Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Guide: Back Catalogue
Every Original Album Reviewed

Funkadelic

Wearing diapers onstage, mixing feedback guitar with songs about sex and body fluids, they've remained filthy for 38 years

Refusing all boundaries like they were hippies or something, Funkadelic threatened nightly to "pee in your Afro," while sporting wizard gear, Klan outfits, bedsheets, butt-flapped long johns and diapers. Mad Jimi Hendrix-guitar-yowled "rock." Retarded, bass-heavy beats anchored a low-down, weirdly futuristic funk. Stoned proto-raps and acid-fried post-doo-wop located their voice deep inside ghetto culture. Spawned in sub-Newark Plainfield, New Jersey, come to life in sub-Motown Detroit, Funkadelic were the dark side of George Clinton's ongoing Parliament-Funkadelic franchise. Their 12 studio albums constitute barely a third of P-Funk's insanely varied output. Old-school hip-hoppers sampled them as much as they did James Brown. They are a direct source of Prince, Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dr. Dre's G-funk.

Essential

*****

FUNKADELIC
Let's Take It to the Stage
Westbound, 1975

On the band's tightest album, two of P-Funk's greatest live jams--the title track ("shoulda seen the bull when he funked the cow") and "Get Off Your Ass and Jam" (rhymes with "Shit! Goddamn!")--last a total of five-and-a-half minutes. From "Good to Your Earhole" through "No Head, No Backstage Pass" to keyboard virtuoso Bernie Worrell's climactic Bach rip--which begins with a Clinton monologue about dicks and clits--all 10 tracks rock on.

*****

FUNKADELIC
One Nation Under a Groove
Warner Bros., 1978

"It was too bubblegum to me. Funkadelic was supposed to be rock," said singer-guitarist Garry Shider of the title track that immortalized Clinton's catchiest catchphrase. And that was only the beginning of Funkadelic's most beloved album, which advised, "Think. It ain't illegal yet," exuded 11 minutes of scatological call and response, and asked indignantly, "Who Says a Funk Band Can't Play Rock?!"

*****

FUNKADELIC
Motor City Madness
Westbound, 2006

"The Ultimate Funkadelic Westbound Compilation" squeezes 29 tracks onto two CDs. Songs that once seemed forgettable march through like doom in a sequence that dispenses with the fun stuff early so it can get down to hard cases. For those with the heart for it, this is their most listenable album.

Great

****

FUNKADELIC
Maggot Brain
Westbound, 1971

The title track is an indelible 10-minute guitar solo: Clinton is said to have instructed Eddie Hazel to play the first half as if his mother had just died and the second as if she had just risen from the dead. Heavy with bass, keyboard and class consciousness, five sour harmony-group meditations ensue, and these generate the nine-minute "Wars of Armageddon," Funkadelic's most incendiary freak-out ever. And for once, all three bonus tracks are plusses.

****

FUNKADELIC
Harcore Jollies
Warner Bros., 1976

Fueled by Clinton's discovery of his kiddie side, the Parliament half of his enterprise had become the Mothership. So to begin Funkadelic's friendliest album, he pumps up the campfire favorite "Comin' Round the Mountain" with the heavy riffing of new guitarist Mike Hampton, forging yet another jam suitable for vamping to the end of the universe. All three love songs are sexy--or all three sex songs are lovey.

****

FUNKADELIC
The Electric Spanking of War Babies
Warner Bros., 1981

Reduced to one disc and then buried by a label impatient with Clinton's profligate ways (prudently, he saved the hit "Atomic Dog" for his next deal), this is both strange and professional. A Syndrum-friendly young band establishes Clinton's commitment to an unknown future. "Icka Prick" achieves "equal-opportunity nasty." And Sly Stone turns in his only effective cameo in three decades.

Check It Out

***

FUNKADELIC
Funkadelic
Westbound, 1970

Dark, slow, tuneless: No wonder this debut was 'buked and scorned. A prequel to Sly and the Family Stone's depressive There's a Riot Goin' On, it scared the bejesus out of fans of upful blackness on both sides of America's widening racial divide.

