistic/ that disco-sadistic" on "Freak Of The Week." "The Freeze (Sizzleanmean)" is the other drag, a midtempo slog that squanders an excellent Maceo sax performance on maybe their most underwritten song ever ("Can we get you hot?/ Can we make your temperatures rise?" Now repeat 100x.) As clear a Beginning Of The End moment as you can find in the circa-'79 tangle of events that eventually led to P-Funk's dissolution, Gloryhallastoopid still has just enough power to move butts -- even if the two most propulsive cuts, "The Big Bang Theory" and "Theme From The Black Hole," could be picked up on the same 12" single. But when Clinton wails "Nothing has changed/ Even the bang remains the same" at the beginning of "Colour Me Funky," it's a case of tell-don't-show that doesn't have the proof to back it up.
Parliament, Trombipulation (1980)
P-Funk in coasting mode could still crank out a couple gems here and there, even with the threat of a dozen-ish side projects cutting into their full artistic potential and threatening to stretch Clinton's empire thin. Things were on well on their way to snapping in the early years of the '80s, but while the last Parliament LP is merely under-inspired rather than an embarrassing burnout, it's also pretty hard to love. Hopping on a groove and riding it out for a while isn't the worst idea in the world when the core of said groove is notoriously strong, but this is one record that's severely Worrell-deficient, and the ensemble-cast arrangements shake the foundations into question -- "Humpty Dance" sample source "Let's Play House" aside, side 2 sounds like Parliament Lite compared to the more cohesive and characteristic set in the first four cuts. And that waters down an already lyrically flimsy vibe. The concept on the record hints at jokes surrounding P-Funk mythos antagonist reformed anti-dance zealot Sir Nose, his newly discovered ability to pick things up with his titular trunk (complete with some groaner coke-snorting nod-and-wink references), and his plan to use his newfound knowledge to attempt out-funking Star Child himself. But the idea evaporates like so much sneezed-away marching powder after track two, after which we're left with a mish-mash of generic dance-move paeans, half-baked puns, and non-sequitur cliches (ad-slogan-derived and otherwise). Only "Agony Of Defeet" and its ten-toed wordplay funks like they did just a couple years prior; it's just as well the Parliament name wound up semi-retired after this one.
George Clinton & The P-Funk All-Stars, Dope Dogs (1994)
The '90s would be a tumultuous and crazy decade for Clinton: He would be canonized as a forefather of hip-hop, given the Otis Day & the Knights role in frat-laffs flick PCU, and invited to collaborate with everyone from Ice Cube to OutKast. But he was still struggling to get his due royalties from managers and working his way through a crack habit that somehow never stopped him from being productive. All this, and he was using his famously open-minded musical sense to engage with sounds that didn't always fit preconceptions of what P-Funk was -- which led to contemporary R&B production tricks, further use of drum machines and synth-horns, and sampling which often did their self-referencing tendencies one better by actually looping pieces of their old work. Dope Dogs is what happens when all those new ideas are coursing through the minds of Clinton and his crew, but haven't entirely solidified into something strong just yet. Not even after multiple attempts at it.
Initially released in Japan, this bewildering record wound up with three different configurations on three different continents; it's generally agreed that the UK and American versions are better than the Japanese one, but there's not enough difference between the three to really mess with the rankings here. The important thing is that in any configuration, it's the most dedicated conceptual record of P-Funk's post-'81 stretch. In short, it starts with the premise of drug-sniffing dogs that become addicted to the product they're trained to search for, and gets even heavier on the canine metaphors from there on out. That Clinton finds a lot of ways to apply his Big Book Of Dog Puns to an itinerary that covers government conspiracy (New Jack Swing-turned-batterram "U.S. Custom Coast Guard Dope Dog"), psychological manipulation (the Pavlovian club anthem "Just Say Ding (Databoy)"), and the cosmic origins of existence (the Blackbyrd shredathon "Dog Star" (Fly On)") is inspiring, even if there's at least a few too many butt-sniffing metaphors.
That the jokes get a little redundant after a while is only part of the problem; it's the budget-minded production flourishes that muddle things up. "Back Up Against The Wall," "Sick 'Em," and "I Ain't The Lady (He Ain't The Tramp)" mix off-the-charts virtuosity with the kind of budget-Bomb Squad breaks and turn-of-the-'90s synths that make otherwise heavy-bouncing cuts sound a little too cheap, and the whole album suffers from the price of recording in a period where analog warmth was considered less important than digital efficiency. Look past that, and dive deep into the sometimes-wandering but frequently freaky lyrics -- including some close-falling-apple hip-hop verses from Clinton's son Tracey "Trey Lewd" Lewis -- and it'll feel a bit more forgivable.
P-Funk All-Stars, Urban Dancefloor Guerillas (1983)
Urban Dancefloor Guerillas, the first album credited to an entity called the P-Funk All Stars, was Clinton's first major attempt to consolidate members of the assorted Parliament and Funkadelic entities into one headliner band (and circumvent name-rights issues in the process). This album gave them their first proper top-billing credit after 1982's Computer Games, featuring most of the same personnel, was credited as a George Clinton solo album. If a circa '89 Funkadelic couldn't get the hang of synthpop-infused electro-boogie and go-go rhythms, it's not because they hadn't tried -- Urban Dancefloor Guerillas, or at least its second side, was plenty proof they could pull it off. "Pumpin' It Up" and "Hydraulic Pump" are two distinct takes on where their sound fit in the '80s, with a squirrelly synth-bass provided by David Spradley in a fine pinch-hitting appearance for Bernie Worrell (presumably busy at the time with Talking Heads, who'd fit well on a less-segregated circa-'83 airwaves alongside these jams). "Hydraulic Pump" in particular is one of the Mothership's best cuts of the '80s, a wall of machine-shop boogie funk that sets a thousand piston-churning hands clapping and is one of the decade's few moments to catch Sly Stone still on his game. (If it sounds vaguely familiar to new listeners, that's because it was later loosely interpolated by one of the Coup's funkiest jams, "5 Million Ways To Kill A CEO.") And "Copy Cat" is more or less a self-answer to the canine counterpart "Atomic Dog," complete with ceaseless puns and harmonized meows in the service of calling out biters.
But something doesn't quite click on the first side, and even with the talent involved -- scattered in all kinds of configurations throughout the record -- it sounds like they're trying to work their way through other mutations of earlier ideas that don't stick as well as the party jams on the flipside. "Generator Pop" and "Catch A Keeper" are decent if shaky melanges of '78 vibes that tailgate off some of their most transcendent moments; they respectively sound like a subtly reworked "One Nation Under A Groove" and an outtake that wasn't wild enough for the undersea-themed Motor-Booty Affair. And while having DeWayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight handle all the instruments on "Acupuncture" but one is a slick feat, the instrument he doesn't play -- a drippy lite-jazz sax seeped out by Norman Jean Bell -- sounds like it was airlifted in from a dentist's office. Still, having one kinda-bad song isn't this album's failing: it's that this record just isn't outrageous enough. Aside from the Junie Morrison-driven duck-call/Moog-chirp R&B ballad "One Of Those Summers" and the sequel-itis-stricken "Copy Cat," there's a noticeable shortage of the straight-up weirdness and conceptual depth P-Funk had made as much a part of their DNA as the instrumental virtuosity, hi-tech forward-thinking, and heavy commitment to the groove. Three out of four's usually fine, but it's a slump for a crew that spent the previous decade batting 1.000.
Funkadelic, First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate (2014)
Not George Clinton, not the P-Funk All-Stars, not even Parliament-Funkadelic -- this is an actual Funkadelic record, something that nobody'd seen since 1981. Call it semantics if you want -- with the core members who've passed since The Electric Spanking Of War Babies (Garry Shider, Tiki Fulwood, Eddie Hazel, Glen Goins, and Cordell "Boogie" Mosson, to name a few), skeptics might consider this an All-Stars kind of effort anyhow, even considering the number of performances brought out from the vaults and stitched posthumously into the tracks. But as the most overstuffed and stylistically experimental thing to come out of the P-Funk camp possibly ever, pinning it down to any one idea of what's previously been offered under the Funkadelic name is beside the point. It's not out of the question to expect an uneven effort from a three-plus-hour triple album with thirty-three tracks (one for each year Funkadelic was in storage). And maybe it's hard to cut through all that to separate the fine from the mediocre; there's not much further on either end of the scale, whether it's outright stinkers or mind-boggling brilliance. But it does successfully put forth the idea of a version of P-Funk that incorporates a lot of familiar trademarks -- beautifully dazed close harmonies, deathless roller-boogie bounce, a philosophical notion of funk that permeates everything, no matter how far away it strays from "One Nation Under A Groove" -- while remaining wide open to brand new ideas.
