Masters of the Form: Funkadelic, 1978 – One Nation Under a Groove

1978 saw the birth of a brand new nation on these shores – a nation of freedom and brotherhood that extolled the virtues of love, sex and the power of open minds and shaking hips. One nation. One nation indivisible. One Nation Under a Groove.

George Clinton and Funkadelic had thrown down the gauntlet with the release of Let’s Take It To the Stage in 1975. This masterpiece of weird, funky guitar madness set the philosophical stage for a war that was to come. A war based on the timeless politics of youth and fought by their alter egos in Parliament. In 1976 Parliament invaded America as “extra-terrestrial brothers, dealers in funky music” when the Masters of Form landed the Mothership Connection. It was the first in a trilogy of albums that included The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein and 1977’s Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome.

For two years they appealed to the natural politics inherent in youth culture. There is a young, new, vital open-minded “us” overcome with the desire to have fun – in the case of Parliament this was achieved by the embracing of “P-Funk, uncut funk, the bomb”. The “us” is always at odds with a perceived and established “them” that want to maintain the status quo and keep “us” from being truly free. “They” employ the Placebo Syndrome; shiny, false entertainments designed to take our minds off of our troubles, distracting us from what is truly important and tricking us into believing that we are free already.

By 1978 the war was over. Parliament had fought for a new musical world order and, with the release of One Nation Under a Groove, Funkadelic stepped in to throw an inauguration. The album, easily Funkadelic’s most accessible effort as well as its greatest musical statement, is a celebration of the new America, complete with a new Pledge of Allegiance and a new National Anthem.

One Nation Under a Groove is the final delivery on the promises of inclusion that Parliament-Funkadelic had always given. It was a declaration that the war Parliament had fought for two years had been worth it; a declaration that the war was over and that everybody had won. The new America of One Nation Under a Groove was a nation finally without a “them”. Anybody who wanted to could be one of “us”.

One Nation Under a Groove is a funky masterpiece of free thought and inclusion intent on bringing listeners, as “Promentalshitbackwashpsycosisenemasquad (Doo Doo Chasers” crassly puts it, “music to get your shit together by”. The track is a great example of Clinton’s often crude sense of humor and it would be easy to overlook were it not for the relentlessly slow guitar groove that seems to roll and unroll like the string of the world’s slowest, most hypnotic yoyo. Once hypnotized, the politics begin to shine through the toilet humor and a song about the “low calorie logic” of “social bullshit” emerges. “Into You” outlines the simplicity of One Nation Under a Groove’s all inclusive party. There’s the deep rolling of Bootsy Collins’ bass line, the jazz-funk fusion of Michael Hampton’s guitar and the simple declaration that Funkadelic is, “Into you, my people”.

Fusion plays a significant roll in “Cholly (Funk Gettin’ Ready To Roll) a song which speaks directly of the Mothership Connection saga in telling the story of a man who loves jazz and classical music but leaves the “syndrome” behind to embrace the additional freedom of funk. The track is pure Funkadelic though, not pure funk. Bootsy is a monster throughout, laying down one of his best bass performances ever but the Gary Shider vocals are soulful pop and the guitar, particularly at the song’s conclusion, is heavy and metallic. The song refuses to settle into an easy label. “Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?” is a song about such labels. The lyrics insist that Funkadelic is a band that plays whatever style of music they choose to—jazz, dance, funk or rock, and they hold up Michael Hampton’s incendiary guitar work as proof that they actually can. It’s a guitar workout that is well out of the norm for black bands of the time. Of course Funkadelic wasn’t a band of the time they were a band of all time and their music was an extension of the freedom they felt everybody should share in.

This is evidenced by the Pledge of Allegiance they composed for their new nation. “Pledge a groovallegiance to the funk, the United Funk of Funkidelica,” is another simple declaration of the freedom inherent in funk music and “Groovallegiance” is another combination of styles. The funk of the bass forms a perfect union with the reggae-inflected guitar and island rhythm of the percussion to yield a song that smells of coconut and sea air. The island is all but abandoned to the jazz of the guitar solo before being restored by keyboards that shine with enough simple sun for a listener to get a tan.

Finally of course is the title track, one of the greatest funk songs ever composed and Funkadelic’s own Star Spangled Banner. “One Nation Under a Groove” perfectly encapsulates Parliament-Funkadelic’s philosophy of moving towards freedom through the freedom of movement. “Here’s a chance to dance our way out of our constrictions,” Clinton sings over a track that is so funky that the sweat of the dance floor can be smelled through the speakers. Like the album that follows it, the track is all-inclusive. “With the groove our only guide we shall all be moved.” “We”; all of us will be, because in this new nation “them” are the few that insist on staying in “hang up alleyway” while the rest of us are busy “getting down just for the funk of it.” One Nation Under a Groove is a ridiculously empowering good time, a reminder that “funk”, as Clinton promised at the beginning of The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, “is its own reward.”