Music Discoveries P-Funk, part 3 (1978-1982)


Here is my third and final post for my “discovery” series on the P-Funk collective of musicians in the 1970s and early 1980s.  In the first post I found myself impressed by the freshness and innovation of the music even though it was more than 40 years old.  The second post featured the familiar hit songs of P-Funk’s prolific peak.  This final post sadly marks the decline of P-Funk, and while there are some standout tracks and albums, I’m disappointed at how dated and tired much of the music from this period sounds.

Band: Funkadelic
Album: One Nation Under a Groove
Date: 4 September 1978
Favorite Tracks: “One Nation Under a Groove,” “Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?,” and “Cholly”
Lyrics of Note:

Who says a jazz band can’t play dance music?
Who says a rock band can’t play funk?
Who says a funk band can’t play rock?
Ok. We’re gonna play some funk so loud
We’re gonna rock and roll the crowd
Just watch them dance, watch them dance – from “Who says a funk band can’t play rock?”

Thoughts: The title track has more of dance/disco sound than one is accustomed to hearing from Funkadelic.  That’s followed by the relaxed, smooth calypso sound of “Groovallegiance.” And if the genre shifts are not enough on the first two songs, on track three they gleefully declare “Who says a funk band can’t play rock?” All right I won’t go track by track, but the album’s theme of the power of funk is emphasized by making every genre funky.  It’s a great album, that loses a half-point for the the tedious track about poop.
Rating: ***1/2


Band: Parliament
AlbumMotor Booty Affair
Date: 28 November 1978
Favorite Tracks: “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop),”
Lyrics of Note:

You can dance underwater and not get wet – from “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)”

Thoughts: Another themed album, this one goes under the sea for the aquaboogie. Parliament can never be accused of not dedicating themselves to a theme and there are references to fish, water, swimming and Atlantis throughout as well as new characters like “Mr. Wiggles.” And Sir Nose finally gets dunked in  the funk.  It’s a fun and cohesive album but nothing about it really excites me much.
Rating: ***


Band: Funkadelic
AlbumUncle Jam Wants You
Date: 21 September 1979
Favorite Tracks: “(Not Just) Knee Deep,”  “Field Maneuvers,” and “Holly Wants to Go to California ”
Lyrics of Note:
Thoughts: Following on “One Nation Under a Groove,” Funkadelic plays with patriotic/militaristic phrases to promote the funk and “save dance music from the blahs.”  The epic jam “(Not Just) Knee Deep” defines the album and since it’s been sampled so many times that it sounds like a compilation of r&b and hip hop all by itself. The instrumental guitar jam “Field Maneuvers” and the melancholy ballad “Holly Wants to Go to California” are also standouts.  Despite drill instructors barking out dance moves, this album feels less gimmicky than its predecessors.
Rating: ****


Band: Bootsy’s Rubber Band
Album: This Boot Is Made for Fonk-N
Date: 1 June 1979
Favorite Tracks: “Bootsy (Get Live)”
Thoughts: Eschewing the slow jams of earlier Rubber Band albums, this is a non-stop party funk album. It coasts a lot on Bootsy Collins’ charma and charisma but it can coast a long way on that.
Rating: ***


Band: Parliament
Album: Gloryhallastoopid (or Pin the Tail on the Funky)
Date: 20 November 1979
Favorite Tracks: “Theme from the Black Hole”
Thoughts: Another concept album that attempts to explain the science behind the creation of the universe by way of funk.  It recycles a lot of ideas, lyrics, and grooves from previous albums and is awfully redundant in doing so.  And for all the criticism of disco this is is a disco-heavy album at the time of peak disco.  But it’s bland overall and doesn’t offer much.
Rating: *1/2


Band:Parliament
Album: Trombipulation
Date: 5 December 1980
Thoughts: OK, I’m officially sick of the Vocoder voice of D’Nose.  It’s a tired act and shows just how out of ideas Clinton & Co. were by 1980.  Kind of disappointing that Parliament goes out on such a bland album
Rating: **


Artist: Bootsy Collins
Album: Ultra Wave
Date: October 1980
Thoughts: Bootsy’s first album with a solo credit is fun and dance-able, but nothing that leaves an impression. From the r&b styles on display, one can tell that the 80s are here!
Rating: **1/2


