It’s Friday. It’s gorgeous out and tonight we have plans to play Frisbee at the park and eat a stupid number of bite-size burrito’s (long story). So guess where I’d rather not be? Yup, you nailed it: sitting here at my desk in Corporate Hell, that’s where. So I’m jump-starting the wewantthefunk to find enough rhythm to get through the morning with the ‘Mothership Connection‘ album by Parliament.
Last year I went through a big Funkadelic stage while lifting weights at the gym. You could say I kind of OD-ed on the funk at that time. This morning, I’m tentatively reopening that door once more, but this time with their sister band Parliament, also lead by George Clinton.
Parliament was originally The Parliaments, a doo-wop vocal group based at a Plainfield, New Jersey barbershop. The group was formed in the late 1950’s and included Clinton, Ray Davis, Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon, and Grady Thomas. Clinton was the group leader and manager. The group finally had a hit single in 1967 with ‘(I Wanna) Testify‘ on Revilot Records. To capitalize, Clinton formed a backing band for a tour, featuring teenage barbershop employee Billy Bass Nelson on bass and his friend Eddie Hazel on guitar, with the lineup eventually rounded out by Tawl Ross on guitar, Tiki Fulwood on drums, and Mickey Atkins on organ. However, during a contractual dispute with Revilot, Clinton temporarily lost the rights to the name “The Parliaments”, and signed the ensemble to Westbound Records as Funkadelic, which Clinton positioned as a funk-rock band featuring the five touring musicians with the five Parliaments singers as uncredited guests. With Funkadelic as a recording and touring entity in its own right, in 1970 Clinton relaunched the singing group, now known as Parliament, at first featuring the same ten members. Clinton was now the leader of two different acts, Parliament and Funkadelic, which featured the same members but were marketed as creating two different types of funk.
Funkadelic was likely the more serious of the two incarnations while Parliament was it’s more feeble-minded slapstick in-law.
Usually when I start down a path, I like to start at the beginning with the debut album, however, I’m jumping ahead a bit with this, their 4th album released in 1975 on Casablanca Records. This concept album of P-Funk mythology is usually rated as one of Parliament’s best. ‘Mothership Connection’ was the first P-Funk album to feature Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley, who had left The J.B.’s, James Brown’s backing band (not to mention keyboard wizard Bernie Worrell and Bootsy Collins, who plays not only bass but also drums and guitar). The album became Parliament’s 1st album to be certified gold and later platinum. The Library of Congress even added the album to the National Recording Registry in 2011, declaring “[t]he album has had an enormous influence on jazz, rock and dance music.”
Cool x 2, yes?
Besides the dazzling array of musicians, Mothership Connection boasts a trio of hands-down classics – ‘P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)‘, ‘Mothership Connection (Star Child)‘, ‘Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)‘ – that are among the best to ever arise from the funk era, each sampled and interpolated time and time again by rap producers; in particular, Dr. Dre. (not that I care much). The remaining four songs on the album are all great also, if less canonical. ‘ Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication‘ is the P-Funk equivalent of Isaac Hayes‘ ‘Hyperbolicsyllabicsequedalymistic‘. ‘Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples‘ (awesome song name, by the way) is by far the funkiest though with Bootsy going way off with that bass of his.
Lastly, there’s the overlapping outer-space theme, which ties the album together into a loose escapist narrative. There’s no better starting point in the enormous P-Funk catalog than ‘Mothership Connection‘ – hence my using this album as a good starting point – which, like its trio of classic songs, is undoubtedly among the best of the funk era.