And no doubt, a lot of these new ideas are weird, which is just about right for a band that's made weirdness one of their load-bearing structures. Clinton's vision of Afro-futurism has always demanded taking in new styles and ideas, and he's stated more than once that "whenever I hear people -- like older musicians -- saying about something new, 'That ain't music,' I rush and find that music." So you get his weathered, gravelly voice filtered through Auto-Tune on multiple tracks, there are excursions into trap beats ("Get Low") and groove metal ("Dirty Queen", featuring his grandson Trafael Lewis's band God's Weapon), and the plentiful moments that feel like archetypal funk are deliriously warped into 21st century forms. A few cuts could be slipped into a playlist alongside current-gen heirs from Janelle Monae to Thundercat to Dam-Funk and sound like their contemporaries instead of their forebears -- soul-jazz fusion flight "Fucked Up," the floaty house-adjacent boogie slide "In Da Kar," the Organized Noise/Future-ist vamp "The Wall," and the Michael Hampton-laced g-funk ballad "Where Would I Go?" prove as much. The old-school cohorts from back in the day (including a game Sly Stone) generally pull cameo duty, while the prominence of 808 beats and guest MCs foreground the here-and-now focus. And if that sounds like an admission that it'd be impossible to perfectly recapture the spirit of Cosmic Slop, it's just as well, since what they stir up here is its own kind of immersively sprawling 2010s kind of thing. Underrated upon release and overshadowed by the concurrent release of his essential autobiography Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard On You?: A Memoir, this record's a valiant, usually successful effort at proving that a man who was one of the sharpest creative minds of the '70s could still flourish in his 70s.
George Clinton & The P-Funk All-Stars, T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M. (1996)
The irony about this album being Clinton's last before his extended hiatus is that it's a record rooted in his idea of legacy. That unwieldy acronym stands for "The Awesome Power Of A Fully Operational Mothership," and it comes from the fact that it's the first record to feature most of the original P-Funk core since the crew drifted apart in the early '80s. It wasn't cheap -- it reportedly took $40 grand apiece to bring Bootsy and Bernie back into the fold -- and their role on the record is brief at best, their warbling, burbling presence floating through gelatin on the woozy "Sloppy Seconds." Not that it matters much; T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M. really feels like more of a synthesis of (and response to) what P-Funk had become after the likes of Dr. Dre and DJ Quik got ahold of it, a recursive answer to their own phantom presence in other peoples' work.
Of course that presence was all over g-funk, and P-Funk's repayment slides into that mode with comfortable familiarity -- they're not quite impersonating themselves, but they do feel refracted through the knowledge of what they represented in the '90s and subsequently play up their most hip-hop friendly traits. "Summer Swim," "Hard As Steel," "Funky Kind (Gonna Knock It Down)," and "Rock The Party" all lean on the meandering Minimoogs and handclap-garnished, woofer-throbbing low-end rhythms that begged to be sampled (but, somehow, never really were). But Clinton's willingness to collaborate with hip-hop artists gives us another angle: the lead cut and first single "If Anybody Gets Funked Up (It's Gonna Be You)," co-produced by East Coast legend Erick Sermon and featuring featuring Flint, Michigan's MC Breed, both of whom had their own acknowledged debts to the P-Funk. The bounce doesn't rise far above waist level, and the most transcendent moments are its slower ones -- like the gorgeous "New Spaceship," featuring guest vocals from none other than Uncle Charlie Wilson -- but this album's possibilities of a reinvigorated, contemporary-minded elder statesman George Clinton engaging fully with the two-way integration of hip-hop into his music only made his subsequent absence that much more frustrating.
Funkadelic, The Electric Spanking Of War Babies (1981)
Clinton admitted in his autobiography that the final Funkadelic album for 33 years "wasn't exactly what I wanted." His coke-addled misadventures with musical collaborator Sly Stone, his struggles with getting his own ill-fated Uncle Jam Records label off the ground, and his squabbles with ship-jumping bandmates turned what could've been a fantastic concept record into an underfocused wind-down. Considering how massive his solo cut "Atomic Dog" was the following year, and given the overall strength of Computer Games as an album, Clinton clearly wasn't out of ideas and hadn't lost his commercial appeal. But there's a reason that album was billed as a solo joint: the P-Funk empire was falling apart, and keeping it all together was more of a strain on the once-strong entity than it could withstand. It didn't help that Warner Bros. lost their faith in the band -- they short-sold the LP (less than 100,000 copies were pressed) and made the unprecedented move of censoring Pedro Bell's suggestive cartoon sleeve.
That's tragic, given how right-place-right-time The Electric Spanking Of War Babies should've been -- a flirtation with New Wave that nailed every '80s corporate-government, mass-media manipulation shock doctrine fear while the decade was still in its Reagan-deregulated infancy. And it's still strong enough to make a decent endcap to a stretch of decade-spanning wire-to-wire career greatness. First there's the title track, an examination of the still-popular charges of Baby Boomer sellout syndrome, where a two-man operation (Hampton on guitar, Junie on everything else) bring up the formative experiences of nuclear fear, Vietnam, genetic science, and the Moon landing as media-mediated programming to mess up young minds."Oh, I," despite being originally slated for Parliament's Trombipulation, fits the vibe well, too; Shider-wailed lyrics about escaping into memories of a lost love over a staggering blend of cocktail-jazz sax/piano and from-the-gut Hampton guitar give the album its wistful heart. The two-part "Funk Gets Stronger" stays defiant in the face of encroaching cultural defunkification, loping Mudd Club twitchiness giving Sly his most enigmatically compelling vocal performance since There's A Riot Goin' On. Even the musically off moments have merit; hearing Funkadelic do extended pan-Carribean drum solos ("Brettino's Bounce") and Blondie-adjacent reggae ("Shockwaves") feels out of character, but the communication to other reaches of the diaspora ("the third world is on the one... sending out shockwaves throughout the world") is worth the effort. And maybe the smutty satire "Icka Prick" is a bizarre note to go out on, but tweaking prudes years before the PMRC were a glint in Tipper Gore's jaundiced eye is as good a legacy-cementer as anything.
Funkadelic, Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic (1976)
There's a reason this transitional Westbound contract-obligation release is generally considered an afterthought by fans, even with "Undisco Kidd" becoming a part of their set list during their legendary '76 and '77 tours. With material recorded concurrently alongside Hardcore Jollies (which is several clicks further along on this list), but not actually saved for their Warner Bros. debut, Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic is a misnomer in both album and song title. Guitarist Michael "Kidd Funkadelic" Hampton had his big coming-out moment with the astounding Let's Take It To The Stage, as definitive an introduction as any newly-christened band member could hope for, while his instrumentation is relatively backgrounded compared to Bernie Worrell's synthesizer. (That goes double for the wandering, thirteen-minute title track, which is the closest P-Funk's come to the more indulgent Rick Wakeman-y side of prog.) In fact, the whole record feels weirdly enervated -- when you run across a song like the anthemic "Take Your Dead Ass Home! (Say Som'n Nasty)" or the truncated mini-jam "Let's Take It To The People" and the immediate impulse is to think, "Man, I bet this sounds amazing live," it's easy to fixate on how first-draft and b-side most of this record is. A little more polish, a little more oomph, and a little more getting in the ears of WB higher-ups, and this could've made a fine second LP in a Hardcore Jollies double-album set. As it is, it's leftovers served lukewarm.
Parliament, Osmium (1970)
The first album to be released under the P-Funk aegis was a drastic break from the late-'60s singles that the Parliaments released on labels like Revilot and Atco, and the title signified as much: Osmium is the densest element on the periodic table, a transition metal found in platinum ore named after the Greek root word for "smell." Considering how much of a transition their early-'70s stank-riddled, heavy metal sound represented -- the platinum would come later -- it's difficult to think of a more apropos title for the LP that would introduce the world to Parliament as we know it. Or at least somewhat know it: the last album released as Parliament until 1974's Up For The Down Stroke thanks to a label dispute with Revilot, Osmium feels like a short-term hitch in George Clinton's vision of a complementary two-band dichotomy. In other words, it's a lot more similar to a circa-'70 Funkadelic record than tandem Parliament/Funkadelic LPs would be in, say, 1975; the main distinction is that it's willfully, absurdly eclectic to the point where it's clear they're still getting their identity together.