Band: Funkadelic
Album: Connections & Disconnections
Date: 1980
Thoughts: Original P-Funk members Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon and Grady Thomas split off to form their own band under the Funkadelic name as the demise of George Clinton’s P-Funk stable of musicians descended into acrimonious lawsuits and in-fighting. Many of the lyrics are critical of Clinton, and musically it makes an attempt to recapture the early Funkadelic sound, but only achieves greatness in fits and starts.
Rating: **


Band: Funkadelic
Album: The Electric Spanking of War Babies
Date: 14 April 1981
Favorite Tracks: “Funk Gets Stronger” and “Shockwaves”
Lyrics of Note:

You can walk a mile in my shoes
But you can’t dance a step in my feet – from “Electric Spanking of War Babies”

Thoughts:  The official Funkadelic offers a better farewell album with a sound that played off the soul, funk, and R&B of the early 80s with P-Funk innovation. The lyrics are strongly political on many tracks, something that had been missing in latter day P-Funk. As an added bonus,Sly Stone is featured on this album and there’s a great funky reggae track “Shockwave.”
Rating: ***1/2


Band: George Clinton
Album: Computer Games
Date: 5 November 1982
Favorite Tracks: “Man’s Best Friend/Loopzilla” and “Atomic Dog”
Thoughts: Although credited to Clinton, many P-Funk musicians appear on this album much like on Parliament, Funkadelic, and side projects in previous years.  I arbitrarily chose to end this series on this album as it seems to mark the end of the P-Funk era although there more Clinton solo albums, P-Funk All-Stars recordings, and other projects in the ensuing years.  It’s a good album to go out on as it is reliant more on synths and has an electro sound that ties in well with the rise of hip hop in this era.
Rating: ***

Okay, so that’s it for P-Funk.  Whew!


Music Discoveries P-Funk, part 2 (1975-1978)


This second post in the series covers a period where Parliament-Funkadelic is exploding, releasing some of the bands’ most popular albums and singles, touring with an increasingly elaborate stage show, and branching off to form new bands and solo projects (although those bands and artists were frequently backed up by the same stable of P-Funk musicians).  Unlike part 1 where I was in awe of the music produced by Parliament and Funkadelic, I’m finding myself with mixed feelings about the music from this period.  The highs are higher but the lows are lower, and I think they may have spread themselves thin with the sheer prolificness of their output.  Nevertheless, there is a lot of fantastic music to feast your ears upon here.

Band: Parliament
AlbumMothership Connection
Date: 15 December 1975
Favorite Tracks: “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up),” “Mothership Connection (Star Child),” and “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)”
Lyrics of Note:

You’ve got all that is really needed
To save a dying world from its funkless hell – from “Unfunky UFO”

Gaga googa ga ga googa
Ga ga goo ga ga
(x33) – from “Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples”

Thoughts: This brilliant concept album establishes the Mothership and the Afro-Futurist themes of black people in space.  The songs are party anthems and protest songs against radio’s refusal to play funk and discrimination against the black community in general.  Pretty much a must-have of the P-Funk catalog with three of the collective’s most important tracks, although you’ll probably want to skip over the misogynist “Handcuffs.”
Rating: ****


Band: Bootsy’s Rubber Band
AlbumStretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band
Date: 30 January 1976
Favorite Tracks: “Stretchin’ Out (In a Rubber Band),” “Psychoticbumpschool,” and  “Another Point of View”
Thoughts: Bootsy Collins, the break out start of Parliament-Funkadelic, gets his own band and album although Clinton and a lot of the P-Funk lineup are involved so it really sounds like a continuation of Mothership Connection musically.  Lyrically, the album is more focused on romance and sexy times, and with the troubled sexual politics it can be hit or miss.

Rating: **1/2


Band: Parliament
AlbumThe Clones of Dr. Funkenstein
Date: September 1976
Favorite Tracks: “Do That Stuff,” “Getten’ to Know You,” and “Funkin’ for Fun”
Lyrics of Note:

When you see my mother
Tell her I’m all right
I’m just funkin’ around
For fun – from “Funkin’ for Fun”

Thoughts: May I frighten you? The utterly weird Parliament album expands deeper into the P-Funk mythology and it’s fun if it doesn’t make much sense.  I kind of get the sense that the prolific nature of Parliament-Funkadelic caught up with them as there seems nothing new here.  It’s entertaining, but it’s also disposable.  By the way, am I the only one who hears “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” in “Do That Stuff”?
Rating:***


