Who: George Clinton, Eddie Hazel, Tawl Ross, Bernie Worrell, Billy Bass Nelson, Tiki Fulwood.
Why: Popular legend has it that multi-colour dreadlocked George Clinton and his band Funkadelic landed on earth after spanning light years hurtling through the galaxy on their disco mothership. In reality, the truth was rather more mundane. Before becoming a funk spaceman, mad George was a respectable do-wopper in the Parliaments, his cosmic afro tamed and shaped by acres of brylcreem. Formed in a barbershop, they modelled themselves on Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers and found some success as a soul group. But in the late 60s something more wild and psychedelic was in the air, with Clinton refashioning his band into the constantly mutating funkers that would take soul music on an interstellar voyage into uncharted territories of groove throughout the next decade.
As the liner notes to Standing on the Verge of Getting It On decree, ‘the Cosmic Strumpet of Mother Nature was to spawned to envelop this third planet in Funkacidal Vibrations. She birthed Apostles Ra, Hendrix, Stone & Clinton to preserve all funkiness of man unto eternity’. Indeed, Clinton’s crew, now split between the more poppy Parliament and the experimental, dangerous stylings of Funkadelic, continued the good work of Messrs. Sun, Jimi and Sly in taking funk to its outer limits. Running rings (of Saturn) around the competition, the afro-alien Parliament/Funkadelic hippie conglomerate left their doo-wop roots in the dust, setting controls for the heart of the sun. While the groups were often interchangeable, Funkadelic’s recorded output, at least for me, far eclipses that of their sister band. The first lysergic slab of true genius they put out was third LP Maggot Brain, an apocalyptic monolith of acid-noise that was as rock & roll as it was soulful, as hilarious as it was heartbreaking.
With the addition of keyboardist Bernie Worrell, Clinton’s denizens were ablaze, this new navigators’ classical training solidifying the ‘P-funk’ sound with pioneering horn arrangements and synthesizer work. As political as it was mind-frying, Maggot Brain’s dynamism and iconic artwork make it an essential Clinton release. But they were just gathering steam. After prodigious LSD intake left a few casualties, Clinton poached members of James Brown’s backing band, notably platform booted bass berserker Bootsy Collins. This era of the band would prove the most lucrative, with 1978’s One Nation Under A Groove filling dancefloors and topping charts. Uncle Jam Wants You did the same. But while their records would come to be hip-hop’s most raided tomb of samples (listen to any of their tunes for multiple ‘ah, Dr. Dre!’ or ‘ah, Snoop Dogg!’ moments), Funkadelic were most comfortable in the live arena. With Casablanca giving them the same live budget as labelmates KISS, performances would combine the punk power of Detroit brothers the MC5 and The Stooges with spectacles rarely seen out of heavy metal pantomime. UFOs, dry ice, celestial Viking costumes, pyrotechnic displays and synapse-frying light shows were all commonplace. Somehow, having lived his life at lightspeed, the real President Clinton is still funking as hard as he ever did. Long may he reign.
Influences: James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, Sun Ra, Jimi Hendrix, Cream.
Influenced: Rick James, Prince, Dr. Dre, Primus, Chrome Hoof, Janelle Monáe.
Sample Lyric: ‘Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time, for y’all have knocked her up / I have tasted the maggots in the mind of the universe’.
Which Record: Maggot Brain (Westbound, 1971)