Parliament

TrackAlbum
BreakdownOsmium
TestifyUp For the Down Stroke
Give Up The Funk
(Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)
Mothership Connection
Mothership Connection (Star Child)Mothership Connection
Unfunky UFOMothership Connection
Bop Gun
(Endangered Species)
Funkentelechy vs.
The Placebo Syndrome
Flash LightFunkentelechy vs.
The Placebo Syndrome
FunkentelechyFunkentelechy vs.
The Placebo Syndrome
Aqua Boogie
(A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)
Motor Booty Affair
DeepMotor Booty Affair

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Contributor: Ceri Taylor

Parliament is funk. In its purest sense.

James Brown may have been the Godfather of Soul (and rightly so might I add) and a funk originator but Parliament (and any George Clinton related group or artist – Funkadelic, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Parlet, Brides of Funkenstein and a whole lot more) were the first to really put out ‘funk’ records, embrace it as a culture and release concept albums relating to anything and everything. To quote Clinton – “(Funk is) whatever it needs to be at a given time”.

To pick 10 tracks is nigh on impossible considering the groups output and moreover the quality of that output. On the flipside (pun very much intended), at least I’m only selecting tracks from the Parliament arm of the P-Funk collective! Funkadelic can be found on another Toppermost page and I’d like to revisit with some of the subsidiary groups and soloists later down the line – all of whom are superb.

As the task is tough I’ve stuck with personal favourites and a true top 10, if I had a top 30 I could have possibly been all things to all men concerning Parliament and picked up on some hard to omit omissions – or would 30 be enough!?

On the whole, all the Parliament albums are fantastic, with releases spanning a decade, Osmium (1970) through to Trombipulation (1980). The concepts, sleeve designs and most importantly the tracks are unashamedly funky, vibrant and out there. However, where some albums are brilliant listens as a whole, sometimes there aren’t so many stand out individual tracks – the collective being more powerful than the individual – a kind of metaphor for Parliament.

A few of the albums are available to listen to in their entirety on YouTube, but they are all still easy to find, most being re-released with bonus tracks and alternate mixes. For those not yet exposed to the funk, those not sure if their feet and minds can take it, perhaps the greatest hits is a good place to start. It certainly gives a very good overview. However, it does lose the feel a stand-alone album gives you – try Mothership Connection in full on YouTube and then Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome (what happened to album titles like that!). These are possibly the finest examples.

I won’t bore you with a complete history (funk is never boring, might I add) – if you’re here reading this I’m guessing you love music and if not, please read on – this music will change your life! The history is easy to find on Wikipedia or in any good soul/funk book. It is worth mentioning that the group started out as The Parliaments – a doo-wop/barbershop group with Clinton at the helm, this evolved into Parliament where the first album, Osmium, was put out on the Holland-Dozier-Holland Invictus label. Things went quiet after some mild success and with some contractual issues Clinton lost the rights to the Parliament name and put all efforts into the more successful Funkadelic side of “thangs”. Clinton eventually re-acquired the rights and from 1974 enjoyed success with records put out under the name Parliament and the rest is, as they say, history.

In short, musically, the difference between the groups is Parliament are more R&B horn and synth driven whereas Funkadelic are more rock-funk guitar driven. This is a generalisation but a good rule of thumb to tell the difference. In terms of experimentation it certainly helped Clinton having a few groups to play with, opening the door to creative carte blanche.

The influence can be noticed too, mainly through the samples of West Coast Hip-Hop, but its reach goes far and wide – the psychedelic free-spirited attitude spread into disco, glam rock and influenced modern groups like the Red Hot Chili Peppers who were at one time produced by Clinton. So, finally, on to the tracks …

Apart from Breakdown, which still has a Funkadelic sound about it – a brilliant call and response number – the other tracks are from Parliament’s core years (74-80). Clinton has been playing around with a track called “(I Wanna) Testify” for some years but once they signed with Casablanca he reissued it as Testify. It’s very R&B for Parliament but the horn blasts and opening keyboards really pull you in, sometimes with P-Funk the music overpowers the lyrics but these are really worth a listen here. In fact, it’s often the case – Clinton and the whole gang are usually saying a lot more than the record initially says – they just made it very fun to listen to!