Band: Funkadelic
AlbumTales of Kidd Funkadelic
Date: 21 September 1976
Favorite Tracks:  “Undisco Kidd”
Thoughts: Learning that this was a “contractual obligation” album of outakes from recording a different album lowered my expectation, but this album is good enough if a bit generic.  Actually it sounds very familiar due to it being frequently sampled by other artists.  “Butt-to-Butt Resuscitation” may stand as the best song title in the P-Funk catalog.
Rating: **1/2


Band: Funkadelic
Album: Hardcore Jollies
Date: 29 October 1976
Favorite Tracks: “Comin’ Round the Mountain,” “Smokey,”  “Hardcore Jollies,” and “Cosmic Slop {Live],”
Lyrics of Note:

I thought I knew all there is to do
I stuck out my chest and dove into a love
With ego in charge, I charged into what seemed
To be the quickest way into manhood
You scared me, baby
You scared the love right outta me – from “You Scared the Lovin’ Outta Me”

Thoughts:  Holy crow, did they really funk up “She’ll Be Comin’ Around the Mountain”?!?!?  YES!!!  And it was better than most everything on Tales of Kidd Funkadelic.  And that’s just the start of a hard-rocking, emotionally raw yet joyously funky album with flashes of soul, gospel, and doo wop.  It feels like a return to form for Funkadelic, not that they’d been all that much out of shape.
Rating:****


Artist: Fuzzy Haskins
Album: A Whole Nother Thang
Date: 1976
Favorite Tracks:”Mr. Junk Man”
Thoughts: Haskins, one of the original five members of The Parliaments, and Funkadelic and Parliament, goes solo on this album with lots of support from the P-Funk stable of artists (but not George Clinton).  It’s entertaining and toe-tapping but ultimately bog standard funk and soul.
Rating:**


Band: Bootsy’s Rubber Band
Album: Ahh… The Name Is Bootsy, Baby!
Date: 14 January 1977
Favorite Tracks: “The Pinnochio Theory,” “Munchies for Your Love
Thoughts: Bootsy Collin’s second album is an interesting contrast to Fuzzy Haskins, loose with jazz-like improvisation compared to Haskins’ Motown-style tight pieces.  Just a theory, but Collins is a decade younger so maybe the age gap plays a part in the stylistic differences, and why I like the “full-band” sound of Parliament-Funkadelic albums better where the different styles can play off and complement one another.  This is a solid album though, with funk party anthems on side A and slow jams on the flip side.
Rating: ***1/2


Artist: Eddie Hazel
Album: Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs
Date: 1977
Favorite Tracks: “California Dreamin'” and “What About It?”
Thoughts: This is P-Funk’s guitar-virtuoso’s first and only album released during his lifetime, and what a treat it is to have it. Hazel interprets The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’,” The Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy” (an interestingly restrained performance), and Bootsy Collins’ “Phsyical Love” as well as an instrumental remake of Funkadelic’s “Wars of Armageddon” called “What About It?”. A great album for guitar buffs.
Rating: ***1/2


Band: Fred Wesley And The Horny Horns
Album: A Blow for Me, A Toot for You
Date: 1977
Favorite Tracks: “A Blow for Me, A Toot for You” and “Four Play”
Thoughts: Another section of the P-Funk orchestra is split off for their own bit of prominence, this time the horn players: Fred Wesley (trombone), Maceo Parker (saxophone), Rick Gardner (trumpet), and Richard Griffith (trumpet). There’s heavy participation from the P-Funk stable of musicians so in many ways this sounds like a Parliament album with an emphasis on the horns, but the instrumental horn jams stand out as the best tracks. The string arrangements on some tracks remind me that this was recorded in the height of the disco era.
Rating: ***1/2


Band: Parliament
Album: Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome
Date: 28 November 1977
Favorite Tracks: “Bop Gun (Endangered Species),” “Wizard of Finance,” and “Flash Light”
Lyrics of Note:

To dance is a protection
Funk is your connection
All you got to do is
Funk and dance

Thoughts:And George Clinton had thoughts on Disco and commercialized music in general which he called “the Placebo Syndrome” and personified in the character of the obstinately unfunky Sir Nose d’Voidoffunk who goes head-to-head with Starchild on this album. Perhaps listening to too many P-Funk albums in a row makes me feel like the mythology and humor are laid on too thick, but there are some classic tracks on this album. There are also synth sounds and arrangements that seem to be laying the ground for New Wave and early hip hop to come in just a few years.
Rating:***


