Monday, May 16, 2005

The Parliaments - Good Old Music

The Parliaments
I’ve always loved the early 45’s by the Parliaments. They’re a great window into George Clinton’s range as a songwriter and the versatility of the band/vocalists as a whole. The Parliaments were one of the great transitional soul acts of the late 60’s, working a sound that took in traditional Detroit soul, 60’s pop, early funk and bits of psychedelia. From their earliest 45’s for Golden World (the very tasty, and extremely expensive but worth it ‘Heart Trouble’, covered by the Eyes of Blue in the UK) and Revilot (the R&B hit ‘(I Wanna) Testify’, covered by many – including the Parliament-a-delic-a-funky-godawmighty-Thang), it was obvious that Clinton and his various collaborators had their ears pointed all over the place, sounding alternately like a Northern Soul DJs dream (‘I Can Feel The Ice Melting’), a tastefully restrained version of Vanilla Fudge (“Good Old Music”) and the Norman Whitfield-ized Temptations (‘A New Day Begins”). As time went on the smooth soulfulness started to leak out and the progressive – possibly lysergic – freakiness started to seep in. This of course came to a head with the “birth” of Funkadelic, who’s Westbound LPs are the ne plus ultra of psychedelic funk. ‘Good Old Music’ was the a-side of their fifth (and second to last) 45 for Revilot. The record opens with an exceptionally tasty break, and charges out into a wave of fuzz guitar and organ. I reference Vanilla Fudge before, not to damn the Parliaments with faint praise but to illustrate what that bunch of bloated Long Islanders would have sounded like were they capable of writing original material of high quality, and to show a modicum of restraint. Listening to Vanilla Fudge bellow their “rocked out” versions of soul tunes like ‘Take Me For a Little While’ and ‘Shotgun’ – while possessed of a vaguely admirable lunatic over-the-top-ness (endemic in the rock community of the time), they are also slightly painful to behold. This is due in large part to the almost neo-minstrel attack of white boys desperate to appear Wilson Pickett-y yet lacking anything remotely resembling his subtlety. While this is good for a nostalgic laugh now and again (and I’m sure their hearts – if not their instruments - were in the right place), it makes a dyed in the wool soulie like myself nostalgic for the real thing, i.e. soul music performed by singes and musicians that really “got” the music. The Parliaments, especially on tracks like ‘Good Old Music’ and ‘A New Day Begins’ (which was released on Revilot as well as Atco) were moving toward that same Vanilla Fudgey synthesis from the other side of the line, and while this bound to start a classic “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter, you got your peanut butter in my chocolate” tit for tat, rest assured, there ARE important differences. Where Vanilla Fudge got their hands on a little bit of real soul and beat it senseless with their post-Cream, Marshall stack vibe, the Parliaments walked in the door with some of the tastiest soul available and spiced it up just right. They manage to appropriate many of the traits of Fillmore-style rock while managing to maintain the integrity of their own sound. Of course, as time went on the balance between soul and freak-out tipped in the other direction (see Funkadelic’s reworking of ‘Good Old Music’ on their brilliant 1970 debut), but even then the soul (and by then funk) foundation of the music was still unmistakable.


Anonymous Les Dale said...

There was a great feel to this piece that put my mind right back there.

Living in England, AFN was my station of choice in the late 60s/ early 70s &, back then, soul was catered for in an hour-a-day type way with tracks from Billboard's Top 100 Soul Singles (many of which never surfaced here) & rock & pop making up much of the rest of the programming - along with sports, news, etc.

Listening to rock, pop & soul back then &, like many kids of that era, prefering what was going on in the "American scene" to what was happening in our own, it seems to me now that a great deal of the American rock music of that time was derivative of, rather than actually rooted in, R'n'B & Soul. It follows then that Vanilla Fudge, & many others of that sub-genre, have not stood the test of time, whereas real soul continues to do just that...& in no way do I aim to deride American rock music per se in saying that!

My comments do not refer to rock music's genuine innovators, of which there are many. They aim to point out a sub-genre that took soul & gave it a rock edge which worked at the time, but seems quite pallid now. They also aim to suggest that anyone with a interest in late 60s American rock, in particular, would surely not be wasting their time in actually looking back from, as well as around, that specific era in soul music.

Incidentally, you are probably already know about "Soul Deep" being braodcast by BBC Television at the moment. Ray Charles & Sam Cooke have featured so far with Motown up next.

There are solid messages in there about the lines that had to be crossed & there has also been some great footage. Stuck around record decks & the computer most of the time, it's been the one bit of TV that I've been following!!

5/17/2005 12:50:00 AM  
Blogger guapo said...

Well it sounds like a complete mess to me!

5/17/2005 03:05:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

You're not listening hard enough Barfy!

5/17/2005 10:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of music for one record that's for sure

cj grogan

5/17/2005 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger Dominik said...

So if this is a "mess" what would you call other Parliament songs then?

No no, not a mess at all. Not a good judgement.

Rather like it and that's not so common with a Parliament track for me.

5/20/2005 05:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Darcy said...

I have been a Clinton, Parliafunkadelicment fan since being turned on by Mothership Connection back in the day (I remember buying the LP on holiday and having to wait over a week to get back home and play it!). Only recently though have I become familiar with their earlier work as the Parliaments. A CD with all their early work on - both sides of all Revilot singles and more -has been getting plenty of plays by me recently. And I have to say that with one or two exceptions all the tracks are excellent - grown up clever slightly off the wall lyrics, great arrangements, variety.
Personally, of all their Revilot sides I would say that Good Old Music (and What You Been Growing) are my least favourite, and yes I can understand why people might describe them as messy. I was a child in the sixties but too young to catch the music of the time. Certainly good Old Music shows signs of leaning towards the rockier and 'far out' flavours that were starting to take hold as the sixties wore on - maybe you had to have been there (in more ways than one!) to fully appreciate it.

For my money A New Day Begins and Goodies (Losers Seat) are the standouts of their early work. Of course in true Clinton tradition Goodies, along with Testify and Goose, got another outing on Up For The Down Stroke. Goodies is magnificient again on that LP and recently I heard a version by Joni Wilson on an obscure 1971? Volt single that remains largely faithful to the original and is great too (but too expensive for me to buy).

5/25/2005 08:07:00 AM  

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