You know that twangy yodel from De La's "Potholes In My Lawn"? That's from "Little Ole Country Boy," which features an honest-to-god steel guitar and a full-tilt wailing lament of a monologue from Fuzzy Haskins freaking out about being busted as a peeping tom after trying to find out if his girlfriend was cheating on him. "My Automobile" pulls Clinton and Haskins' doo-wop origins by the collar right into the thick of a down-home, uptempo rockabilly-blues shuffle (with a little bit of what sounds like a sitar for twangy flavor). And cuts like the booze-brewing, family-supporting bootlegger tale/"Cosmic Slop" quasi-prequel "Moonshine Heather" and dirty-drawers goof "Funky Woman" ("she hung them in the air/the air said 'this ain't fair'/ she hung them in the sun/the sun began to run") are in keeping with the kind of oddball heaviness Funkadelic were concurrently cranking out. There's still room for headier concerns -- the gospel lament of "Oh Lord, Why Lord/Prayer" is easily their most reverent and straightforward cry against racial injustice, and there's an unbeatable series of koans running through "Nothing Before Me But Thang" ("There's good, there's bad/ But a thang is a thang/ And there is nothing before you but thang"). And if there's more weight than usual in the closing one-two of spiritual-minded sincerity -- the Jesus-invoking environmentalism of "Livin' The Life" and the afterlife reflections of "The Silent Boatman" (the only P-Funk cut to feature bagpipes!) -- they're strong early indicators that Clinton and company had more to them than just party jams and psychedelic freakouts. (Later CD pressings, including the retitled First Thangs, tack on outtakes, rarities, and a few expanded versions of '71-'72 Invictus singles like "Breakdown" and "Red Hot Mama," that adds some excellent music but dilutes the original album's character a bit.)
Funkadelic, America Eats Its Young (1972)
After three consecutive knockouts, it's easy to think of Funkadelic's fourth album as a bit of a mess in all kinds of ways. Its double-LP breadth is weighed down by a transitional and exploratory sound that wouldn't fully gel until Cosmic Slop. And a liner-notes association with the Process Church Of The Final Judgement had queasy critics chiding them for potential Manson and occult connections, inferences that wound up getting read into what were actually more acute social-justice-oriented lyrics. But this really is a defiantly rebellious record in a lot of ways, from its literal cannibal-Liberty/funky dollar bill album art to the message in the music itself. The seventeen minutes of Album One Side One are enough to leave a lasting impression, even through the lighter moments to follow: "You Hit The Nail On The Head" shouts down complacent power-mongers under Bernie's most fiery keyboards to date ("Just because you win the fight don't make you right/ Just because you give don't make you good"), "If You Don't Like The Effects, Don't Produce The Cause" chides a fair-weather underground stuck in a protestor-as-consumer mode ("You say you don't like what you're country's about/ Ain't you deep, in your semi-first class seat"), and "Everybody Is Going To Make It This Time" plays out like the recouping effort of a revolution that fell to a circular firing squad ("There's not a doubt in my mind/ If hunger and anger place the blame/ There won't be a country left to change").
From there, things flit around both thematically stylistically -- "Philmore" and its Creedence-via-James Brown energy (brought by Bootsy and Catfish Collins, fresh from the JB's themselves), a woozy-carnival update of '66 Parliaments swooner "That Was My Girl," string-stung demi-spiritual "A Joyful Process" -- but each song points to an intriguing direction rarely, if ever, taken by the band from '73 onwards. The best moments may be the most familiar ones, whether it's a serrated acid-rock soul ballad where Black Sabbath bleeds into Sunday service nodding to previous maggot-brained heaviness ("Miss Lucifer's Love"), or the rubbery pre-shocks of Bootsy-bounce future (the deceptively sunny-sounding junkie-punchline rawness of "Loose Booty"). Paring this down to a powerful single LP's worth might not be that difficult, but aside from the weepy-woo sentimentalism of masculine-sadness anthem "We Hurt Too," it's harder to figure out exactly what to discard.
Funkadelic, Uncle Jam Wants You (1979)
Dropped somewhere in between Disco Demolition Night and the beginning of the Iran Hostage Crisis, Uncle Jam Wants You parks Clinton in Huey Newton's chair, flanked by a flashlight and a bop gun, ready to do his part in recruiting an Army for the nation he aimed to put under his groove despite every sign of resistance cresting over the horizon. Some self-styled recruits, the Los Angeles collective known as Uncle Jamm's Army, would soon heed that call and start building the West Coast electro and hip-hop sound -- which, along with the decade-later incorporation of giddy dance marathon "(Not Just) Knee Deep" into De La Soul's "Me Myself & I," helped ensure this album's historical impact on both coasts would last a lot longer than most malaise-era listeners could've even dreamed. Let's hear it for not-so-small victories.
But impact on history's one thing; impact on the ears (and the feet) is another matter. And no matter how deep its core is, the truth of the matter is that Uncle Jam Wants You is an exceptional three-song album not-so-heavily concealed in an uneven six-cut LP. That seems like a bad ratio without factoring in timing: Why not cut some slack to a record with ten kinda-frothy, inessential minutes when the remaining 31 are some of the most diabolical grooves put down at the sunset of the '70s? "(Not Just) Knee Deep" you either know or damn well should know, a monolith of Junie Morrison synth-pulse power rendered even more transcendent with one of the greatest vocal-group ensemble performances in P-Funk history. (Give a good amount of credit to Philippe Wynne, the ex-Spinner making his first appearance in a sadly cut-short career of P-Funk membership.) Leading into that, you've got "Freak Of The Week," P-Funk's highest-profile answer to disco's domination of the circa-'79 dancefloor; its midtempo dip-stride strut isn't so much a damnation of the genre on the whole as a condemnation of the materialistic conformity overtaking it, with "(Not Just) Knee Deep" rescuing it from the blahs. And then the wigged-out "Uncle Jam" takes the funk to boot camp, with Clinton and Wynne chiming in as "thrill sergeants" ("disturbing the peace at the bridge of the river quiet!") egging on the trenches with hot-footed marching orders. Shrug if you want through the short instrumental "Field Maneuvers," the drastically out-of-place solo-piano ballad "Holly Wants To Go To California," and the dippy little reprise "Foot Soldiers (Star Spangled Funky)" -- you've already heard them at their peak.
Funkadelic, Live: Meadowbrook, Rochester, Michigan 12th September 1971 (1971/1996)
"Y'all got to kinda bear with us," apologizes Clinton at the onset of a loping intro to "I'll Bet You." "We got a new drummer here tonight... Tyrone. We gonna get it together anyhow, and go pee on your afro." This show should have been a complete disaster, and almost was. One of the only non-bootleg recordings of the original early '70s Westbound-era P-Funk -- there are a couple other scraps on Live: "The Funkadelic Collection" Greatest Hits 1972-1993 -- it happens to catch P-Funk with their pants down, and not the usual pants-down business that Clinton liked to get up to in concert when he was feeling streaky. Westbound owner and future sample-troll Armen Boladian figured he'd picked a good night to record the band for a potential future live LP release, overlooking the somewhat pertinent fact that drummer Tiki Fulwood and rhythm guitarist Tawl Ross jumped ship days before the concert and their replacements were in the process of being integrated into their new band. Stax sideman and guitarist Harold Beane, who'd stay with Funkadelic just long enough to contribute to America Eats Its Young before leaving, did all right. But Tyrone Lampkin, who'd stick around with P-Funk all the way through The Electric Spanking Of War Babies, had a problem. Fulwood was a strict on-the-one rhythm machine of a drummer, frequently powerful and prone to some heavy flourishes but otherwise rode right inside the pocket. Lampkin was an Apollo house band showman known for his jazz and big band "showtime" style. This conflict might have been possible to circumvent if these two new members had a chance to rehearse for the show. They hadn't.
And yet somehow, they pulled it all together -- not enough to overcome Boladian's after-the-fact assessment that the recording wasn't "commercial" enough, and not enough to convince Eddie Hazel and a particularly frustrated Billy Bass Nelson to stick around for the recording of Cosmic Slop (though Eddie'd return with a vengeance on Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On). But for a band that was maintaining a rep for out-of-control freakiness, the push-and-pull between Lampkin's drumming and Nelson's bass isn't enough to torpedo a hell of a set, one that captures a transitory mutation of Funkadelic in a particularly rare configuration. "Alice In My Fantasies" makes for a thundering opener, Hazel revealing new twists and heights in a six-minute jam that had previously only been available in its 2 ½-minute Standing on the Verge studio version. And even if the backbeat on concert staple/cosmic out-of-body experience "Maggot Brain" is a little more upfront and flashy than usual, Lampkin's measured intensity is a surer sign of things to come than the wild-hair-up-the-ass overplaying that temporarily derails "I Call My Baby Pussycat" completely. Things eventually start to gel the further the set goes on, with more opportunity to give the rest of the band -- and the singers in particular in the intricately harmonizing "All Your Goodies Are Gone (The Loser's Seat)" -- some much-needed breathing room. By Cosmic Slop, Lampkin had gone from sticking out to standing out, and getting to hear him make his first steps towards becoming one of the great rhythmic backbones of a peerless rhythmic band makes this concert oddity a priceless document.
