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George Clinton: 10 Essential Tracks

Written by Augustus Welby on April 1, 2019

When George Clinton was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1997 (by Prince, no less), more than a dozen other musicians were there beside him. Over a five-decade career Clinton has spearheaded a veritable movement, but he’s never pretended to be an island.

With the groups Parliament and Funkadelic and as a solo artist, Clinton has evolved and continually redefined funk music. He’s spent most of his career living inside the P-Funk universe, an alien land composed of ecstatic grooves and sly political defiance.

Clinton’s career output has been greatly boosted by contributions from legendary musicians and songwriters like bassist Bootsy Collins, keyboardist Bernie Worell and guitarists Eddie Hazel and Garry Shider. But Clinton is the godhead, steering each intrepid advance further into the funk-sphere.

Clinton is set to retire from live performance this year, but he insists Parliament-Funkadelic will continue without him. As it stands, his amalgamated career discography contains more than three-dozen albums.

Here’s a taster.

1. Maggot Brain, Maggot Brain (1971, Funkadelic)

The title track from Funkadelic’s canonical third album resembles nothing else in this list. Funkadelic’s early releases were rooted in rock’n’roll music – psychedelic and soulful, but not slick and brassy like Parliament.

‘Maggot Brain’ is composed of just two guitars, one picking out a basic chord pattern and the other wailing with interstellar emotion. Eddie Hazel’s ten-minute freak-out gives a nod to Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis while ‘Maggot Brain’ has gone on to influence everyone from Neil Young to the Dirty Three.

2. Can You Get To That, Maggot Brain (1971, Funkadelic)

You’ll know this one even if you don’t recognise it by name. The opening riff forms the core of Sleigh Bells’ ‘Rill Rill’, which featured in an iPhone ad. But the Funkadelic original remains unsurpassed, a soul number that flaunts Clinton’s pop-smarts and hearkens back to his days as a staff songwriter for Motown.

The acoustic-driven soul sound of ‘Can You Get To That’ is an anomaly in the Funkadelic catalogue. Perhaps Clinton saw no need to revisit given the song’s pristine execution.

3. Up For The Down Stroke, Up For The Down Stroke (1974, Parliament)

Clinton formed The Parliaments in New Jersey in the late 1950s, a doo-wop band that achieved middling success during the 1960s. By the mid-70s, however, he’d refashioned Parliament into an outlet for slickly produced electro-funk. The band’s most radio-friendly cuts came later in the decade, but their bass-heavy, horn-toting signature was already in full effect on 1974’s Up For The Down Stroke.

The title track became the band’s first chart hit and is notable for introducing the songwriting nucleus of Clinton, Collins and Worrell. With swerving tempos and raw presentation, ‘Up For The Down Stroke’ isn’t as refined as what followed but that’s part of its charm.

4. P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up), Mothership Connection (1975, Parliament)

18 months and two albums after Up For The Down Stroke, Parliament reached their funktastic zenith with Mothership Connection. An integral instalment in P-Funk mythology, the concept album begins with ‘P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)’ – a seven-minute affirmation of the power of funk.

Written by Clinton, Collins and Worrell, it boasts one of Collins’ sleaziest bass lines and features ex-J.B.’s horn players Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker.

5. Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker), Mothership Connection (1975, Parliament)

The Mothership Connection narrative declares earth the funk capital of the universe. Some funk-deprived aliens attempt to purchase the funk for themselves, but are unsuccessful. On the album’s penultimate track, ‘Give Up the Funk’, the aliens are desperate and willing to “tear the roof off the mothersucker” in order to get their hands on the vivifying force of funk.

It might sound a bit bat-shit, but ‘Give Up the Funk’ is all sensual grooves and incredibly hooky lead vocals. One listen and you’ll be singing it for the rest of the day.

6. Flash Light, Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome (1977, Parliament)

1977 saw punk emerge as a cultural force, while disco had already gained mainstream popularity. Clinton could be seen to have influenced both movements, but he found no joy in the latter. Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome is a pointed dismissal of disco, which Clinton perceived as a cynical simplification of the almighty funk.

Lead single ‘Flash Light’ is one of Parliament’s most recognisable songs. It’s distinguished by Worrell’s descending/ascending synth bass line, taking the place of Collins’ typically earth-shaking bass guitar. It’s been widely sampled, notably in Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘I’ll Take Your Man’.

7. One Nation Under A Groove, One Nation Under A Groove (1978, Funkadelic)

‘One Nation Under A Groove’ is more in line with the P-Funk signature than the earlier Funkadelic songs in this list. However, it incorporates more rock and soul influences than the alien-funk of Parliament’s mid-to-late 70s releases.

The horns are absent and the bass playing is relatively composed, the guitars are scratchier too, but it’s still a mighty dance number that engenders hypnosis over its seven-minute duration.

The track lends its name to Clinton’s farewell tour, apt given it’s basically the P-Funk national anthem.

8. Atomic Dog, Computer Games (1982)

After a decade of staggering productivity that bred nine Parliament LPs and more than a dozen Funkadelic releases, Clinton dismantled the bands to initiate a solo career. 1982’s Computer Games features P-Funk regulars Worrell, Collins, Hazel and Shider, but refreshes the band’s MO.

The record’s iconic lead single ‘Atomic Dog’ has been sampled by Big Daddy Kane, De La Soul and DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. Perhaps most memorably it inspired the central hook for Lil’ Bow Wow’s ‘Bow Wow (That’s My Name)’.

It’s a surrealistic funk monster with Clinton improvising the majority of the lyrics and perceptibly relishing the unfixed parameters of the solo vehicle.

9. Ain’t That Funkin Kinda Hard On You? (We Ain’t Neva Gonna Stop remix), First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate (2014, Funkadelic feat. Kendrick Lamar and Ice Cube)

Clinton revived the Funkadelic name for 2007’s By Way of the Drum, but the material was all recorded in the mid-1980s. The band’s first LP of new material was 2014’s First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate – a three hour, 33-song triple album.

The ‘We Ain’t Neva Gonna Stop’ remix of ‘Ain’t That Funkin Kinda Hard On You?’ incorporates fresh verses from Kendrick Lamar and Ice Cube. Lamar’s inclusion is fitting given the conspicuous P-Funk textures on his To Pimp A Butterfly LP. Clinton and Ice Cube go way back, with Clinton appearing on Cube’s ’93 single, ‘Bop Gun (One Nation)’.

10. I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me (feat. Scarface), Medicaid Fraud Dogg (2018, Parliament)

After 38 years, the Parliament name was revived for last year’s Medicaid Fraud Dogg. Co-written with his son Tracey Lewis, Clinton uses the album to call out the corrupt US pharmaceutical industry and the routine over-prescribing of medication.

The political slant doesn’t subdue the 77-year-old Clinton’s commitment to funking you up, though. ‘I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me’ flaunts a classic, subversive Parliament sound – siren-like backing vocalists buffer Clinton’s chant-like repetition of the title phrase. In an earlier time the voluptuous bass sound would’ve landed him in prison for obscenity.

George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic will play Byron Bay Bluesfest this April. The band have also announced a pair of sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne. Dates and details below.

George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic Bluesfest Sideshows

Saturday, 20th April 2019
Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Tickets: Bluesfest Touring

Thursday, 25th April 2019
The Forum , Melbourne
Tickets: Bluesfest Touring

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