(July 3, 2020). In May, DJROBBLOG introduced its “3 Old Guys” series, where three men in their 50s give their individual takes on a classic album from the past. That month it was Marvin Gaye’s 1978 cult classic Here My Dear, a palimony offering to his ex-wife Anna Gordy Gaye.
This month, it’s another 1978 classic, but one that clearly doesn’t warrant the “cult” modifier: Funkadelic’s genre-busting, million-selling chart-topper One Nation Under A Groove…the album.
In the fall of 1978, with disco all the rage and many artists succumbing to the temptation to join the genre’s ever-expanding bandwagon, George Clinton assembled his merry band of funkateers and created what was arguably his best work, a cosmic call-to-arms that would include funk’s new national anthem, taking over the nation and giving listeners a real reason to stand.
That anthem was “One Nation Under a Groove,” a No. 1 soul chart single that itself sold a million copies and became the P-Funk empire’s biggest and least expected R&B hit. It fronted the album bearing its name, an album that itself became Funkadelic’s biggest commercial success.
For years, Funkadelic had been Clinton’s alternative band, an acid-funk-rock ensemble of talented musicians whose first nine albums seemed more experimental than they were commercial, with long album cuts not suitable for radio and cover artwork (courtesy of the late Pedro Bell) that depicted otherworldly mythology.
Instead, the hits were left to Parliament – the other side of Clinton’s parallel universe which had amassed big chart singles over the preceding years with “Chocolate City,” “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker” and “Flashlight,” the latter two being Clinton’s first million-sellers.
In fact, it was only months earlier in 1978 that Clinton was enjoying his biggest success with albums by Parliament (Motor Booty Affair) and protégé William “Bootsy” Collins (Bootsy? Player of the Year). The two albums were duking it out at the top of the soul album charts while their lead singles – Parliament’s “Flashlight,” which features Bootsy on that iconic bass line and which was originally intended for him, and Bootsy’s Rubber Band’s “Bootzilla” – were back-to-back No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart that February and March.
Still, no one would have guessed that Clinton’s next No. 1 success would come from Funkadelic, whose metaphorical anthem would reign for six weeks from the end of September through early November, while its titular album dominated the Hot Soul Albums list for four.
This week, the same three old guys who kicked off the classic album triple review feature with Marvin give their individual takes on One Nation.
These three guys, who connected in a Facebook music group called Album of the Moment (seek it out if you’re so inclined) were all just teenagers – or on the cusp of becoming so – when One Nation was first issued.
Since then, these three have had a collective 125 years worth of funking it up to develop a deeper than deep (or as the late Pedro Bell would call it, “zeep”) appreciation for what is arguably the P-funk collective’s greatest work…or is it?
Here now is each man’s take on Funkadelic’s One Nation Under A Groove, the album:
Pedro Bell’s typically astounding cover art depicts a quartet of outer-space funketeers in an Iwo Jima pose atop a tiny earth, hoisting a flag labeled “R&B”; the “B” means “Business”, and George Clinton & Co certainly do, as well.
This was the tenth album under the Funkadelic umbrella, their first with valuable new member Junie Morrison (ex-Ohio Players), their second for the Brothers Warner.
And in the wake of Parliament’s increasing chart success, and the publicity generated by the previous year’s P-Funk Earth Tour, it’s the right time to release their most commercially-appealing album yet, in order to expand their P-Funk empire (both financial and musical), and spread The Funk all around; and Bell’s colourful, witty cartoon panels depict the diaspora: First the big cities, then the west, and into to the vanilla suburbs, and eventually “The South Funks Again!” (Even a stray sheepish Klansman is converted – “I came for the funk, boy!” – his hood hanging impotently behind his head.)
Additionally, “Brand Xers are catching on!” – other, lesser bands trying for their own piece of the funkin’ pie (exemplified by “Punk-A-Delic”, whose hideous bassist bears a familiar widow’s-peak -and foot-long tongue combo.)
And finally, the funk flows beyond the U.S. border to England and France, and even Planet NASTAR (tho apparently not Canada (Puckadelica?), the band’s many Toronto connections notwithstanding.)
Also, there’s a series of panels devoted to a PSA about “Funkadelic Sperm”; plus a nutty apocalyptic sci-fi tale of the Funk Wars (1984 B.C.), and evil Barft Vada’s disco ban of 1982, and much talk of blaflammic discospheres and heliotart pussookas and spankatron boxes…basically, it’s almost too much to take in, as an audio-visual package, there’s so much to stare at and read, so many words in the notes, and the lyric sheet, including references to P-Funk mythology and the canon of works.
