Music Discoveries: P-Funk, part 1 (1970-1975)


This series of posts where I write about music I never listened to before is basically a public confession of ignorance.  After all, I’m making music “discoveries” in much the same way Columbus “discovered” the Americas.  Millions people have heard and enjoyed this music before.  So far I’ve enjoyed most of my “discoveries” but with Parliament-Funkadelic I’m absolutely amazed by the music I never heard before and never expected!   I’m also a little disappointed I didn’t listen to these albums when I was younger.  In my high school and college days I listened to many bands with a similar vibe – Otis Redding, Motown soul, Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, James Brown, Fishbone, Living Colour – and would’ve enjoyed Funkadelic and Parliament as well.  Of course, what makes them great is despite the influences and similarities with other bands is that P-Funk sounds like nothing else ever created.

Parliament and Funkadelic are two bands at the heart of a funk, soul, and rock collective organized by George Clinton.  I first remember learning of Clinton in a Rolling Stone “Best of the 70s” issue I read in high school.  I got a Parliament greatest hits album and even saw George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars perform at the University of Richmond (perhaps the most “vanilla” location for that concert).  Earlier this year I read George Clinton’s autobiography, and I listened to some of the tracks he discussed while reading the book, but I wanted to hear more.

Read below for some very pleasant suprises.

Band: Funkadelic
Album: Funkadelic
Date: 1970
Favorite Tracks: “Mommy, What is a Funkadelic,” “Music for My Mother,” and “Qualify and Satisfy.”
Lyrics of Note:

It got so good to me, man, that I stopped runnin’
My feets was tired anyhow
So I reached in my inside pocket
And got my harp out
Sit down by old beat-up railroad train
And get me get myself
A little of that old funky thang – from “Music for My Mother”

I got a thing
You got a thing
Everybody’s got a thing
When we get together, doin’ our thing
In order to help each other
In order to help your brother – from “I Got A Thing, You Got A Thing, Everybody’s Got A Thing”

Thoughts: This album is like an origin story.  The opening jam sets down the P-Funk mythos.  Musically, the inspirations are strong here as tracks display Motown soul and psychedelic rock, but the seeds of the  P-Funk sound are there.  I’d say this is an amazing debut, but George Clinton and The Parliaments had been working towards this for a decade, and the other musicians brought a lot of experience, so this is as much a culmination as a beginning.
Rating: ****

Band: Parliament
Album: Osmium
Date: 1970
Favorite Tracks: “Little Ole Country Boy,” “Moonshine Heather,”  “Nothing Before Me But Thang,” “Livin’ the Life,” and “Come in Out of the Rain.”
Lyrics of Note:

It’s not that she enjoys this life
Living outside the law
It’s just that there are fourteen kids
Their father died in the war
And each and every Sabbath day
She prays for all her sins
But reality says to her, my child
Take care of your fourteen kids
So she’s taking care of business – from “Moonshine Heather”

Jesus, born a man
Jesus, crucified by man
I’m thinking that Jesus
Wanted man to be free
Jesus, he got out of hand

Jesus was living the life
Loving the life he lived, and had a right to
Jesus, just living the life
Loving the life he lived and had a right to

A tree planted by the river water
Homo sapien pollutes the air
No more trees, the highways are coming
Homo sapien, hey-hey, progressin’ – from “Livin’ the Life

Thoughts: This is a musical mish-mash reminiscent of The Beatles “White Album,” jumping among genres – including gospel, Southern Rock, and folk – and featuring five different vocalists and differing lineups so it sounds less like a band’s album and more like a compilation.  I’m pretty certain there is no other Parliament-Funkadelic album that sounds like this.  I mean “The Silent Boatman” has bagpipes fer chrisake!
Rating:

Band: Funkadelic
AlbumFree Your Mind…And Your Ass Will Follow
Date: 1970
Favorite Tracks: “Funky Dollar Bill,”
Lyrics of Note:

You don’t buy a life, you live a life
A father learns much too late – from “Funky Dollar Bill”

Thoughts:  George Clinton says this album was the result of an attempt to “see if we can cut a whole album while we’re all tripping on acid” and it certainly sounds like it.  This album rocks hard and I can hear the influence of Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and other acid rockers.  Despite the title seeming to be a call to party, lyrically this album deals with serious stuff like consumerism, poverty, exploitation, and environmental degradation all subversively rolled into religious themes.
Rating: ***

Band: Funkadelic
Album: Maggot Brain
Date: 1971
Favorite Tracks: “Maggot Brain,” “Can You Get to That,” “Hit It and Quit It,”  and “You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks”
Lyrics of Note:

When you base your love on credit
And your loving days are done
Checks you signed with a-love and kisses
Later come back signed “insufficient funds” – from “Can You Get to That”

The rich got a big piece of this and that
The poor got a big piece of roaches and rats – from “You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks”

Thoughts: The album begins with Eddie Hazel’s intense extended guitar solo on the title track and doesn’t let up from there.  The lyrical themes are socially conscious and musically Funkadelic continues to draw on psychedelic blues rock and gospel influences so it comes out sounding partly like a blend of Led Zeppelin and Sly and the Family Stone, although the greater part sounds like nothing else heard before.
Rating: ****1/2

