George Clinton And Parliament-Funkadelic: One Nation Under P-Funk
Left: George Clinton on the cover of Parliament's 1976 album The Clones Of Dr. Funkenstein. Right: bassist Bootsy Collins in 1977. Sources: (Amazon.com Michael Ochs Archives, Stringer, Getty)
The groovy, trippy late '60s sure did a number on rock 'n roll, but that's not the only musical genre that had its mind blown. The psychedelic descendant of soul and R&B music was P-Funk, which stands for psychedelic funk, pure funk, Plainfield Funk -- and can also be a shorthand for the collective at its center, Parliament-Funkadelic. George Clinton, Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, Eddie Hazel, Garry Shider, and other musicians combined psychedelic rock and bottom-heavy soul rhythms to create anything-goes, booty-shaking music and party atmosphere summed up in one word: funk. In the P-Funk world of Parliament-Funkadelic, funk was everything; music and style should be funky, and when in doubt, add more funk.
Origin And Meaning Of P-Funk
P-Funk is a blanket term for the musical style and output of Parliament, Funkadelic, and the groups and side projects spun off from what was a very large collective. With George Clinton at its center, Parliament-Funkadelic was a rotating group of musicians joining, leaving, and rejoining over the years. A P-Funk show (regardless of the band's name) might have seen ten to 30 musicians on stage, playing a wide range of instruments and wearing outrageous costumes.
Parliament-Funkadelic provided an aural melting pot of jazz, gospel, psychedelic rock, soul and rhythm, and blues. It is almost as hard to pin down what the name P-Funk stands for as it is to pin down the members of the collective.
This melting pot is characterized by concept albums, the use of synthesizers, a blues/jazz piano, unobtrusive drums, the use of a horn section, and electric bass.
Their music embodied a philosophy as well. The characters in their songs acted out a battle between good, defined as funk and evil defined as unFunk. Salvation was not Heaven, but a utopia called Funkadelic. They offered freedom and power to those who felt impotent.
The Parliaments Of Plainfield, New Jersey
P-Funk's origins stretch back to 1956 when George Clinton formed a vocal group called the Parliaments in Plainfield, New Jersey. Though they began recording in 1956, this barbershop quintet didn’t chart until 1967, with "(I Wanna) Testify" which went to #3 on the R&B chart and #20 on the pop chart. By then the Parliaments had evolved into a Motown-style soul group, and a lot had happened in music. Clinton had begun listening to psychedelic rock groups such as Cream and Sly and the Family Stone. Funkadelic, the sister group of the Parliaments, initially formed as the back-up for the Parliaments and was influenced by the psychedelic rock groups. The Parliaments ran into legal issues with their name, and for a time the vocal group became in effect the back-up singers for the back-up band. Their early shows were loud and long, amounting to jam sessions.
Clinton was driven to legitimize funk -- his way. With Parliament-Funkadelic, it was not all about the music, but about performing, often pushing boundaries. For instance, George Clinton sometimes performed without clothes and Garry Shider, a talented guitarist and the writer behind the song "Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication" was known as “Diaperman,” because he wore an oversized loin cloth while on stage.
So there were two bands in the early '70s, both consisting of the same members -- Parliament, a vocal group that was more R&B-oriented, and Funkadelic, which was a funk-rock outfit. Parliament released its first album, Osmium, in 1970, then went on hiatus until 1974; Funkadelic released its self-titled debut in 1970, then Free Your Mind... And You Ass Will Follow (1970), followed by their most acclaimed album, Maggot Brain (1971).
In the mid-1970s, Parliament signed with Casablanca records and returned with the album Up For The Down Stroke, then Mothership Connection. Several new members also joined the group, which released the single “Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk),” a signature tune better known simply as "Give Up The Funk" that hit #5 on the R&B chart.
The Mothership Has Landed
Mothership Connection went platinum and its release was followed by a series of stadium tours that ended with the P-Funk Earth Tour. On tour, music from both Parliament and Funkadelic was featured in addition to crazy costumes and special effects. During the show, as Glenn Goins and later Garry Shider sang, a prop spaceship called the Mothership landed on stage, apparently summoned by the music. George Clinton, in the guise of Dr. Funkenstein, would emerge from the Mothership.
A copy of the Mothership itself is now in the Smithsonian Institute
After Leaving The Mothership
The album The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein was released in 1976 and was certified gold.
The platinum-selling Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome (1977) was a concept album that addressed a by-product of funk: disco. Clinton saw disco as a dumbed-down version of funk that was tempting to funk artists simply because there was money in it. The album's single "Flashlight" went to #1 on the R&B chart and is a funk classic.
1978 marked the release of Motor Booty Affair, which was a gold album within three months. The title refers to Detroit, the Motor Town. It has a water theme and features the artwork of Overton Lloyd for the gatefold cover and directly on the vinyl LP. "Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)" became the group's second single to top the R&B chart. The live shows drew on the water theme and had underwater characters. Often, P-Funk shows had close to 30 people onstage. Shows typically included props and outrageous costumes.
P-Funk spun off into separate groups including Bootsy’s Rubber Band and the Brides of Funkenstein.
P-Funk Since The '70s
1980 marked the end of Parliament-Funkadelic when George Clinton embarked on a solo career. Parliament released their final album, Trombipulation, in 1980, and in 1981, the final Funkadelic album, The Electric Spanking of War Babies, came out.
Their influence is felt today, in music and in culture. Dr. Dre sampled “Mothership Connection” on the Grammy-winning “Let Me Ride.” With Dr. Dre’s use of P-Funk, G-Funk or Gangsta-Funk emerged in the early 1990s. Their songs have been sampled many times, with “Flash Light” being sampled more than 30 times, by artists from Digital Underground to Run DMC.
In 2014, Funkadelic released First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate, its first album of new material since 1981. Then, in 2018, Parliament did the same with Medicaid Fraud Dogg.
In 1997, 16 members of Parliament-Funkadelic were inducted into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame. On May 11, 2019, the Recording Academy bestowed its Lifetime Achievement Award on George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic.
Tags: Bootsy Collins | Funkadelic | George Clinton | P-Funk | Parliament
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