And the music is similarly dense, all those elaborately arranged voices and overdriven guitars and synthesizers always fighting for space atop the multiple rhythms. The songwriting, ten years on from George’s initial post-Motown derivations, has moved further from conventional pop-structured songwriting toward open-ended stream-of-consciousness grooves; song lengths average over 6:00, of which there are nine in total, on 19 inches of vinyl. (Or a single CD, or 8-track tape if you were me in November, 1985.)
Frequently cited as the band’s artistic peak (alongside “Maggot Brain”), I used to think it was an overrated item in the catalog, but I’ve long since come around to rethinking that; now, it’s definitely in my top three or four. Depending. Anyways, let’s begin!
The uptempo title hit begins without, with a rotating cement-truck full of percussion instruments (plus whistle; and minus standard drumkit, from what I can hear) over a basic handclapped 2/4, synth-bass whirring and blurping, rhythm guitars atypically unfuzzed, Parliament-style.
More dancefloorable than usual from these Undisco Kidds, it’s a mission statement in beat form; “So wide you can’t get around it/So low you can’t getter under it”, this beat, and it’s effortlessly, almost indifferently funky, never much rising or falling in intensity (even as the scene-stealing percussionists constantly shift and rotate); it just races past like water through a canal, hurtling everything that floats along with it, can’t stop us now!
Lyrically, it’s a series of playful slogans and phrases, a manifesto to spread The Funk all across “The United Funk of Funkadelica”, and the various singers earnestly pledge their “Groovallegiance” (Track 2); they also promise to free our minds, not for the first time, and the atmosphere is appropriately contemplative, mildly psychedelic.
The beat is from Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon”, and the soloists (and bass strings) stretch out for a bit of moody jazz-fusion expression during a long tag. “Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?” (Track 3) Who indeed??
Nobody who hears THIS funk band, not with a riff like this one. Mike (Kidd Funkadelic) Hampton gets a lot of well-earned solo time throughout this album; here he abandons the usual Hendrix/Isley swirliness, choosing a punkish feedback-edge tone and aggressive flurries of notes, in extreme contrast with the unruffled minimalism of the disco-Stonesy beat. Shit, goddamn, etc. A superb first side.
No Funkadelic joint properly complete without a long, slow druggy spoken-word experiment – and like all experiments, even the failures are instructive –
Side Two gives us “Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doo Doo Chasers)”, a 11-minute call-and-response scatological sermon-sales pitch, a “musical bowel movement” to clear up all of those shitty futures and shitty memories and constipated 19-now nows and all the rest of that shit. A playful, late-afternoon melody provides a constant sweetener to this sonic overdose – atop the lyrical content, we have indecipherable falsetto soul-testifying throughout, plus more acid-blues guitar wanking, and it’s all competing for the sonic space alongside the random jokey murmured asides, with lyrical intelligibility occasionally an issue, regrettably. (I’m grateful for the lyric sheet!)
Overall effect is not dissimilar to something Frank Zappa might’ve done, had he taken as many drugs as George Clinton and crew.
“Into You” is a ballad in the “You And Your Folks”/”Smokey” mold, with a simple vocal mantra (“Into you now/Into you my people,”) that serves as the album’s best hook; the backing singers chant it over and over during the fade, pushing the solo vocalists and Hampton’s near-constant reversed-tape prog-wank to waves of ecstasy, so beautiful.
Side 2 finishes with a testimonial from “Cholly (Funk Getting Ready To Roll)”, lover of Beethoven & Bach, jazz & rock (and the waltz!) whose friends lead him to epiphany after a night on the town. “I must go with the funk”, he concludes, and so do we, as Bootsy’s fat-funky-worm bass commentary pulls us in and takes us out.
So far, we’ve had one fine side, and one very fine side. So if the additional material on the bonus 7” is a bit underwhelming or redundant (and almost entirely instrumental), I’m not gonna complain too much – especially with such instrumentalists as Hampton, Bernie Worrell, Junie Morrison and others doing what they do.
Anyways, we get 1) live version (full-band) of “Maggot Brain”, with Hampton frustratingly faded mid-cadenza; 2) a further 4:18 of Hampton/Worrell fireworks in “Doo-Doo Chasers (‘Going All-The-Way Off Instrumental Version’)”; and finally 3) something new, “Lunchmeataphobia” (fear of being eaten by a sandwich) is heavy Dee-troit guitar-army madness, all bulldozer riffs and feedback over that “Chameleon” beat once again, Bernie Worrell’s Moog bass plump and juicy.