Funkadelic, Funkadelic (1970)
After a few seconds of heavily reverbed lipsmacking slurps, the voice spills out in wild panning stereo: "If you will suck my soul, I will lick your funky emotions." Starting a new and definitive phase of a career with a declaration of pornographic metaphysics is how '50s doo-wop singer and '60s Motown aspirant George Clinton launched an empire of funk, and there's no mistaking his band's debut for anything other than the first salvo in an already characteristic assault on tired morals and square-assedness in general. Even if Funkadelic hadn't fully established who Funkadelic were -- Bootsy and Bernie hadn't made their mark yet, and many of the songs feature Motown session players (including uncredited appearances from Funk Brothers alumni Dennis Coffey, Bob Babbitt, and bandleader Earl Van Dyke) -- just what they were is clear from the get-go. "By the way, my name is Funk," intones Clinton in that opening cut, elliptically answering the titular question "Mommy, What's A Funkadelic?", adding on the well-that-explains-it statement "I am not of your world." Even while rattling off come-ons while floating along to a riff that doses "Whole Lotta Love" with some Real Good Shit, the wordplay-laden digressions and trickster sloganeering reveal a wise (and wise-ass) depth that one-upped every ad sales pitch on TV ("Let me play with your emotions/ For nothing is good unless you play with it"). By the time you're faced with "What Is Soul?", the other question bookending this album, answers like "a hamhock in your Corn Flakes" and "a joint rolled in toilet paper" make all the sense in the world.
Between those two queries lie two of P-Funk's earliest triumphs. "I Bet You" was a foot in the door, lent to the Jackson 5 that same year as an ABC album cut as an offering to Motown's post-Cloud Nine psychedelic dabblings but pushed here to its canyon-deep, in-the-red limits through six minutes of fevered intensity that established the colossal neck-snap thump of drummer Tiki Fulwood and slyly hinted at the future virtuoso depths of Eddie Hazel. The other watershed moment, the Fuzzy Haskins-penned "I Got A Thing, You Got A Thing, Everybody's Got A Thing," is like watching a volcano erupt: a burbling glow of harmonic soul calling for solidarity despite social differences crests into a thousand-degree explosion of Fulwood-propelled funk power. Add on some powerful connections to the old blues roots -- "Music For My Mother," "Good Old Music," and "Qualify & Satisfy" slot neatly somewhere between Wilson Pickett and Cream -- and it epitomizes the notion of the all-killer-no-filler LP for the R&B world. Psychedelic soul had been done before, but never so heavily, so wildly, or so deeply in tune with a future few were so committed to both seeing and creating. Even at this early stage, Funkadelic perfectly split the difference between Jimi Hendrix and Sly & The Family Stone in a year where both artists were lost to tragic death and studio solitude respectively. They didn't just fill that gap, they carved their own niche. And it'd only grow wider from there.
Funkadelic, Hardcore Jollies (1976)
Behold: the rare example of a band leaving a regional indie for a massive corporate record label and somehow not missing a step. Well, not a big step, anyways -- precursor Let's Take It To The Stage is a damn sight wilder, and the first Funkadelic LP on Warner Bros., Hardcore Jollies, is light on both politics and raunch. Don't go in looking for a conceptual hook, a surplus of scandalous slogans, or a great leap sideways into a new and revolutionary way of twisting your head around -- it's just a pretty good funk album with most of the core '73-'75 personnel. But considering what Funkadelic wound turn into nearly two years later, it's good to think of this last blast of original-flavor style as a high note. Even if it is fairly slick.
But there's grime beneath the gloss, and if songs like "Comin' Round The Mountain" and "Smokey" get a little Sloofus with it, the heart of the album (or the butt, if you will) has a spring-loaded motion. With the de-emphasis on heavy lyrics -- "You Scared The Lovin' Outta Me" and its "eat this for me" innuendo are as out-there as it gets -- the real draw of Hardcore Jollies is in the musical technique. Sometimes that means in a vocal sense, like when the repetitive chants of "Comin' Round The Mountain" gradually and wonderfully spill out into freewheeling vamps. But this one's really for the guitar fiends -- the record is dedicated, simply enough, to "the guitar players of the world" -- with Michael Hampton in charge of what the credits refer to as "Superhyperbolic Definite Guitar Spastics." That's one way of putting it -- and probably the best way, really; getting a live redux of the then-still-recent "Cosmic Slop," filler in any other context, is gloriously justified by its elaborately Hampton-ized guitar-shred turbocharging. The keening Hampton-Worrell guitar-synth duel on "Adolescent Funk" is all the message its wordless structure needs, and the title track instrumental is Exhibit A for justifying all the weedly-weedly-wow noodling you want just so long as you channel real euphoria through it and there's a heavy motor of a beat to back it up (take a bow, Bigfoot Brailey). And to think the kids went for Ace Frehley instead.
Parliament, Live (P.Funk Earth Tour) (1977)
While Funkadelic were getting used to being in the Warner Bros. ranks, Parliament had found their association with Casablanca Records to be a gigantic windfall: all that KISS and Donna Summer money was enough to give them the freedom to do their own super-elaborate concert set-up, inspired in part by their face-painted labelmates and stadium-filling peers like Pink Floyd. What this meant, naturally, was a philosophy that if people were going to pay big bucks for a concert, they deserved more than a concert. The Casablanca higher-ups were fine with this, what with Clinton being more of an inspiration-filled, image-savvy idea man than just about anyone in the label's marketing department. So they gave him a spaceship.
The Mothership became inseparable from the image of P-Funk, even if the original article wound up lost and/or sold for scrap. But its centerpiece presence in P-Funk shows -- Clinton emerging from its massive structure through walls of dry ice as Dr. Funkenstein -- doesn't really translate in audio form. Neither do the interstitial animated cartoons, the costumes, the shiny plush limousine, or the dozens-strong crowd of musicians and singers flooding the stage. So to call Parliament's '77 live album Live (P.Funk Earth Tour) an incomplete experience is kind of a truism. Of course the legendary Earth Tour is even better seen than heard, which is thankfully a possibility if you can get ahold of the DVD, George Clinton: The Mothership Connection, that features a videotaped performance of an early tour stop in Houston on Halloween 1976. But that's not what makes this live release feel a little out of joint.
The thing is that the Earth Tour was a Parliament-Funkadelic tour, which means putting it out as an album meant Casablanca had to stick solely to the Parliament bits. This set, pieced together from two January '77 stops in Los Angeles and Oakland, does a decent job of it, at least. That owes to a quartet of giddy peaks: an opening slow burn to a lightning-strike powerful rendition of "P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)," the Mothership sequence and its breath-snatching "Swing Down, Sweet Chariot" coda (cruelly split and put on separate sides), a deranged fifteen-minute extended vampathon version of "Dr. Funkenstein," and the closing salvo pairing "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)" and a revved-up "Night Of The Thumpasorus Peoples." And the show as a whole -- or at least the whole we get -- is rousing from start to frequently-interrupted finish. But rough, Funkadelic-excising edits chop up the setlist's flow, as does the insertion of a couple OK-ish studio cuts ("This Is The Way We Funk With You" and Invictus-era Parliament remake "Fantasy Is Reality). At least "The Landing (Of The Holy Mothership)" is a neat novelty if you've ever wanted to hear the classic Parliament catalogue in Dickie Goodman-style cut-up newscast form.
