Parliament: Up for the Down Stroke

Andy Hermann


Up for the Down Stroke

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2003-04-08
UK Release Date: Available as import

If James Brown is the Godfather of Soul, then George Clinton is the Weird Uncle, the one who shows up occasionally at family gatherings smelling faintly of pot smoke and regaling the children with games of Pull My Finger. Clinton is of course best known as the chief architect of that disreputable offshoot of soul music called funk, which he didn't invent, but which he sure as hell catapulted to new heights of groove-laden, psychedelic glory in the '70s as the ringleader of one (or two, if you want to get technical) of the most influential bands of all time, Parliament-Funkadelic.

The image of Clinton at the helm of the Funk Mob, strutting in his latest pimpadelic outfit, candy-colored braids flying, is so iconic that it seems almost unbelievable now that Mr. Mothership himself spent nearly 15 years laboring in an obscure doo-wop outfit called the Parliaments before finally busting out in 1970 with a pair of groundbreaking LPs, Funkadelic's self-titled debut and the first proper album from the Parliaments (rechristened simply Parliament), Osmium. Four years of mind-bending Funkadelic releases followed, as Clinton and company plumbed the depths of their obsession with cross-breeding Sly Stone-inspired, down-and-dirty funk and a loopy, psychedelic rock sound that was equal parts Hendrix and Zappa. In 1974, Clinton decided to revive the Parliament name, not just so he could double the group's prolific outfit (the Parliament and Funkadelic lineups were virtually the same), but also as a nod to his decision to recycle some old Parliaments tunes from his '60s doo-wop days.

The resulting record, Up for the Down Stroke is a fascinatingly schizophrenic classic, retro and forward-thinking all at once as it restlessly tries to distill the chaotic Funkadelic sound into something resembling actual song structure. Four of the eight tracks here are funked-up retreads of old Parliaments tunes, and all five original Parliaments vocalists are credited, but the songs and the voices are barely recognizable as the P-Funk crew twist them like silly putty into funhouse versions of their former selves. It's not Parliament's best -- too many tracks pale in comparison to the wall-to-wall grooves on later masterpieces like Mothership Connection and Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome -- but it's one of those turning-point records that's essential listening more for what it points to than for what it actually is.

The title track is the standout, of course, an immortal rave-up that every dance party anthem since, from "1999" to "Love Shack" to "Who Let the Dogs Out", owes a little debt to. One of the first collaborations between the essential P-Funk songwriting trio of Clinton, bassist Bootsy Collins and keyboardist Bernie Worrell, it shows all the ingredients for future Parliament epics already in place -- a stone-solid groove led by Collins' bass and Worrell's squelching keys; chanting choruses, often layered into casually intricate three-part harmonies; an uncredited horn section (most likely led by ex-James Brown sidemen Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley) blowing endlessly inventive riffs around the tune's simple chords; and tons of additional vocals and studio chatter buried in the mix to create that unmistakable "ain't no party like a P-Funk party" atmosphere. For Clinton, the track was pivotal, giving him his first hit in seven years and effectively putting him back on the map.

That earlier hit, "Testify", gets funked up here on the very next track, and though the song's R&B roots can still be heard in its verse-chorus-verse structure, the new version is every bit as funky as "Down Stroke" itself. Though they don't get songwriting credits, the hands of Bootsy and Bernie are all over this tune, as well, as more rollicking horns and Worrell's scorching clavinet riff give the song a seriously funky sound. Interestingly, the folks at Universal have been good enough to provide an earlier mix of the song, which shows Clinton and crew taking a somewhat more timid approach to funking up their old hit, pushing the bass down and the harmony vocals up in the mix. It still sounds good, but the version that's familiar to P-Funk fans is far superior.

The rest of Up for the Down Stroke is a weird hodgepodge of embryonic P-Funk jams, revamped Parliaments chestnuts, and a few downright oddities like the psychedelic pop epic "I Just Got Back From the Fantasy, Ahead of Our Time in the Four Lands of Ellet", a fairly awful, funkless number that's notable only for the amazing whistling solos of songwriter Peter Chase. Other tracks charm without dazzling, never quite coming together like an "Up for the Down Stroke" but still noteworthy for their individual components, like legendary guitarist Eddie Hazel's great lead vocal on "Presence of a Brain" and the spidery guitar licks that open "I Can Move You (If You Let Me)" and instantly reveal where David Byrne got his jittery guitar sound for Talking Heads' early albums.

The other old Parliaments remakes all hold up fairly well, despite not receiving the same heavy dose of funk injected into "Testify". "The Goose That Layed the Golden Egg" gets relaid as "The Goose", a Clinton/Hazel slow blues jam that is the album's only epic, four minutes of wittily over-the-top huffing and puffing from Clinton followed by five minutes of somewhat aimless, effects-laden soloing by Hazel. "Whatever Makes Baby Feel Good" gets a similar blues-vamp makeover, with much livelier guitar work but a regrettably lumbering piano-driven backbeat. The standout Parliaments retread, however, is "All Your Goodies Are Gone", thanks mainly to an amazing lead vocal by Clinton himself. Clinton was never a conventionally gifted vocalist, which is why he phased himself more and more into the role of ringleader over the years, but the way he moans, whispers, rasps, gulps and sneers his way through this song's kiss-off lyrics has to be heard to be believed.

In addition to the alternate mix of "Testify", this Universal reissue gives us two other bonus tracks, an "alternate mix" of "Up for the Down Stroke" that basically just features an additional, uncredited spoken vocal track, and a studio jam called "Singing Another Song". The latter is more or less a throwaway, a Family Stone-style jam showcasing Worrell's organ and those unidentified horns, but the "Down Stroke" alternate is fascinating for that insidious extra vocal, which riffs on everyone from "Tricky Dick" Nixon to the Godfather of Soul himself as it exhorts "all you unfunky folks and innocent bystanders" to "move in close so we can see you smile". Conversational in tone yet winkingly insistent, that voice embodies the spirit of every Parliament-Funkadelic release that spread the gospel of the Mothership to every corner of funkland and beyond for the rest of the decade.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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