“Think! It ain’t illegal yet!” we’re warned, over and over, an echoing chant also elicited from the Louisiana crowd after the “Maggot Brain” performance. And to emphasize the importance of the message, it shows up over and over in Bell’s cover art too, in red/yellow/green lettering,
And another inspirational slogan sketched within will serve as a serviceable closer to this review: “It is better to open your eyes and say you don’t understand…than to close your eyes and say that you don’t believe.”
And that can apply equally to ears.
In another life, George Clinton would have been an ad-man. Who knows, in an alternate universe he probably is. His lyrics are often slogans strung together into a narrative. Sometimes those words are not even his own. “One Nation Under a Groove’s” opening verse is lifted wholesale from the Temptations or, more specifically, Motown writers Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. At this point it does not matter: those words belong to popular culture now.
The One Nation Under a Groove album was the P-Funk collective’s first play for commercial viability under the Funkadelic banner. While scoring big time as Parliament for the previous four years, as Funkadelic, George and company kept things guitar-oriented and scatological. “Get Off Your Ass and Jam” and “Take Your Dead Ass Home” were not exactly bids at universal acceptance if any at all.
A couple of things happened. First, the Funkadelic brand changed record companies from Detroit independent Westbound to the giant Warner Brothers. Secondly, erstwhile Ohio Players keyboardist Junie Morrison joined the P-Funk collective. More than anyone, he is the engine that makes this album work.
When I say commercial viability, I should qualify that. For the most part, this follows the Funkadelic ethos of no horns (not the norm in 70’s funk or soul) and prominent and sometime loud guitar. I don’t want to make it sound like the band was turning into the Isley Brothers. For one thing the guitars were interwoven into the arrangements whereas Ernie Isley tended to have his flash moments but kept his rhythm playing on the down low.
Michael Hampton was painting with a wider brush on this album. There are more exceptions of course. Plus, more importantly, P-Funk had just lost the one true soul man it ever had in Glen Goins.
Part of the bid was the toning down of the Pedro Bell artwork. While still eccentric, this isn’t as garish or, to be honest, as funny as the last five he did for the band. One subtle change was the use of a white background as if to lighten the mood. The Iwo Jima motif was also a more universal theme.
The main reason for this album’s greatness is Junie. George’s other P-Funk procreators, Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell take the backseat here although the former’s bass is inescapable in spots. Junie weaves things together like a tapestry whereas Bernie was more like painting on a canvas. For whatever reason, George never let Junie run the show like this ever again.
If the title cut is the main joint here, it is not the only one. The two Bootsy co-writes, “Into You” and “Cholly (Funk Getting Ready to Roll),“ are especially noteworthy. Actually, I kind of wish there was a Rubber Band version of the former, not to besmirch bass man Ray Davis and one of his few lead vocals. Prince was certainly listening to “Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?” Actually, he was likely listening to the whole album, but I digress. (Someone needs to turn the tables on this one and do a version called “Who Says a Rock Band Can’t Play Funk?” They can slow it down like earlier Funkadelic did with “I Call My Baby Pussycat” and Sly’s “Thank You for Talkin’ To Me Africa.”)
The other two songs on the album, the subtly reggae “Groovallegiance” and the thank-god-for-cut-and-paste “Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doo Doo Chasers)” are probably the best examples of what I’m talking about when it comes to Junie’s approach to arrangements. On the latter, George and his cohorts give the one bow to their satirical roots while Junie sings about god-knows-what underneath.
It reminds me of the Velvet Underground’s “Murder Mystery,” only smoother.
This being released in 1978 when vinylite was still king was a little too long to fit on a record effectively, so we got a 7-inch EP for our added pleasure. There’s a loud rocker called “Lunchmeataphobia” sub-titled with another great slogan “(Think! It Ain’t Illegal Yet).” There is a shorter instrumental version of “P.E. Squad” and a live Michael Hampton-led “Maggot Brain” that proves he has nearly as much soul as Eddie Hazel.
In the end, this is the Funkadelic brand’s greatest album. They were not only firing on all cylinders, there are no wasted cuts (I’m not including the second “P.E. Squad,” nor should you) that usually end the Westbound albums. While two of the other three Warner Brothers albums (Hardcore Jollies and Electric Spankings of War Babies) are nearly as good, the EP puts this one over the edge.
While trying to put together a suitable conclusion to this blurb, I’m reminded of our wannabe dictator of a president who is trying to silence criticism of his idiocy on social media. I am amazed, but not surprised.
If you can sort out that loophole in my words, congratulations.
