It’s the Halloween season again, and I am always think back to the days that my mom would take it upon herself to project on me what “I wanted” to dress up like each year. Then, she would spend weeks perfecting my costume so she could enter me into our small town’s costume competition. And, when I would win, she would always bask in the glow that I could give two cents about. This went on until I wanted to dress like Gene Simmons, so it came to an end. What I never told her is that I secretly want to dress like Parliament/Funkadelic bass player Bootsy Collins, which would have been her greatest challenge to change this whiter-than-white boy into funk’s greatest personality. Oh, well, we will never know what might have been.
Of the many groups with crazy wardrobes, no one could hold a candle to George Clinton’s empire of musical geniuses under their various band names of Parliament, Funkadelic, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Parlet, The Brides of Funkenstein, Fred Wesley & the Horny Horns, Zapp, and so many other variants that I do not have the time to list all of them. And, I am not counting all of the solo albums released by the band members like Eddie Hazel and Bernie Worrell. Prince once had aspired to such an empire, but he soon learned that he was too much of a control freak that he could not maintain all of the pokers that George Clinton once had in the figurative fire back in the mid-Seventies.
Now, back in the early Seventies, Clinton’s band name of The Parliaments was under contract with a company that was holding onto the band’s name. So, Clinton started Funkadelic more as a rock/funk band along the lines of Sly & the Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix. When he finally got his original group name back, he dropped “The” and the “s”, used the same players along with a horn section, much like Earth, Wind & Fire, and created Parliament as a party funk band. And, the two bands recorded in this manner throughout much of the Seventies, until the disco days of the late Seventies, when the two bands’ sounds were so intertwined that no one could tell the difference. But, no one really cared because they were creating the greatest funk music ever. So great, in fact, that hip hop hits have gone to the P-Funk well so often that it’s almost cliched now.
If you go to Wikipedia to see the bands’ roster, you will see a list of over one hundred musicians and vocalists who have recorded and/or toured with Clinton under his two major bands’ banners. In fact, when Parliament-Funkadelic were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, somewhere around twenty people were inducted, with many of these talented people being listed as multi-instrumentalists. The only musician that Clinton somewhat compares to is Frank Zappa, and that’s mainly due to the fact that these two visionaries completely followed their own muses and blazed new musical paths that today’s musicians get lost on while attempting to follow. Neither man simply followed a formula for songwriting. Instead, they blew up the form completely and started over. Zappa was more of an orchestral man, while Clinton was funk all the way.
By the Eighties, we were getting some distilled funk sounds of Clinton’s bands in the sounds of the Ohio Players, LTD, Brothers Johnson, Gap Band and Ready for the World, but none had cornered the market on the musical visionaries that Clinton was able to employ. At one time Clinton had one of the 100 greatest guitarists in Eddie Hazel, bassists in Bootsy Collins and keyboard wizards in Bernie Worrell. Several of Clinton’s funkateers where in so much demand that many of them can be heard playing on albums by such diverse artists like Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club and Deee-Lite.
When you watch videos of these bands on YouTube, it appears to be mass chaos. And, it somewhat is. But, when you listen to the studio versions, you begin to understand that each instrument, each innovative sound those instruments are making, each vocal hiccup is placed exactly where it should be to make the overall sound greater than its parts. Then, you go back to re-watch those same videos, and you understand it.
Also, Clinton allowed each member to develop their own unique visual look that would extend their personality to the live stage. That’s why Bootsy had the Starchild look or guitar and musical bandleader Gary Shider took on the Diaperman persona. Each of Clinton’s players had their own looks to go with their personalities and talents. And, it could seem like the nightmare of a person with ADHD, but the whole thing worked within and without the haze of pot hanging over the stage and the mind-altering enhancements of LSD and God-know-what-else. These people could play. They could entertain. And, their fans had fun. And, most importantly, the funk lived!
So, in honor of the costumes I never wore, I give you My 25 Favorite Songs by Artists in the George Clinton Empire.
25. “A Blow for You, a Toot for Me” – Fred Wesley & the Horny Horns (A Blow for Me, a Toot for Me, 1977).
24. “Pumpin’ It Up” – The P-Funk All-Stars (Urban Dancefloor Guerillas, 1983)
23. “Cosmic Slop” – Funkadelic (Cosmic Slop, 1973)
22. “Man’s Best Friend/Loopzilla” – George Clinton (Computer Games, 1982)
21. “Disco to Go” – The Brides of Funkenstein (Funk or Walk, 1978)
20. “(I Wanna) Testify” – The Parliaments (single, 1967)
19. “Red Hot Mama” – Funkadelic (Standing on the Verge of Getting It On, 1974)
18. “The Pinocchio Theory” – Bootsy’s Rubber Band (Ahh…The Name Is Bootsy, Baby, 1976)
17. “Bop Gun” – Parliament (Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome, 1977)
16. “Ride On” – Parliament (Chocolate City, 1975)
15. “Do Fries Go with That Shape” – George Clinton (R&B Skeletons in the Closet, 1986)
14. “Chocolate City” – Parliament (Chocolate City, 1975)
13. “Undisco Kidd” – Funkadelic (Tales of Kidd Funkadelic, 1976)
12. “Up for the Down Stroke” – Parliament (Up for the Down Stroke, 1974)
11. “Standing on the Verge of Getting It On” (Standing on the Verge of Getting It On, 1974)
10. “Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock” – Funkadelic (One Nation Under a Groove, 1978)
9. “Aqua Boogie” – Parliament (Motor Booty Affair, 1978)
8. “(Not Just) Knee Deep” – Funkadelic (Uncle Jam Wants You, 1979)
7. “More Bounce to the Ounce” – Zapp (Zapp, 1980)
6. “Maggot Brain” – Funkadelic (Maggot Brain, 1971)
5. “Bootzilla” – Bootsy’s Rubber Band (Bootsy? Player of the Year, 1978)
4. “Atomic Dog” – George Clinton (Computer Games, 1982)
3. “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” – Parliament (Mothership Connection, 1975)
2. “One Nation Under a Groove” – Funkadelic (One Nation Under a Groove, 1978)
1. “Flash Light” – Parliament (Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome, 1977)
That’s my tribute to the musical genius of George Clinton. Enjoy!