Parliament, Chocolate City (1975)
Parliament's second album for Westbound is remembered for two particularly distinct reasons. The first is that title, and the title track, and all the implications thereof: Its moment arrived at the crest of post-Nixon government disillusionment, and drew vast imaginative power by combining a corruption-ousting power-to-the-people agenda with an envisioning of a completely new hierarchy of cultural leaders. Inspired by hearing a news report highlighting Washington D.C.'s 80% black population, Clinton's slyly outlined grab of the governmental reins and visions of a power long denied ("They still call it the White House, but that's a temporary condition, too") is simultaneously optimistic and absurdist. His leaders of tomorrow include a President Muhammad Ali and First Lady Aretha Franklin rather than a Harvard-educated community organizer turned law scholar, but christening Stevie Wonder secretary of fine arts was a right-on notion given the man's musician-activist role in getting MLK's birthday recognized as a national holiday. And even among all the punchlines ("Richard Pryor, Minister Of Education!") was the acknowledgment that "We've got Newark, we've got Gary/Somebody told me we got L.A/And we're working on Atlanta" -- all of a sudden, "you don't need the bullet when you got the ballot."
The political insights largely vanish after that stirring intro, but that's where the other great thing about Chocolate City comes into play: Bootsy Collins goes nuts. This is the album where Bootzilla discovered the Mu-tron III, a synthesized envelope-controlled filter that, in layman's terms, was capable of creating what has come to be known as Space Bass. So an already liquid-smooth, heavy-as-a-lead-elephant playing style was channeled through a seething, sizzling electronic warble of a wah-wah, and thus you get this huge chunk of rowwrrrrr with every resonant note of bass in the low end. Once it sinks its talons into the motion of "Ride On" it doesn't let go, giving an already bottom-heavy bounce this spaced-out state of seeming cranked to the point of being blown out but actually gliding nice and smooth, a hovercraft disguised as a monster truck. It's such an arresting element -- slicing its way through the spring-stepped "Together," rolling its shoulders like a stalking big cat on "Side Effects," dislodging floorboards with every emphatic stomp on "What Comes Funky." Factor in Bernie Worrell's increasing contributions to the songwriting and composition, and the core of what would become Peak Parliament was just a little more refinement -- and about eight months -- away from unstoppable greatness.
Funkadelic, Free Your Mind ... And Your Ass Will Follow (1970)
In a lot of ways, Funkadelic's second album feels like an echo of the first. In the heart of the record, you get some single-worthy acid-soul cuts with hit potential, spanning both ends of the R&B-psychedelia continuum while making it feel less of a straight line than an Ouroboros. And the first and last tracks are both wigged-out journeys through a fully dilated third eye, all reverb and yelling and pitch-tweaked creature voices and phantasmagorical prayers. There are some crucial differences, however. One of them is that the band personnel is more centralized and sans session players; Bernie Worrell, having charged his way valiantly through Funkadelic highlight "I Got A Thing," is now the full-time keyboard player. Another difference separating this album from its predecessor is that Clinton reputedly got the band to record the whole thing in a day or so while tripping on LSD. So this is one of those special instances where, if somebody experiencing this album claims that "they must've been high when they came up with this," you can at least nominally confirm their suspicion.
And what do you know -- it worked. The titular opening track isn't the most coherent thing in the world: it segues from a Forbidden Planet synth-burble soup into a stereo-panning nightmare of spark-throwing instrumentation so overdriven it's easy to mistake Worrell's organ for Hazel's guitar. All the while, Clinton and Ray Davis howl maniacal liberation urges in an attempt to escape their mental traps ("I can't feel me, I can't live me, I can't be me/ My mind, it does not belong to me/ I'm so confused"), and Tiki Fulwood's metronomic drumming is the hand that stays on yours to make sure you're not setting a panic-driven route to the window. But en route to "Eulogy And Light" and its ingenious Psalm 23-warping deconstruction of ghetto-capitalist mentality -- "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of poverty/ I must feel their envy/ For I am loaded, high and all those other goodies/ That go along with the good god big buck" -- there's a staggering amount of soul-searching intensity, almost all of it harrowing, beautiful, damning, and life-affirming all at once.
The pendulum-vertigo sway of "Friday Night, August 14th" and the buzzsaw blues of "Funky Dollar Bill" pair up for a clever stretch of internal struggle -- splurge your income tax return one moment, think over just how that process corrupts the people around you the next -- in one of their first stabs at intra-album thematic unity. "I Wanna Know If It's Good To You" is a love song heavier than almost any heart can handle, riding on both astounding soul-sonnet lyrics ("You make my heartbeat sweeter than the honey that replaced the rain since I met you") and the grimiest desert-sun distorto-rock that Jimi Hendrix never got the chance to be humbled by. And "Some More" fantastically corrupts contemporary soul by rearranging 1966's Clinton-penned Debonaires single "Headache In My Heart" into a lurching liquid-brained nightmare with the kind of aluminum-cavern production rarely heard until King Tubby sat at the controls. Stay away from drugs, kids -- if only because there's no way you'll do anything under the influence as revelatory as this.
Parliament, Up For The Down Stroke (1974)
While Funakdelic were a powerful fusion of rock and soul on wax, they were near-nonentities on radio -- college and freeform FM rock stations dug 'em, but they weren't reaching all the audiences that Clinton had hoped. He wanted pop and R&B airwaves, too, and once he got the Parliament name back from crumbling former home Invictus, he used that as his ticket to the top ten. A fortuitous meeting with Neil Bogart of Casablanca Records gave them a home, a few old-school Parliaments singles reworked to more ambitious standards gave them a kick-start, and Up For The Down Stroke put them in record stores, a new branch of the expanding George Clinton artistic empire that would bring Funkadelic's creative nucleus straight into a Top 40 spotlight. It was something of a paradigm shift, but its success hinged on the kinds of things they'd already been doing; all they had to do was shine it up nice, dial back the freakout stuff, and drop in some horns.
Which kind of understates just what they pulled off with Up For The Down Stroke. Of those three re-recordings, one of them, "Testify," stands as a particularly joyous highlight, a revamp of the band's harmonic roots that put their ensemble of voices front and center. (At least for the early pressings; later versions revealed somebody must've caught on to how potent that clavinet/horn section exchange was and pushed it up in the mix, whittling it down to a Clinton solo vocal on the verses.) The other two, the slinky, sizzling Tiki Fulwood-vs.-drum machine tour de force "The Goose" and the whispery, piano-driven head-nodder "All Your Goodies Are Gone," pull off the same feat of making the still-strong originals feel like redundant first drafts. Then, of course, there's the title track, a top 10 R&B hit that gave P-Funk their first notable brush with the charts since (ironically enough) "(I Wanna) Testify" in 1967; in a year when bottom-heavy, slogan-chanting funk jams were flooding the airwaves from MFSB to B.T. Express, Parliament went above and beyond with their own; the way the song turns on the "when you're hot, you're hot" bridge and the horn section soars into the stratosphere is the kind of controlled-launch euphoria that hadn't been possible with Funkadelic's sprawling, guitar-driven sound. There were a lot of other chances for Parliament to infiltrate the pop consciousness further down the road; this was just the one filled with the most possibility.
Parliament, The Clones Of Dr. Funkenstein (1976)
Clinton's enthusiasm for science fiction was a long-in-the-making part of his identity, whether it made its way into his sociological philosophy or informed his on-stage persona -- pardon the redundancy. In 1975, as the only passenger on the Dallas airport's shuttle train, he found a sci-fi novel about clones that held his attention and started stirring the creative process. Once his next flight landed in Portland, he hit the library on a mission to learn as much as he could about genetic engineering and the battle between mortality and science -- enter Dr. Funkenstein. Where Mothership Connection first floated the idea of an overarching P-Funk mythos, helmed by an extraterrestrial traveler bringing funk to planet Earth à la The Day The Earth Stood Still gone Wattstax, The Clones Of Dr. Funkenstein revealed that this Star Child answered to a galactic emperor with a Boys From Brazil lab, except with funkateers instead of Nazis.
It is, on the whole, goofy as all hell in the best ways. After all, musicians might age, but cartoons never do, and Funkenstein's crew put forth a looney toons version of themselves that dialed up the outlandishness of their alter-ego history to preposterous levels. In the words of the prelude track: "Funk upon a time, in the days of the Funkapus, the concept of specially-designed Afronauts capable of funkatizing galaxies was first laid on man-child, but was later repossessed and placed among the secrets of the pyramids until a more positive attitude towards this most sacred phenomenon, Clone Funk, could be acquired." That's one way of saying the listening public wasn't ready for a band this out-there, but what with Mothership Connection going platinum and hitting #13 on the Billboard Hot 100, it's clear that they were -- and Dr. Funkenstein actually followed through by making their sound just a little less outrageous. Not that much less outrageous, thankfully. There aren't many elaborate solos, and it's heavier on the hooks, but it's relentlessly fun and bright; the horn arrangements that Fred Wesley concocted with Bernie Worrell wound up being some of the liveliest to date in the whole P-Funk catalogue. "Children of Production," "Gettin' To Know You," and especially the soaring charge of "Funkin' For Fun" enshrined the Horny Horns as the not-so-secret sauce that made Parliament impossible to duplicate -- well, except maybe from within.