THINK! IT AIN’T ILLEGAL YET
Admittedly, there were only two reasons I bought the One Nation Under a Groove album in the fall of 1978 at age 12: the title track and the album‘s artwork, and I’m sure it was more the latter than the former, because I was clearly more into buying singles at the time and would have been just as satisfied plopping down less than a dollar for the “One Nation” 45 and leaving the more budget-stretching album on the store shelf (thanks, Pedro Bell).
Accordingly, One Nation Under a Groove may have been only the second album I ever purchased with my own money, with Heatwave’s Central Heating from a couple months earlier being the first. All the others before had come courtesy of Mom or Dad.
The cover, with its comic strip-like depictions of whatever mind trip Funk Nation Overlord George Clinton (or, more accurately, Bell) was on at the time, appealed to the newly pubescent 12-year-old me. My dad’s Adam & Eve catalogs couldn’t hold a candle to the bountiful, blue-lipsticked sista that graced the One Nation front cover, or, more importantly, the nude “R&B” chick laid out on the left inside flap. Oh, and for the unenlightened, the “R&B” in this P-funk Nation stood for “rhythm and business.”
There was definitely far more happening in the cosmic P-Funk universe than my preteen mind could comprehend. But the album’s “Rastacryptic Scriptic” liner notes and “Funkablastic Art Strokations,” which included various custom phrases, courtesy of Bell, like “Thumpasaurians” (the bass players) and “Blamgusta Vocaloids” (the singers), were attention-grabbers nonetheless, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one among the million-plus consumers who initially came to this funk party because of Bell’s outrageous (and legendary) pictorials.
Keeping our attention were two stories printed on the album’s inner right cover: “The Funk Wars (1984 B.C.),” a funk parody of Star Wars, where on “Planet Splurge,” Funk was “THE FORCE” and characters like “Barft Vada” (Darth Vader) were introduced; and the comic strip “Funkadelic Sperm,” which, well, was a how-to from Mario T. Maggot on “nationalizing the groove,” which was included simply because we needed that tutorial.
If your mind was freed enough, Bell’s artistic renderings fit this album’s concept perfectly, a true testimony to his gift when considering that he rarely heard the Funkadelic albums before laying down their cover art.
Yet even though all the innuendo and metaphorical references contained on the album’s covers and in its music escaped me at the time, I did understand one thing: what the title track was about.
“One Nation Under a Groove” was the P-Funk universe’s new national anthem, courtesy of Clinton, with its central rallying point being funk music and the need for all of us to get down to it. If that courtroom oath (“do you promise to funk, the whole funk and nothing but the funk?”) didn’t make you pledge your groovallegience, then certainly Clinton and his Vocaloids’ rally cry in the chant-like chorus would.
To further convince you that you would be among many converts, Funkadelic and Bell included on the album’s right inner flap various public service announcements – still in comic strip form – about the many parts of this country (and beyond) that had already succumbed to the funk, including places like Chicago, New York, the South, France and even “Planet Nastar.“
It was all part of Clinton’s vision – one that he’d been teasing for years with Parliament’s biggest hits – but one that he apparently felt needed this previously hitless sister band’s exclamation point to drive it home.
Funkadelic certainly delivered, and the second track, “Groovallegiance,” was a continuation on the theme. Though not as catchy as the title track, it had its own chorus filled with patriotic metaphors and uniquely sung in reggae-like cadence over a funk beat (“Pledge a groovallegiance to the funk; The United Funk of Funkadelica; Uh, dey funk, well dey funk, today funk….with the United Funk we can fly”).
If there was any doubt about the band’s mission or its sincerity, consider this line from the song’s opening verse (delivered in a high-pitched squeal that was part novelty and part weirdly soulful): “For if our cause was unjust; We couldn’t bring this funk to you; So we feel that it’s a must…It is something we should do…”
“Groovallegiance” might have been the natural candidate for a second single from One Nation, except for two things – 1) Funkadelic had already dipped zeep into the funk patriotism well with the title track; and 2) “Groovallegiance” jammed out too hard for radio, especially in the song’s second half, which was essentially an instrumental vehicle for Clinton and Co. to highlight the band’s funk-rock roots.
Instead, Warner Bros. went with “Cholly (Funk Gettin’ Ready to Roll!)” as the next 45. In it, a reluctant character (Clinton’s “Cholly”) is introduced to the world of funk after declaring his love for classic musicians Bach and Beethoven and other non-funk derivatives. This testimony unfolds over a relatively sparse funk production, with off-beat handclaps accompanying the “Keybo’ Dans & Synthezoidees” Bernie Worrell and Walter “Junie” Morrison. Keyboardist Morrison co-wrote the song with Clinton and bassist/drummer Bootsy Collins.