***

FUNKADELIC
Cosmic Slop
Westbound, 1973

Nearly every song is about a sexual relationship, including one where a pimp gets 10 to 20. A single mother turns tricks "to hide the fact from us that life was really tough," and the wiped-out "No Compute" runs down utilitarian sex on the prowl. Only the lame "Let's Make It Last" could be called positive.

***

FUNKADELIC
Standing on the Verge of Getting It On
Westbound, 1974

The title began as a chant favored by rabid fans of the band's crazed shows. Funkadelic was becoming Clinton's groove band, albeit one open to his wild kinks and prophetic hoo-ha. The title track's pickup line is introduced by chipmunk voices proposing urolagnia. Then comes one of the few pro-gay songs in the pop canon.

***

FUNKADELIC
Uncle Jam Wants You
Warner Bros., 1979

This mock-military disco-era effort is best on the two longest studio tracks they ever released--with ex-Spinner Philippe Wynne scatting. They occupy 25 minutes of a 41-minute album.

Be Careful

**

FUNKADELIC
Free Your Mind . . . and Your Ass Will Follow
Westbound, 1976

"Let's see if we can cut a whole album while we are tripping on acid," Clinton proposed. Given how long LSD remains in the body, the experiment took all of one day. Untrammeled guitar workouts followed as down follows up, augmented by the world's first taste of Bernie Worrell's classically trained keyboard commentary and spoken-word pieces unworthy of the title credo, because what isn't? Parse that phrase and you comprehend both P-Funk and life on Earth.

***

FUNKADELIC
Tales of Kidd Funkadelic
Westbound, 1976

Their final LP for Westbound was recorded pretty much simultaneously with Hardcore Jollies, their first for Warners, so naturally Clinton shortchanged the label he was ditching. "Butt to Buttresuscitation" and "Undisco Kidd" don't justify their billings. The quintessential "Take Your Dead Ass Home! (Say Som'n Nasty)," however, funks shit up for seven minutes. Live, it's been known to hold up far longer than that.

**

FUNKADELIC
Live: Meadowbrook, Rochester, Michigan: 12th September 1971
Westbound, 1996

Preserved clearly enough on two-track, these typically or maybe even atypically free-form versions of second-drawer material with a just-hired, unrehearsed show drummer are all that remain of a storied live ethos that would soon venture further out visually than it did musically. Basically, it's a historical document. It'd be great if there were video from the period. But there isn't.

For Fans Only

**

FUNKADELIC
America Eats Its Young
Westbound, 1972

Funkadelic's worst album introduced former James Brown bassist and living cartoon Bootsy Collins to the ever-changing P-Funk Mob and is dominated by Worrell, thus scotching the widespread and plausible muso theory that his keyboards were what made P-Funk P-Funk. Strewing chaos and screwing his friends, George Clinton was what made P-Funk P-Funk. Here he's so smitten with the quasi-Satanist Process Church of the Final Judgment that he cedes them the liner notes.

**

EDDIE HAZEL
Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs
Warner Bros., 1977

True-blue funkateers swear by Hazel, a perpetually troubled son of Plainfield who proves that African-American rock-guitar wizardry didn't leap generations from Jimi Hendrix to Vernon Reid. But like so many guitar wizards, Hazel needed framing and guidance. Evoking Steely Dan at times, this revered album is one more sideman project only true-blue fans need. Its two best songs were written by the Beatles and the Mamas and the Papas.

**

FUNKADELIC
By Way of the Drum
Hip-O Select, 2007

The exhumed remains of Clinton's late-'80s attempt to take a band of new enlistees to a new label indicates its up-to-dateness by doing without live bass and drums. Although the title track has some jam, the ploy is most effective when Clinton's son Trey Lewd rewrites Slick Rick's "La-Di-Da-Di."

Further Listening

***

THE BRIDES OF FUNKENSTEIN
Never Buy Texas From a Cowboy
Atlantic, 1979

Further Browsing

www.duke.edu/~tmc/pfunk.html The only decent Funkadelic book, the oral history George Clinton and P-Funk, is way out of print. This academic Web site has more hard info anyway--like a list of around 500 records that sample P-Funk.

Blender, Aug. 2008