In the 1970s, nobody in the entire universe ruled funk like the inimitable George Clinton did. During that decade, the former Motown staff writer alternated between his two groups, Parliament and Funkadelic, creating a whacked-out, psychedelic hybrid of funk, R&B, and rock that no one has even come close to equaling since. While Funkadelic focused more on the guitar-based, jam-oriented, Sly Stone-style psychedelic rock aspect of funk (best exemplified on the immortal One Nation Under a Groove), Parliament utilized more of a dance influence, incorporating touches of gospel and doo-wop in the vocal duties, shared by Clinton, Fuzzy Haskins, Ray Davis, Grady Thomas, and Calvin Simon, among others. Aided by ace keyboardist (and crucial band member) Bernie Worrell, and bolstered by numerous former members of James Brown’s famous backing band, including the great bassist Bootsy Collins and horn legends Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley, Parliament-Funkadelic, more commonly known as P-Funk, were simply, as Clinton put it, the bomb.
Between 1974 and 1980, Parliament released nine albums for Neil Bogart’s just-as-crazy Casablanca Records label, and Funked Up: The Very Best of Parliament is filled to the brim with classic “uncut funk”. Actually, the “best of” label is a bit of a misnomer, since the the songs selected for this album are Parliament’s 16 highest-charting singles, lending itself more to a “greatest hits” title, but few will disagree that all of the tracks included mark most of Parliament’s finest moments.
Driven by a powerful drum beat, Parliament’s first single, 1974’s “Up For the Down Stroke” (from the album of the same name), is funk at its purest, the contagious beat punctuated by horns, effects-laden guitar, and Collins’ distinctive bass playing, as the group tears into a raucous vocal chant (“Everybody get up!”). The more laid-back “All Your Goodies Are Gone” has Worrell at center stage, delivering an off-kilter piano lick that leads the whole song, as Clinton delivers a vocal performance that can be best described as, er, slimy. I mean that in a good way. The Clinton/Worrell/Collins songwriting team really hit its stride on 1975’s Chocolate City album, as Collins’ utterly phenomenal bass playing totally propels “Ride On”, as song that has one of the coolest choruses you’ll ever hear (“Put a hump in your back/Shake your sacroiliac/And ride on”). Meanwhile, “Chocolate City” has more of a jazz influence, as Clinton delivers a laid-back, but pointed rap about African-American empowerment, driven by some terrific piano by Worrell, and a highly infectious chorus (“Gaining on ya!”) that punctuates Clinton’s statements like a congregation’s “Amens”.
“Put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip and come aboard the mothership,” raps Clinton on the title cut from Mothership Connection, Parliament’s breakthrough album. An avant-garde concept funk album that blends social commentary, sci-fi, psychedelia, and loads of sex, Mothership Connection remains the high point in the Parliament catalog. Unfortunately, on a best-of compilation, the album’s impact is lost, but we still have its three monumental singles to dig. “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” is the Parliament song everybody knows; after Ray Davis’s famous introductory rap, the song explodes into the rave-up of all rave-ups, its chants of “We want the funk!” proving irresistible not to sing along with. On “P Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)”, Clinton’s alterego “The Lollipop Man” smoothly raps over a slinky riff, “Coming to you directly from the Mothership Top of the Chocolate Milky Way, 500,000 kilowatts of P.Funk-power,” as the song repeatedly bursts into ultra-funky choruses led by more of Collins’ phenomenal bass licks. “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” is driven by a cool bass and guitar riff, as well as some terrific horns by new additions “The Horny Horns”, led by Parker and Wesley.
The more lightweight The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, released in 1976, is represented by the melodic keyboards and doo-wop vocals of “Do That Stuff”, while “Dr. Funkenstein”, yet another of Clinton’s signature tunes, boasts some wicked keyboards by Worrell and a great, funny vocal performance by Clinton. 1977’s Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome gives us two more classics, in the form of “Bop Gun”, which features some excellent vocals by Glen Goins, and the great party anthem “Flash Light”. The 1977 live album Parliament Live/P.Funk Earth Tour gives us “Let’s Take it to the Stage”, which despite its lousy sound quality, makes up for it with its incredible energy; also from that album is the languid studio cut “Fantasy and Reality”.
Later songs, such as the hilarious 1978 #1 R&B hit “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)”, “Theme From the Black Hole”, and “Agony of Defeet” are included, but by the end of the Seventies, Parliament’s album’s began to grow a little stale. However, the aforementioned tracks manage to easily hold their own against the older material.
At last count, Funked Up is the 14th Parliament compilation to appear. The 1993 double CD Tear the Roof Off is the most comprehensive compilation, but for those who don’t want to shell out the extra cash for the double CD set, this one is perfect. Exploring the original Parliament albums proves to be a more rewarding experience for the listener, but hey, everyone needs at least a little P-Funk in their lives, and Funked Up does the job nicely. This stuff hasn’t aged a bit.
// Notes from the Road
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