The Parliaments - Good Old Music
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.