P-Funk All-Stars, Live At The Beverly Theatre In Hollywood (1983/1990)
For a band considered to be one of the most spectacular live acts of its day -- including when "its day" were the years they spent almost entirely on the road -- P-Funk have a relative dearth of wide-release concert albums. (At least ones that are easily accessible -- for this list, I've limited it to the commercially available stuff you could get on Westbound or Casablanca; factoring in micro-indie releases, import oddities, and bootlegs would have us here all day.) Live At The Beverly Theatre is one of the only recordings you can get of the P-Funk in the tumultuous early-'80s days, where what seemed like the waning possibilities of what the band were capable of in the '70s got a jolt of energy from the success of Clinton's "Atomic Dog." Why this record wasn't released until 1990 is a mystery -- despite the absence of Bootsy Collins, most of the original Horny Horns, or any of their pre-'79 drummers, it's as definitive a slice of P-Funkanalia as you could hope for from a live record of the time. Drummer Dennis Chambers and bassist Rodney "Skeet" Curtis, who provided the elastic spine of the original Uncle Jam Wants You standout "(Not Just) Knee Deep," make for a strong rhythm section; Chambers is a straight-up virtuoso prone to sneaking some rubbery blast-beats into the pocket, while Curtis's groove is a little slappier than Bootsy's space bass but still sounds supple (check for him on "One Nation Under A Groove") and keeps pace with a marathon set that frequently ratchets up the pace to a metallic frenzy. And the The P. Funk Horns -- at least what you can hear of them; they're kind of low in the mix -- are strong enough to serve as more than just a consolation prize. (Maceo Parker's there, too -- playing flute. On... "Maggot Brain"? Well, damn.)
And then there's the most eye-popping detail: Michael "Kidd Funkadelic" Hampton and Eddie Hazel, playing in the same band. P-Funk's two most renowned guitarists could be considered co-owners of "Maggot Brain," which Hazel helmed in Funkadelic's early years and Hampton adopted upon Hazel's departure. But we get them both in this version, dueling and intertwining and harmonizing for what could be the greatest version of the song on record -- that DeWayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight throws in his own euphoric shredding only adds icing to the cake. The presence of so many phenomenal guitarists -- Cordell "Boogie" Mosson and Garry Shider round out the Mothership axe-slinger dream team here -- factors in on how wild and heavy so many of these performances are; "Cosmic Slop" and "(Not Just) Knee Deep" in particular are nearly Rust Never Sleeps serrated, and even Parliament cuts like "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)" and "Flash Light" get the Funkadelic acid-rock touch. And just about every song has this unhinged, supercharged vibe to it; once a relatively subdued "Do That Stuff"-driven intro sets the stage, everything starts escalating into a frenzied energy level that rockets through "Give Up The Funk" and runs rampant all the way through a nearly double-time run through "Flash Light." (In the process, they wind up making even the early, thrashy Red Hot Chili Peppers sound like quiet storm in comparison.) Like the best P-Funk shows, this show thrives on the hectic balance of sheer improvisational freak-out unpredictability and the core of relentlessly on-the-one steadiness, and its obscurity compared to the more commercially-available, less batshit Live: P-Funk Earth Tour is an absolute shame. Anybody who wants to doubt the power of this set, just know this: Prince was in the audience, and when he inducted Parliament-Funkadelic into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, he claimed that the moment the show ended, inspiration struck for him to write "Erotic City."
Funkadelic, Let's Take It To The Stage (1975)
If pressure creates diamonds, then something in Let's Take It To The Stage must have been fueled at least a little by Clinton's desire to wrest Funkadelic free from the flimsy supports (or lack thereof) at Westbound. The after-the-fact contractual obligation would come later (via Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic), but Funkadelic kicked the door down on the way out, filling Let's Take It To The Stage with a barrage of limber heavy funk anthems and hard-hitting sub-three-minute numbers that played up all their best sides. This is where William Collins fully became Bootsy, who augmented his nascent Space Bass sound on "Be My Beach" with the first instance of his characteristic Snagglepuss-gone-Hendrix voice and knot-tying referential come-ons ("I'd just like to be your bridge over troubled waters mama... dig while I smoke on it"). It's got maybe their freakiest revamp of an older tune, a towering death-sludge monster called "Baby I Owe You Something Good," with a stunning lead by original Parliaments singer "Cool" Cal Simon. And it's where they came up with maybe their purest mission statement -- "Shit! Goddamn! Get off your ass and jam!" -- with the help of a random, unknown white junkie kid who found his way into the studio and offered to sit in on guitar for $25; the result was one of the most breath-snatching solos you'll ever hear. (So Clinton gave the kid $50. He vanished, and they never did identify him.)
It's also one of their most combative albums -- not to confuse combativeness with hostility, more like an extra-heavy dose of the dozens. The title track is a call for a cutting session, Clinton pulling cards on "Fool And The Gang," "Sloofus," and "Earth, Hot Air, And No Fire" in the process of cranking out the kinds of filthy nursery rhymes Andrew "Dice" Clay would shamelessly gank. And as often as the music rides like good-natured, stank-riddled disco-funk, there's deep distress between the lines: the ache for comfort in music in gorgeous ballad "The Song Is Familiar," a defense against spirit-killing hedonism in "Better By The Pound" ("Feeling good is the bait Satan uses to fish for you and me"), and the manipulative exchange between groupie and doorman in "No Head No Backstage Pass." It's an unsettling vibe to the last of the truly heavy Funkadelic records, a facet that would fall away once they hit Warner Bros. and started transmogrifying into a Parliament without horns.
Funkadelic, Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On (1974)
Guitarist Eddie Hazel was one of the most characteristic driving forces behind all of P-Funk, especially in the early years -- but he was mostly absent from the band in '72 and '73 due to financial disputes. One way to resolve disputes like that is to give an artist more of a say in the songwriting process, and that's what Hazel got for Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On, the album that most strongly solidified Funkadelic as a band that could hit every angle of both styles their portmanteau name implied. Under cover of the credit "Grace Cook" -- which helped Hazel duck contractual rights problems and got his mother a nice little tribute in the process -- he and Clinton built the foundation for a classic that bursts forth like a bolt of broadsword-wielding freak metal, a million-millimeter shell fired across Led Zeppelin's bow.
Give Parliament some of the credit for that; with the crew's funkier aspirations channeled (quite successfully) into Up For The Down Stroke, the near-concurrently-recorded Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On was where all the Heavy Shit went. Even the proto-disco groove of the barn-burner title cut steps high in spiked iron platforms; you could pair it with Zep's funk stab "Trampled Under Foot" and make the latter seem like coffeehouse music. (It helps when you have the best call-and-response ever.) Elsewhere you've got the jawbreaker opening pair of "Red Hot Mama" and "Alice In My Fantasies," two dysfunctional love songs which escalate a portrait of country-girl-meets-city-hedonism all the way to a series of bizarre kink negotiations ("I said 'uh, lady, be my dog and I'll be your tree/ And you can pee on me"). And the boogie-woogie put-on "Jimmy's Got A Little Bitch In Him" outflanks Frank Zappa on both the gay solidarity and pop-art-doo-wop-scuz-rock fronts ("Why frown? Even the sun go down"). That makes the album's two great elegiac guitar workout dirges -- the abandoned-lover lament "I'll Stay" and the ether-frolic sermon of "Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts" -- all the more striking, especially in how they ground the heaviness in the humane.
Funkadelic, Cosmic Slop (1973)
If America Eats Its Young was a scattershot sprawl that couldn't decide whether Funkadelic were an acid rock band or a weirdo-soul band, a protest group or a party-starter, Cosmic Slop was where they threw mutual exclusion in the garbage and streamlined all that identity-crisis stuff into their first great self-reinvention. There's a catch -- there always is -- in that Eddie Hazel wouldn't be back until the following LP, and the band on the whole is at their most compact and stripped-down (though you wouldn't know by hearing it). On the other hand, you've got the most lyrically gonzo songwriting than any Funkadelic LP before and quite possibly since, its politics thrive on gallows humor and lysergic spirituality, and the cover is the first of many Salvador Dali-meets-Sergio Aragones works by Pedro Bell, one of those rare artists who you could swear spilled his ink right in the grooves of the LP itself.
