Parliament, Osmium (1970)

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.)

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