Band: Bootsy’s Rubber Band
Album: Bootsy? Player of the Year
Date: 27 January 1978
Favorite Tracks: “Bootzilla”
Thoughts: The third album from Bootsy & Co. doesn’t break new ground. Love songs are in demand here ranging from the romantic to the raunchy.
Rating: ***


Band: The Brides of Funkenstein
Album: Funk Or Walk
Date:  September 1978
Favorite Tracks: “Disco to Go”
Thoughts: P-Funk is rather dominated by male musicians, so it was interesting to see what  P-Funk band lead by two women – Dawn Silva and Lynn Mabry – would sound like.  It should not be a surprise or even a bad thing that they basically sound a lot like Parliament with female vocalists.  There are disco and even Broadway showtune influences well.  But it doesn’t sound like they brought out the best material for this project, which is a shame.
Rating: **


Band: Parlet
Album: Pleasure Principle
Date: 1978
Favorite Tracks:  “Pleasure Principle” and “Love Amnesia”
Thoughts:Never to do things in small measures, there were two female P-Funk groups releasing their debut albums in 1978, this one featuring the vocal talents of Mallia Franklin, Jeanette Washington and Debbie Wright. Parlet sounds “harder” than The Brides of Funkenstein, the female Funkadelic to their female Parliament.  This album is pretty strong but most of the tracks are overlong.
Rating: ***


Band: Bernie Worrell
AlbumAll the Woo in the World
Date: 1978
Favorite Tracks: “I’ll Be With You” and “Much Thrust”
Thoughts: The legendary P-Funk keyboardist gets his star turn on this solo debut, with lots of P-Funk friends on board for the recording.  Worrell’s keyboard wizadry is on display and the vibe of the album harkens back to the psychedelia of the early Funkadelic.
Rating: ***


Whew! That is a lot of funk.  But I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to finish this series on P-Funk.

 

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.

 

Book Reviews: Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You? by George Clinton


Author: George Clinton
TitleBrothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?
Publication Info: New York : Atria Books, 2014
Summary/Review:

The memoirs of George Clinton, the talented songwriter and band leader and creator of P-Funk, starts with a story of band members and their costumes having trouble getting to a show in Richmond in 1978.  This is coincidental in that I saw George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars play in Richmond in the 1990s, although that was at University of Richmond which felt incongruous since it’s about as far from Richmond’s black community as one can get.

Clinton traces his story back to coming of age in New Jersey and from his barbershop pulling together the singers and musicians of the area to create The Parliaments, a 50’s-style doo-wop group that evolved into a Motown-style soul act.  Inspired by the likes of James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone, as well as psychedelic blues rock acts like Cream and Jimi Hendrix, Clinton creates the blueprint for P-Funk.  Two bands with largely the same personnel would alternate recordings with two takes on funk: Funkadelic inspired by the psychedelic rock and Parliament taking the soul/R&B approach.  With a revolving roster of performers, a whole new mythology of P-Funk, stunning stage shows, and an innovative approach to music, Clinton would dominate the 1970s music scene.  The volume of music released not just by Parliament and Funkadelic, but many of the offshoot bands like Bootsy’s Rubber Band, is remarkable, and they all toured together on a tireless schedule of concerts.

The wheels come off in the 1980s, and while Clinton has some success as a solo artist and with new versions of the P-Funk All-Stars, much of the later part of the book is consumed by descriptions of Clinton’s drug abuse exploits and endless legal squabbles.  And yet, Clinton becomes something of a respected elder statesman of funk, writing and producing for the early Red Hot Chili Peppers whom he saw as the white band that would bring funk to the mainstream.  He also had a great influence on hip-hop, encouraging sampling of P-Funk sounds, and working with young rappers.

Clinton is one of the great musicians of the 20th-century, and this book is at its best when he’s talking about creating the sounds of funk, his love of music, and the talented musicians he worked with.  This book is at it’s worst when Clinton describes smoking another vial of crack or belabor his legal vendettas.  If you like funk or are interested in music and how it’s created, this book is worth a read.
Favorite Passages:

“Even without the music, I loved living in Newark, in part because I was royalty. All you had to do was look at the signs. One of the main drags in Newark was called Clinton Avenue, and there was a whole area called Clinton Hills. They were all named after the early American politician George Clinton, who had been the governor of New York and the vice president under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Some days the world seemed to revolve around me, a George Clinton who could go walking down a street named for him in an area named for him.”