The mood does careen a bit; "Nappy Dugout," the gyno-euphemistic bass strut from the rubber factory supervision of "Boogie" Mosson, shares a side with the PTSD reality check of the "Johnny Comes Marching Home"-quoting 'Nam vet dirge "March To The Witch's Castle." But that's more noticeable because each mood, whether levity or agony, is the product of every writer, composer, and player falling so deep into each song's that coming up for air is a shock. "Witch's Castle" aside -- and put it aside at your own risk; it's a harrowing masterpiece -- the old-fashioned R&B ballad "This Broken Heart" is the only other downer, and a damn pretty one, thanks to Calvin Simon's waist-deep tenor. But even the more upbeat songs have downbeat casts to them, whether it's the pimp-on-trial "Trash A-Go-Go," the hyperbolic post-breakup self-pity of "You Can't Miss What You Can't Measure," or the immortal title cut, where the Devil's latest dance craze scores the cost of living for a single mother driven to prostitute herself to support her children.
To keep at least some sign of high spirits, it takes something as frivolously pornographic (and hilarious) as "No Compute," a Clinton monologue detailing his mishaps in trying to sweet-talk his way into a little action: "I said, 'All looks are not alike, all holes are not a crack. When in doubt, vamp. Or at least ad-lib. And of course you know that spit don't make babies.'" And even though he succeeds, it's at the cost of a bad case of post-coital ennui (and getting "sick with the filthies"). That points to the dark heart of the album: There's a sign of love gone wrong in every single track past "Nappy Dugout," from the been-burned-before pleas of "Let's Make It Last" to the fading connection of "Can't Stand The Strain;" even the soldier marching off to the witch's castle had his loved one remarry because she thought he was dead. In effect, Funkadelic gave the world the anti-Let's Get It On -- and it's just as great at making love feel like pain as Gaye's summer-of-'73 classic is at making it feel like heaven.
Funkadelic, One Nation Under A Groove (1978)
Funkadelic went nearly two full years without releasing an album, thanks to a busy schedule on the Parliament side of things -- including, but by no means limited to, the Earth Tour, the recording of Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome, and its followup Motor Booty Affair, and the rapid emergence of all sorts of solo-member side projects. And yet when Funkadelic came back in September of '78, it wasn't only a dramatic triumph of a re-emergence, it brought one of the most important later-period members into the group. Walter "Junie" Morrison was a natural fit for P-Funk; they'd been Westbound labelmates when he was in the Ohio Players, doing incomprehensible, wonderful things with ARP synthesizers and a funny "Granny" voice and pouring the foundation for an entire cosmopolis's worth of g-funk tropes. (Any bio of his that doesn't mention "Funky Worm" as soon as possible should be sent back for rewrite.) Junie had become good friends with Garry Shider somewhere along the line, and he found himself in the P-Funk fold soon enough. There, he wasted approximately zero time making his mark: the first track he co-wrote and arranged was "One Nation Under A Groove," which sold a million and topped the R&B charts for a year's-best six straight weeks. A catalytic impact like that from the addition of one particularly talented man hadn't been felt so strongly since the Yankees signed Reggie Jackson the previous year.
As the co-writer of nearly every track on the original LP -- not counting the bonus 45 (and more on that later) -- Junie wound up making his first impressions on what also turned out to be an amazing ensemble effort at redefining what Funkadelic meant as an entity. By late '78, psychedelia was long distant, hard rock was becoming infused with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, and radio had never been more blatantly segregated -- Phil Lynott aside, practically every voice you heard on AOR was white. That could be why the wigged-out Iwo Jima scene on the cover is raising a red, black, and green flag with "R&B" emblazoned on it -- but it could also be why they cranked out the electrifying, genre-fusing anthem "Who Says A Funk Band Can't Play Rock?!" (which Clinton calls "a sequel to 'Mommy, What's A Funkadelic?'"). With Funkadelic's place in the micro-programmed, fragmented and segmented rock 'n' roll world of the late '70s in limbo, they seem driven to find another way. And they reach it under the guidance of Michael Hampton's guitar -- needling and searing on "Who Says...", burbling like a sudden stormcloud's raindrops on the Latin-inflected "Groovalegiance," and shaming every mellow-flashy L.A. session man with his freewheeling licks on "Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doodoo Chasers)." Throw in the 45, and you're also rewarded with the acetylene-torch heat of his performance on "Lunchmeataphobia (Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet!)" and a live-recorded, then-rare Hamptonization of "Maggot Brain" that severs heartstrings with surgical finesse.
On top of that, it's the most quotable P-Funk record going, with its towering title cut and its purposeful get-down motivation ("Here's a chance to dance our way out of our constrictions") only the beginning. There has never been an exercise in scatology more profoundly ridiculous than "Enema Squad," an extrapolation of the then-in-vogue sentiment that "shit happens" into a cranial-proctology diagnosis ("The world is a toll-free toilet/ Our mouths neurological assholes/ And psychologically speaking/ We're in a state of mental diarrhea") that prescribes a musical remedy. "Cholly (Funk Get Ready To Roll)" is funk-as-epiphany in peak form. And even deep cut "Into You," which gets relatively short-shrift attention-wise, has a hell of a first verse declaration: "I can't get into the neutron bomb." Once the album's overarching message gets together -- unclog your mind, shake off your preconceptions, and let funk give you a new homeland -- all that's left to do is salute.
Parliament, Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome (1977)
"You will dance ... sucka!"
It's tempting to just leave it at that -- the battle between Star Child and anti-dance chump Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk is one of the great pop conflicts of the 1970s, the character arc that defined Parliament from Mothership Connection all the way until the end. Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome is where it all started, a metaphorical conflict between loose, freaky freedom and paralyzing "too cool to dance" uptightness that aimed at everything from "placebo" music to the potential for complete self-actualization. (The -entelechy suffix comes from the Aristotlean philosophy denoting that very condition.) Sir Nose, whom Clinton based partially on a good-looking but bugfuck crazy acquaintance from back home in Plainfield, made for a unique nemesis: Depicted as a target of Star Child's bop-gun on the sleeve (both characters, incidentally, were portrayed by Clinton), he initially received sympathy and even defense from concert crowds reluctant to see a slick, stylish pimp-type get mocked for faking the funk. It was almost like they were being confronted with the idea that their heroes were bullshit -- punk rock didn't have the circa-'77 monopoly on that sentiment.
Of course, Parliament wound up heroes themselves with this album. As successful as Mothership Connection and The Clones Of Dr. Funkenstein were, Funkentelechy didn't just give them their third R&B Top 5/Hot 100 top 20 album, but their first #1 R&B single. That song was the closing "Flash Light," the crowning moment of triumph against Sir Nose's obstinacy and one of the most deeper-than-deep funk anthems to hit airwaves and brainwaves. A Bootsy-arranged guitar-and-bass track in original form, Clinton's itch to make something more out-there with its structure led him to get Bernie to reproduce the sound on a triple-Moog setup that became the pop music world's most definitive fully-synthesized bassline; between its divebombing laser-dogfight melodies and the "ha da da dee da hada hada da da" chant (nicked from a melody Clinton heard as a kid at a friend's bar mitzvah), it's one of their most infectiously life-affirming songs. At the other end of the LP, "Bop Gun (Endangered Species)" gets the proceedings started on an equally high note, establishing the future Brides Of Funkenstein (Lynn Mabry and Dawn Silva) as a newly crucial part of the P-Funk sound. The ten-minute cartoon extravagonzo "Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk (Pay Attention)" and the hundred-cylinder motorvation of "Funkentelechy" feature respectively sneaky and unsubtle twists around the one, flaunting two of Bootsy's most sinuous basslines as compensation for Bernie's closing Minimoog workout stealing the low-end spotlight (neon light, street light, etc.). Clinton stated in his autobiography that Funkentelechy would be the one P-Funk record he'd take to the moon. Not to dispute the man, but that local still feels a little too terrestrial for this album.
Parliament, Motor Booty Affair (1978)
To get an idea of just how hard it was for Clinton to turn his brain off, one of the wildest, most inspired, goofiest and yet most profound Parliament album concepts was inspired during one of his Miami fishing trips. Most people wouldn't brainstorm off a cartoon lure mascot called Mr. Wiggles, or extrapolate "motor boat" into Motor City into "Motor Booty," and yet here we are: an album about raising Atlantis from the bottom of the sea using the power of funk. Like the not-so-White House dreams of Chocolate City and the outer-space Afronautics of Mothership Connection and Funkentelechy, Motor Booty Affair slips in a message of black utopia that allows for the inhuman, superhuman, metahuman, and all-around ultrahuman to reach a communal potential that lives through the power of funk, funk in this case being the liberating force that helps people discover their true selves. Also there are fish jokes. A shit-ton of fish jokes.