Parliament really came into their own on the release of the Mothership Connection album, highlighting the group’s (or just Clinton’s?) fascination with science-fiction, space and communicating through funk with whatever is out there! It’s a fantastic album containing 3 of my top 10 – Mothership Connection (Star Child), Unfunky UFO and Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker) – all totally different, all fantastic! Give Up The Funk really demonstrates the funk as a beast that literally says what it does on the tin! Parliament certainly liked long song titles and using brackets (but don’t we all) – how can you get everything said otherwise!

Their live shows equal anything out there today, featuring some elaborate set design – ships landing on the stage, the works. It also showed off the individual members eccentric sense of dress and style – not every day you see a man in nappies playing guitar – a live version of Mothership Connection is attached to this Toppermost but the whole Live In Houston show (available on DVD) is an experience worth sitting through.

Both the Chocolate City and The Clones Of Dr. Funkenstein albums are great listens with some ace tracks, but none made my top 10. It was their next album, and my personal favourite, Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome, where I feel it all came together and for me another 3 picks. Some tracks started weighing in at 10 minutes plus, but the title track Funkentelechy is worth every second. It certainly made me get a dictionary out to understand what Clinton was talking about! Funk is actuality I guess or, moreover, Funk is.

Bop Gun is another fantastic record, similar in vain to Give Up The Funk but again there is a hidden message in there. And Flash Light is, well, Flash Light is something else – Bernie Worrell’s synth bass is totally out in space and the chants, bizarre voices and lyrics just make it one hell of a ride!

My final 2 choices both come from the Motor Booty Affair album, this time concerned with all things water related, so not only were Parliament floating off into outer space, they were deep down in the ocean too! Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphabetabioaqaudoloop) (only Parliament!) is a brilliant record – totally whacky, totally stomping. Its bassline is relentless, if you catch the 12” single version it just goes on forever!

Deep is often ignored but personally I love it, its horn riffs are very catchy and the bass as farty as ever, really draws you in – it also highlighted Walter ‘Junie’ Morrison’s (ex Ohio Players) influence on the group with him taking lead vocals on this mission of a record. Its obsession with Atlantis theory isn’t probably as current any more, but it certainly got me looking it up, plus the record once again has a hidden agenda – for what really is Deep?

The final two core albums Gloryhallastoopid (or Pin The Tale On The Funky) and Trombipulation are both good; the group starting to fall apart a little but they are certainly worth a listen.

The 80s saw the group disband but the remnants of the P-Funk empire carry on; Clinton had solo success and the hip-hop scene in the early 90s saw a whole new generation discover P-Funk through the sampling and reinterpreting of these classic records – if it wasn’t for those I wouldn’t have discovered one of my favourite groups (if not the favourite) and I would have been less of a person for it. In Funk we trust.

Official site of George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic

Parliament biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #62

2 Comments

  1. Peter Viney
    Sep 5, 2013

    Ceri, I enjoyed this greatly and picked out “Parliament’s Greatest Hits” for today’s listening as a result, I feel though that you can’t draw a line from James Brown to Parliament without stopping to mention Sly & The Family Stone who tower over the interface between the two. “Do That Stuff” (my first Parliament choice … not that I have much) once fooled me into thinking it was Sly. Hopefully Sly is a future Toppermost from you. Chocolate City might be 1975, but sounds several years later.

    An aside: secondhand record stores so often have import copies of Bootsy’s Rubber Band’s “Bootsy. Player of The Year” with that cutout slash. Tons of them. They must have been dumped in the UK in large quantities.

    • Ceri Taylor
      Nov 12, 2013

      Peter, I agree, Sly is very important in the funk/soul crossover, but for speed purposes I had cut to the chase. Sly certainly provides the psychedelic end (nearly in total). I don’t own all the albums to warrant a toppermost at present but I think someone should! That said, I suppose there are many other “bridges” that lead to the Parliament funk sound – if you will “Pre-Funk” groups and artists including Sly, such as Isaac Hayes, Booker T & The MGs, The Isleys and the Mar-Keys but I’d say only Sly and Isaac Hayes went on to develop a more funkier sound going into the 70s.

      That Bootsy album is a good fun album and you’re right, it is readily available. Once Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker joined him it all got very funky! Now Bootsy is certainly a toppermost I would like to do in the future – you can’t beat a bit of space bass!

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