On dropping acid for the first time in Harvard Square, which I believe should be on a Cambridge historic plaque: “The next day we went over to Harvard Square and all of us took some. That was a Noah’s Ark day, rain so hard you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face, and the gutters were filling up with water, making little rivers in the street. We dropped acid and stood looking at the rain: sometimes it seemed to slow down, sometimes each individual drop came into perfect, sharp focus. And then, all of a sudden, everyone started taking off their clothes and wading in the rivers the streets had become. There were students, but there were faculty members, too. There were couples and there were single girls. There were fat people and skinny people and every other kind: older white women naked there in the water, with polka-dot freckles on their titties, and dozens of cute little girls getting bare-ass naked. Everyone was in the water, flopping around like fish, just feeling it.”

“Somewhere along the way it became clear to me that we had a strong young group of players who were, to us, what the Funk Brothers were to Motown, and because we were so deep into psychedelic rock we started adding the -delic to it. The result was Funkadelic. I think I had the idea for the name first, but you’ll probably get a debate from two or three others. Everyone knew that it felt right, though. White rock groups had done the blues, and we wanted to head back in the other direction, to be a black rock group playing the loudest, funkiest combination of psychedelic rock and thunderous R&B.”

“In truth, underneath the image, I was a much more reserved, centered, circumspect person. In fact, that’s why I was able to carry off those crazy looks. It was freedom generated by misdirection, and it allowed me to focus on my real self, the identity I was nurturing away from any kind of spotlight.”

“For that matter, the two bands could continue to function as separate entities, where Parliament was a group of singers backed by a band and Funkadelic was a band backing a group of singers.”

“When you parody something, you have to pay attention. When you pay attention, you’re taking something seriously. So isn’t parody the most serious form of imitation?”

“Funkadelic had always been a hybrid of other things—at first, of the original Parliaments and the psychedelic rock that was happening all around it—and the second wave of musicians reaffirmed my belief in the way to grow. Absorb youth and you will be absorbed by youth. Take on new influences without fear and you need not fear what is new. Change the people around you by changing the people around you.”

“I never wanted that responsibility, not the responsibility of a political spokesperson like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, and not even the responsibility of a musical spokesperson like Bob Marley. He was almost like a Dalai Lama. Critics and fans were thrusting him into that position even before he knew he was in it. We went the other way, played so crazy that nobody wanted to be connected to us at that level.”

“So in my mind, the concept of Mothership Connection wasn’t just Star Trek in the ghetto, but pirate radio coming in from outer space. It’s not thought of in that way as much, at least anymore, but that’s at the heart of the album.”

“When I got money, I didn’t think about jewelry or cars or houses. I thought about experiences. Again, some of them were sex, and some were drugs, but most of them were rock and roll. I kept studios running all the time. I cut tracks with all the artists I knew and shaped them into songs, which in turn were shaped into records. What did I need with possessions? I had a spaceship and that was going to be enough for a long while.”

“Maybe funk itself was a form of evolution. Maybe if you refused to participate in it, you were holding yourself back. We had already created and deployed Star Child, an agent of interplanetary funk. Did he have the secret for improving the species, funkateer by funkateer? There had always been a strain of self-actualization in our music, though it had also always been sharpened by humor and irony and dirty jokes.”

“When people start out in groups, everybody imagines making it, but no one thinks hard about what that means. Does it mean being a star, staying in the top hotels, headlining arenas? Or is it enough to be able to do what almost no one in the world does, and sustain a career as a professional musician? The mere fact of surviving in this industry is a huge victory. But survivors forget that the alternative is annihilation. They think that the choice is between a good career and a great one. They reach for stardom. And those unrealistic expectations are compounded by creative ability, or the lack of ability. People don’t have a clear idea of what they can and can’t do as artists. I knew my limits. I knew what I couldn’t do. I couldn’t play an instrument. I couldn’t sing as well as some and I couldn’t arrange as well as some others. But I could see the whole picture from altitude, and that let me land the planes.”

“Living things find nourishment where they can. The point of music is to take what exists and to make it matter again, in your own style, with your own stamp. To talk about “original” and “unoriginal” is as unoriginal as talking about genres or categories. You never want to be in a bag, let alone someone else’s bag. Music is music, and bands become what they are. They play because they want to, and audiences sense that and listen because they want to.”

“The grace note with Public Enemy is that I had something to do with their name. For years, I didn’t know that it was my voice saying “Public Enemy” on their record. They had sampled from “Undisco Kidd” and slowed the vocals down.”

Recommended books: My Song: A Memoir by Harry Belafonte and Life by Keith Richards
Rating: ***