Band: Funkadelic
Album: America Eats Its Young
Date: 1972
Favorite Tracks: “If You Don’t Like the Effects, Don’t Produce the Cause,” “Everybody Is Going to Make It This Time,” “Biological Speculation,” “Balance,” and “Wake Up.”
Lyrics of Note:

You say you don’t like what your country’s about (yeah)
Ain’t you deep, in your semi-first class seat
You picket this and protest that, and eat yourself fat
Ain’t you deep, in your semi-first class seat – from “If You Don’t Like the Effects, Don’t Produce the Cause”

Thoughts: A wide-ranging double disc.  Musically the definitive funk sound is growing, especially with the addition of Bootsy Collins and the House Guests to the collective.  But there are also ballads, instrumental jams,  blues, and country-tinged rock.  Lyrically, the theme of the imbalance of Mother Nature with selfish humans (especially Americans) is strong, but there are love songs and raunchy sex songs mixed it.  It’s reminiscent of Parliament’s Osmium in the way it collects a whole bunch of sounds together in one place.
Rating: ***1/2
Band: Funkadelic
Album: Cosmic Slop
Date: 1973
Favorite Tracks: “You Can’t Miss What You Can’t Measure” and “Cosmic Slop,”
Lyrics of Note:

I’m trudging water all through the house
I thought it was from my kitchen sink
I phoned the plumber to rush right over
And see if he could fix this leak

He rushed right over and he took a look
And much to my surprise
He said, “My son it’s not your sink
It’s teardrops from your eyes” – from “You Can’t Miss What You Can’t Measure”

Thoughts: From the opening track “Nappy Dugout” I begin to hear the funk sound I was previously accustomed to with P-Funk (and isn’t that a perfectly raunchy euphemism).  But Funkadelic can be overtly political (and musically unsettling) as witnessed by the anti-Vietnam track “March to the Witch’s Castle.”   There’s also the heartbreaking title track about a mother who turns to prostitution to support her children.  I feel like there are some steps forward and steps back on this album, retreading some ground but working on perfecting it (several tracks are reworked versions of older songs).
Rating: **1/2

Band:  Parliament
Album: Up for the Down Stroke
Date: 1974
Favorite Tracks: “Up for the Down Stroke,” “Testify,”  “Whatever Makes Baby Feel Good”
Thoughts: Parliament returns after a four-year absence and this is the first album that displays the soulful funk with arrangements of horns that would distinguish Parliament from Funkadelic’s guitar-based psychedelic blues.  The band is still reworking old songs, successfully on the powerful “Testify,” less so on the creepy and overlong “The Goose.”  There continues to be a variety of musical styles with some surprises like “I Just Got Back (From the Fantasy, Ahead of Our Time in the Four Lands of Ellet)” which is basically a hippy folk song. Overall there’s a relaxed, romantic feel to this album, like they could hang out with Yacht Rock artists for the day (and teach them a thing or two).
Rating: ***
Band: Funkadelic
Album: Standing on the Verge of Getting it On
Date: 1974
Favorite Tracks: “Standing on the Verge of Getting it On”
Lyrics of Note:

You really shouldn’t ought to fight it
The music is designed to do no harm
We’re just for you – from “Standing on the Verge of Getting it On”

Thoughts: On this album the band largely gives over to extended psychedelic blues rock jams with some proto-Metal mixed in, excepting the last track which is more of a spiritual meditation.  While no track stands out as the greatest, the album as a whole really rocks.  The title track also builds up a lot of the P-Funk mythology.
Rating: ****

Band: Funkadelic
Album: Let’s Take it to the Stage
Date: 1975
Favorite Tracks: “Get Off Your Ass and Jam”
Thoughts: I’m disappointed with this one.  Musically it’s solid, but a bit more relaxed and smooth with a disco vibe.  Still there’s a lot of great grooves as attested by the thousands of familiar samples from rap tunes. Raunch and sophomoric humor are always a part of P-Funk, but on this album it’s laid on thick, and “No Head, No Backstage Pass” is positively misogynistic. I like socially conscious Funkadelic better than sexist Funkadelic.
Rating: **
Band: Parliament
Album: Chocolate City
Date: 1975
Favorite Tracks: “Chocolate City,”  “Ride On,”  “What Comes Funky,” and “Big Footin'”
Lyrics of Note:

Put a hump in your back
Shake your sacroiliac – from “Ride On” (seriously, using “sacroiliac” in a song is genius)

Joys don’t need no alibi
Embarassment will never live you down
Save your foolishness for another day
But for tonight, come out and play – from “What Comes Funky”

Thoughts: Released the same month as Let’s Take it to the Stage, this album is a joyful celebration with love songs, party songs, and the title track a tribute to Washington, D.C. and other majority black cities, all filtered through Clinton’s philosophy of ego.  The album is musically diverse ranging from funk to Motown soul to doo-wop to baroque pop among its tracks.  A great addition to  the P-Funk catalog.
Rating: ***1/2

 

In two weeks Music Discoveries returns with a full immersion into the P-Funk explosion of the mid-to-late 70s, featuring Funkadelic, Parliament, and various spinoff acts.

 

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