Inevitably, in the song’s plot, the funk wins out – naturally – and our protagonist realizes he must go with it, presumably leaving the waltz and other unfunky music forms behind.
As follow-up singles go, “Cholly” didn’t live up to its predecessor’s performance on the Billboard charts, peaking at a low No. 43 on the soul chart and not even making the Hot 100 pop list.
But the story was far different in the parallel universe that was my personal charts, which I had just started creating at the end of 1978/early 1979. Not only did it chart there, but “Cholly” reached No. 1 on my list, and spent an overfunked 31 weeks on the list. It wound up ranking as the second-biggest song on my personal chart for 1979, behind Chic’s “Good Times,” which, as most regular readers know, is a huge statement on how much I truly dug the Funkadelic classic.
Another One Nation tune that did well on my personal list (a top-10 entry that spent 22 weeks on the entire top-75 chart) was the slow-playing “Into You” (also co-written by Clinton, Bootsy and Junie). “Into You” featured a very Larry Graham-sounding lead vocal waxing over the things he couldn’t get into. Examples included the neutron bomb, the poisoned land, bad romance (pre-Lady Gaga) and other things that he didn’t understand. Spoken like a true head-of-state for this new funk nation, the narrator declares that his only focus is his people (“Into you now…Into you, my people”).
As for the remaining two songs on the main album (there was also an accompanying 7-inch EP consisting of three additional tracks, more on that momentarily), nothing could stoke a 12-year-old juvenile’s mind quite like the 11-minute, constipation-focused jam session that was “Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doo Doo Chasers),” on which Clinton delivers a gastrointestinal sermon about further liberating ourselves from our constrictions.
In the song, Clinton and Junie make every bowel movement and toilet reference known to man. It borders on sociopolitical commentary with phrases like “we’re in a state of mental diarrhea – talking shit a mile a minute; or in a state of constipated notions – can’t think of nothin’ but shit.”
Except there’s no mention of any politicians, making this musical bowel movement seem like just an excuse to throw in as many doo doo references as the band could. That they stretched it to eleven minutes – and still managed to keep it interesting – is a testimony to Funkadelic’s mastery of weirdness.
The remaining track from One Nation’s main vinyl LP is the jam “Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?” which serves as P-funk empire’s guitar-heavy ode to itself. The hook says it all: “Who says a jazz band – can’t play dance music? Who says a rock band – can’t play funky? Who says a funk band – can’t play rock? Oh yeah! We’re gonna play some funk so loud, we’re gonna rock and roll around…watch them dance, watch ‘em dance!”
Funkadelic managed to do all of the above in just six songs on One Nation’s main album, but there was still more.
The accompanying 7-inch EP (included in the original U.S. release) was a record consisting of three mostly instrumental tracks: “Lunchmeataphobia (Think! It Ain’t Illegal Yet!)”; a live version of the band’s earlier classic “Maggot Brain” (recorded in April 1978 in Monroe, Louisiana); and “P.E. Squad/Doo Doo Chasers,” a shortened instrumental version of the 11-minute fourth track – the one with that long-ass title to match.
Funkadelic’s fusion of rock, R&B, gospel, and funk on One Nation Under a Groove remains one of R&B’s greatest wonders for these reasons: the unexpected Funkadelic vehicle from which it came; the musical gumbo that Clinton and his bandmates effortlessly created; and, of course, the enduring nature of its title track, which is still considered one of the greatest funk jams of all time, if not the greatest.
As for the album and whether it’s funk music’s GOAT, an album can’t be this immersed in funk and not be. But we’ll leave that to readers to decide. What say you?
Feel free to provide your comments below or on any of the blog’s social media feeds.
My sincerest thanks to my fellow old guys – guest writers RetroDawg Digital and Scott Bloomfield a/k/a “Bloomberg” – who continue to amaze me with their vast musical tastes.
(July 7, 2020) We get corrections:
Tim Kinley, an archivist/historian for Parliament-Funkadelic who has functioned in that capacity for over 40 years, offered the following fact checks to this article, courtesy of findings that are the direct result of conversations he’s had with various P-Funk band members over the years:
Aside from noting that “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker” and “Flash Light” were George Clinton’s two biggest pop hits (both of which came under the Parliament banner), Kinley notes that Bernie Worrell (not Bootsy Collins) did the bass line on “Flash Light” via the bass synthesizer. Bootsy was the drummer on the track.
Also, Kinley notes there are two bassists on “Cholly (Funk Getting Ready To Roll)”: Bootsy Collins and R Skeet Curtis. Finally, the One Nation album was released on September 22nd, 1978.
Thanks to Mr. Kinley for taking the time to check out the blog and for providing his valuable insights.
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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