Wow! Just when you think things can’t get any crazier in your life, a couple of tornadoes rip through your hometown during the evening of Memorial Day this past Monday. We live two miles (or 3.20 kilometers) from the hit area. My younger son and his wife were only a half-mile (or 800 meters) away, and he tried to video the storm, only for the moment to devolve into an argument between them, which ended with him just laughing. Anyway, the National Weather Service declared it to be an EF-2 tornado, which is not the strongest (EF-5) nor the weakest (EF-0). However, the tornadoes demolished so many trees that made the town so uniquely beautiful. Amazingly, there were no deaths or serious injuries. As I am writing this, my wife is going to town to volunteer with the cleanup. Unfortunately, my stupid back condition prevents me from doing anything.
So, originally, I thought I was going to write about some boring old artist from the Seventies or Eighties, but I decided to move up my topic a day. I figured we could use some fun. So, today I would like to tackle one monster of a musical empire: George Clinton’s P-Funk Thang. Clinton’s influence can be felt everywhere, from the whole history of hip hop to the Red Hot Chili Peppers through nu metal to Fishbone and Beastie Boys. Now, Clinton is taking his current version of this musical monstrosity out for one last tour, and my older son got us tickets to see them this weekend in Cincinnati, Ohio. Needless to say, this is yet another artist being checked off my bucket list.
Now, Clinton is a somewhat controversial yet still beloved personality. He is a musical genius who brought together many of the finest musicians of his generation under one umbrella, only to be accused of not paying them properly, cheating them out of royalties, mismanaging them and himself, hooking them on drugs and even sexual abuse. On the other hand, only he had the vision to see what these people’s talents could do within the contexts of not just one band, but a multitude of off-shoot groups. At the top of the pyramid were Parliament, the horn-influenced funk version, and Funkadelic, the rock-based version, with the very same musicians and singers participating in both. Then, what followed was a crazy array of solo pursuits and constructed groups in Clinton’s effort to create a funk version of Motown. From this same musical pool emerged Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Parlet, the Horny Horns, the Brides of Funkenstein, Eddie Hazel, Bernie Worrell, the P-Funk All-Stars, Zapp, Roger (Troutman) and Bootsy Collins. This massive musical conglomeration provided much of the greatest funk music of the Seventies and Eighties, as well as the basis for a vast array of hip hop music recorded by diverse artists like De La Soul, N.W.A, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Digital Underground, Kirk Franklin, Warren G and Nate Dogg, among so many others.
If you over look the controversial parts of this story, these people created some very enduring music. My first memory, much like many young white kids from the ‘burbs, was hearing “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” on the radio. I literally thought I was hearing the funk version of Frank Zappa coming through the airwaves. I wanted to laugh and dance at the same time. It was not the precision funk of Earth, Wind & Fire or Commodores, nor was it Sly & the Family Stone. No! This was completely different and definitely Afrocentric. And, when I was the album cover for Mothership Connection, I thought we have got something along the lines of a funky, more talented Kiss. The group photos I would see of Parliament would be like watching a baseball team taking the stage. That music, coupled with the visual, was a teenager’s dream.
Later, I found out that this band, Parliament, played initially in two distinct styles, as Funkadelic. Eventually, the lines blurred between the sounds of the two bands. Still, I remember my time in Colorado during the Summer of 1978 with Parliament’s “Flash Light” and Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under a Groove” lighting up the disco at that national track meet I ran in. Then, coming back to Ball State in the Fall of 1982 and hearing Clinton’s first solo hit, “Atomic Dog,” being blasted all over campus. More recently, when Napster first came around, I finally heard Funkadelic’s epic guitar workout “Maggot Brain” and literally had my mind blown by Eddie Hazel. That is the greatest guitar solo of all-time folks! Sorry Jimi, Eric, Eddie Van Halen or Terry Kath. Hazel’s my man!
In an effort to get ready for my next musical experience, and to inject a little funkiness into my white-bread yet devastated hometown, here is my Top 30 Parliament/Funkadelic/George Clinton Empire songs.
30. “Ridin’ High” – Parlet (1979)
29. “Hardcore Jollies” – Funkadelic (1976)
28. “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)” – Parliament (1978)
27. “More Bounce to the Ounce” – Zapp (1980)
26. “Disco to Go” – The Brides of Funkenstein” (1978)
25. “Red Hot Mama” – Funkadelic (1974)
24. “Stretchin’ Out (In a Rubber Band)” – Bootsy’s Rubber Band (1976)
23. “Funkentelechy” – Parliament (1977)
22. “Bop Gun (Endangered Species)” – Parliament (1977)
21. “Undisco Kidd” – Funkadelic (1976)
20. “Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow” – Funkadelic (1970)
19. “Chocolate City” – Parliament (1975)
18. “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)” – Parliament (1975)
17. “Cosmic Slop” – Funkadelic (1973)
16. “(I Wanna) Testify” – The Parliaments (1967)
15. “Up for the Down Stroke” – Parliament (1974)
14. “Bootzilla” – Bootsy’s Rubber Band (1978)
13. “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” – Parliament (1975)
12. “Standing on the Verge of Getting It On” – Funkadelic (1974)
11. “I’d Rather Be with You” – Bootsy’s Rubber Band (1976)
10. “Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic?” – Funkadelic (1970). This is the calling card of Funkadelic’s spaced out version of Hendrix’ funk rock.
9. “Super Stupid” – Funkadelic (1971). This one is so good that I cannot believe it was left off the band’s best compilation.
8. “Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?!” – Funkadelic (1978). Exactly! Especially when you have the musicians you have George.
7. “California Dreamin'” – Eddie Hazel (1977). Go find this one! I mean, right now! Who knew that this song could rock so hard while being so funky?
6. “(Not Just) Knee Deep” – Funkadelic (1979). The last big hit of the Seventies for P-Funk is a killer that’s been sampled for a variety of hit songs, most notably De La Soul’s masterpiece “Me Myself and I.”
5. “Maggot Brain” – Funkadelic (1971). Eddie Hazel’s moment of many moments to shine.
4. “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” – Parliament (1975). The big funk song that kicked off my Clinton obsession.
3. “One Nation Under a Groove” – Funkadelic (1978). The monster jam of 1978 has been sampled by all kinds of artists, most effectively by Kirk Franklin for his funky gospel crossover hit “Stomp!”
2. “Atomic Dog” – George Clinton (1982). Just when everyone thought Clinton’s days were long gone, he comes up with one of his most enduring hit songs. Snoop Dogg made a career out of this song when he and Dr. Dre sampled it for Snoop’s big solo debut hit jam “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?”
1. “Flash Light” – Parliament (1977). I don’t care what you all say! This song is the one that got me on the dance floor when I was a very shy fifteen-year-old. And, it still brings the funk this very day.
Now, I’m ready! Punch my ticket, cuz I need da funk, gotta have da funk!