Clinton was obsessed with making a funk record as ornate and elaborate as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and that shines through in Motor Booty Affair's dedication to world-building genre-hopping and pure conceptual density in an almost cinematic way. The MC/party organizer introduces himself ("Mr. Wiggles"), the antagonists appear (Sir Nose's saboteur sidekick "Rumpofsteelskin," with "dynamite sticks by the megatons in his butt"), there's a love scene ("(You're A Fish And I'm A) Water Sign"), the antagonists get what's coming to them ("Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)"), there's an extended party ("One Of Those Funky Thangs"; "Liquid Sunshine"; the Howard Codsell soiree-reportage of the title track), and the whole thing climaxes as they "raise Atlantis to the top/ With the bop" at the finale of the sociological turmoil-riddled "Deep." That this final track is their most explicit, omnidirectional assault on political cynicism, union corruption, and laid-bare racism -- there's even a Sieg Heil! chant in there somewhere -- just makes it the most anthemic R&B protest song of the late '70s.
Like the other '78 P-Funk classic of that year, Junie Morrison had a major presence in this album's loopy, ornate sensibility. What Junie brought to One Nation Under A Groove was a revelation; what he added to his first Parliament album was an overload. And not one of those that leaves you out of energy, either -- in following with Clinton's grand-scope aspirations for a song-and-dance blowout of a record, he works with Bernie, Bootsy, and horn arranger Richard "Kush" Griffith to make this their absolute peak in going all-out with hyperactive synthesizers, booming brass fanfares, and contortionist basslines. First-side cuts like the synchronized sleekness of hit "Aqua Boogie" and the twitchy glide of "Rumpofsteelskin" brought the party jams, while the staggering second side -- featuring the most rousing synth/bass/vocals interplay in the whole P-Funk discography -- hits the dancefloor and the headspace at the same time with both barrels. The only thing dislodging the hooks from each of these songs are the ones on the subsequent tracks -- the burbling undersea vocals of "One Of Those Funky Thangs" into the psych-pop-disco chorus of "Liquid Sunshine," into the 20,000-league-deep bass bounce of "The Motor-Booty Affair," into the martial groove of "Deep" and its synthesized low-end charge. This is the last P-Funk record that really felt like a major event, a massive undertaking that capped an overstuffed stretch filled with hectic tours and copious side projects that proved to be the final year of P-Funk's peak. And they went out spectacularly.
Funkadelic, Maggot Brain (1971)
Eddie Hazel's strength as a guitarist was this: What virtuosity he had (and he had a ton) always felt like it was in the service of pure emotional expression. As large as the spirit of Hendrix loomed as an acknowledged precedent, Hazel had just as much John Coltrane in him, and "Maggot Brain" -- the album and its heart-snatching opening salvo of a title cut -- is his A Love Supreme. Which is to say it's a deeply spiritual performance, albeit arguably tied more towards a personal perspective than any higher-power acknowledgment. George Clinton famously told Hazel to play like his mother'd just died, and in one take he cranked out nearly ten minutes of music that sounded like a direct line to his own anguish. All Clinton had to do in post was add enough Echoplex to make it sound like it was emanating from the sun. If "Stairway To Heaven" was 1971 guitar rock's equivalent of magical realism, "Maggot Brain" is a documentary, though shot with the same cameras Kubrick used for A Clockwork Orange.
Hazel's masterclass extends far past the title track, of course, and it does so in ways that complement the fact that everyone else in the band is at the top of their game: using his wah-wah wailing as a logical extension of Bernie's Jimmy Smith-trumping church-of-acid organ on "Hit It And Quit It," skulking in the background of "You And Your Folks, Me And My Folks" as the rhythm section breaks concrete like a slow-motion jackhammer, or leading everyone in a Hitchcock-goes-heavy metal charge to personify the closing phrase "You've lost the fight and the winner is fear" in overdose nightmare "Super Stupid."
Just beneath that breathtaking musicianship -- listen for Tiki Fulwood's locomotive drums, or the Parliament-ary intricacy of the gospel-soul vocals on the bucolic bummer of "Can You Get To That" -- lies one of the great underrated meditations on The Death Of The Sixties, a jaundiced if bracing look at squandered potential and drugged-out solipsism that came out the other end both wiser and more frustrated. There's no better line to expand a breakup song into a glimpse into an expanded American condition than the couplet that opens "Can You Get To That" -- "I once had a life, or rather, life had me/ I was one among many, or at least I seemed to be" -- except maybe the bridge, which reads like a metaphor for affection as debt ("When you base your love on credit/ And your loving days are done/ Checks you signed with love and kisses later come back signed 'Insufficient Funds'") but is paraphrased from MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech. And "You And Your Folks" takes the structure of the typical "let's all get together" protest-song calls for unity and sinks into hard-earned cynicism, where class divisions and threats of annihilation make their "we all got a thing" pleas feel starkly desperate. There's a damn good reason this album starts with a struggle to "rise above it all or drown in my own shit," and ends with the "Freedom! Now" chants of "Wars Of Armageddon" -- it's one of the most cathartic R&B albums ever made, even in its quieter moments, the audio answer to what that face on the cover is screaming about.
Parliament, Mothership Connection (1975)
Or: Sweet Chariots Of The Gods?, a gospel record about finding a connection with ancient aliens and the universe's wider origins through the power of funk. It's not a complicated concept, and it feels nearly as parodic of its interstellar-traveller vibe as it does sincere ("Are you hip to Easter Island? The Bermuda Triangle?") -- but it took the pop-culture sway of its New Age-y contemporary influences somewhere special. It's one of those cases where a veteran act's unexpected breakthrough couples with a series of notable firsts -- their first album to feature Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker, their first to go platinum, their first to kick off the idea of an interconnected Parliament mythos with the introduction of the character Star Child -- and gels into an album widely agreed by casual fans and hardcore enthusiasts alike to be their best.
It's almost deceptively simple to figure out why: it's their hookiest, their most chantable, the one with the most band-defining quotes that wound up defining so many people outside the band. "Make my funk the P-Funk/ I want my funk uncut" (what's up, Dr. Dre); "If you hear any noise/It's just me and the boys" (word to Dave Parker); literally every single line in "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)" (greetings to all citizens of the universe). And it's absurd in its stick-in-your-craw sense of fun, even when it's kind of mean. The one questionable track, the excessively woman-possessive "Handcuffs," still self-mocks its ridiculousness in feeling more like a parody of sexism than a reinforcement of it ("I don't care about looking like a chauvinistic kinda whatever"); with George being inspired to write it by some turns of phrase from L.A. hookup Janet McLaughlin, a woman with the same get-your-hooks-in attitude towards men, he wound up giving her a writing credit.
Of course, it's also a major triumph of arranging and composing: getting Fred and Maceo onboard was one of the biggest coups in R&B history, the James Brown band's key horn players adding another level of sophistication to Parliament's sound without jeopardizing the overall outrageousness. (Adding session vets the Brecker Brothers and CTI fixture Joe Farrell into the brass ranks sure didn't hurt.) The Bernie/Bootsy braintrust notched two of their most immortal grooves -- the masterful quiet-loud-quiet ebb and flow of "P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)" and the glide-in-your-stride/dip-in-your-hip structure of "Mothership Connection (Star Child)" -- and played their asses off everywhere else, too, from the slinky-kneed "Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication" to the Space Bass/quack-synth nuttiness of "Night Of The Thumpasorus Peoples." And it's also a triumph of Parliament as the apotheosis of nearly two preceding decades' worth of street-corner harmonizing, with the ten-miles-deep intro of Ray Davis and the Hallelujah chorus in "Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk)" only the highest of an entire reel of highlights.
But that lyrical simplicity and musical depth obscure the heart of this record: that ancient futurism, a modern past, and "once upon a time called Right Now" all spiritually intersect in funny ways, where the latest in cutting-edge synthesizers can bounce along melodies with an Ellington lineage and close-harmony doo-wop can anticipate Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Whether the higher spirit is God or our galaxy-crossing ancestors, both of which P-Funk tie in deeply with their conscious yet self-interrogating and perception-transcending idea of Blackness, their praise and celebration of finding revelation and salvation in a better place permeates everything; classic brass lines and state-of-the-art Minimoog whistles alike feel like being called up (and home). "You have overcome, for I am here," Clinton states in the title cut, and it's hard to think of a more joyous celebration.