Friday, December 02, 2005

Funkadelic - I'll Bet You

Man...where do I start on this one? I first heard the Funkadelic version of ‘I’ll Bet You’ maybe 15 years ago. At the time, though I was aware of the Parliaments, the whole Parliament-Funkadelic thang kind of ran together. I was oblivious to the collective’s many transitions, and assumed that the UFO-soaked sounds of Dr. Funkenstein, Starchild and Sir Nose D’Void of Funk, i.e. ‘Flashlight’ (which I loved) , ‘Give Up The Funk’ and ‘Mothership Connection’ were basically the beginning and end of the “funky” works of Mr. George Clinton and his heavy friends. I was, of course, incorrect. I mentioned that I was hep to the Parliaments, the 1960’s soul group that lies at the root of the entire P-Funk empire. The 45s they recorded for the Golden World, Revilot and Atco labels in the late 60’s were amazing, running the gamut from stylish soul dancers like ‘Look at What I Almost Missed’, to gritty soul like “I Wanna Testify” , and on again to suspiciously psychedelically tinged items like “All You Goodies Are Gone” and ‘Good Old Music’. In fact the latter two tunes were a solid indicator of the direction that Clinton and the gang were heading in. I’ll spare you the details of their late 60’s contract hassles (since I’m not sure I could lay it out correctly), however, there was for a brief period, three entities revolving around George Clinton: The Parliaments, Parliament (no “s”) and Funkadelic (the participants in all three being basically the same with some stylistic divergence between the three). Essentially, Funkadelic was the Parliaments with their existing backing band (Billy "Bass" Nelson , Eddie Hazel , "Tawl" Ross, "Tiki" Fulwood , and – unofficially - Bernie Worrell) and a liberal sprinking of psychedelics. This “new” band would represent a sort of second tier which would in turn spawn Parliament, and then the merged Parliament-Funkadelic (and in turn several spin-off acts). I said, I was basically ignorant as to what the “original” Funkadelic sounded like, but had read some interesting things about them and decided to take the plunge. I had no f*cking idea... There are only a few times in my life where I can recall being floored by a group at first listen, but my initial playing of the ‘Funkadelic’ album was one of them. I had no idea just how freaky, acid soaked and especially HEAVY a band Funkadelic was. It was an epiphany. There I was, in the early 90’s, stunned that this album had already been knocking around for more than 20 years and no one I knew had heard it. How had I missed this? It was as if Clinton had kidnapped the Whitfield-era Temptations, a group of San Fran psychedelic all stars, and a vividly colored assortment of recreational narcotics, placed them all in a blender and threw the switch, eventually pouring out a potent mixture that still retained traces of its components, yet transcended them all. It’s safe to say that I listened to little else for at least a week, playing the disc for anyone I could like a wild-eyed preacher drunk on the word of God. To this day I can’t throw it on without listening to it at least twice in a row. It is a masterpiece. Needless to say, I highly recommend that if you haven’t heard the first three Funkadelic lps (Funkadelic, Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow, and Maggot Brain), and you dig soul and psychedelia, you need to go to the nearest record store and purchase all three because your musical life will not be complete until you do. That said, in my countless listenings to that first LP, the track that blew my mind the most was ‘I’ll Bet You’. Written by George Clinton, Sidney Barnes and Theresa Lindsey in the mid-60’s, the tune was actually recorded several times before Funkadelic, by Billy Butler (on Brunswick), Jean Carter (on Sunflower) , Theresa Lindsey (on Golden World) and (believe it or not) The Jackson 5 (on their ‘ABC’ album). Though these versions are all worth checking out (especially Butler’s, which picks up the tempo a bit), NONE of them can approach the hypnotic hoodoo of the Funkadelic version. Opening with drums that sound like Geronimo on the warpath (thank you Tiki), and followed shortly by a high guitar riff, the singers (aka the Parliaments – George Clinton, Raymond Davis, Clarence Haskins, Calvin Simon, and Grady Thomas) drop in, trading lines, sounding like the Temptations staggering out the emergency exit of the Grateful Dead bus. The tune grows, layer by layer, bit by bit (“slowly I turn...”) until exploding in a mushroom cloud of “waah waah waah”s and acid guitar. As freaky as this gets, there’s still a very solid foundation under it all. Probably the best aspect of the entire affair is that behind the crazy outfits and echoing, fuzz guitar there’s a fantastic soul record (in fact the single brushed up against the R&B Top 20). This is not to say that Funkadelic was created in a vacuum. These were after all the days when giants like Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone walked the earth. However, Jimi was never this soulful, and Sly never this psychedelic. I mentioned before that no one I knew had ever heard these records, and that is symptomatic of why Funkadelic weren’t the colossally huge mega stars that the music on this album should have made them. In an era when everyone was letting their freak flag fly, regardless of race, Funkadelic were straddling genres in a way that was difficult for the general public to wrap their ears around. They took soul and funk rudiments and bundled them up in psychedelic/progressive rock structures, with songs that often ran in excess of 6 or 7 minutes, that had long trippy interludes, sound effects and generally far out subject matter. In the end they were probably a little too freaky for black audiences and a little too black for everyone else. Funkadelic were almost a genre unto themselves, and in their 1970 form, no matter how amazing they were, they just couldn’t be nailed down (pop music being an industry obsessed with nailing people down, pushing them into corners and squishing them into tiny little boxes). While I’m sure a fair amount of stoners got their hands on – and dug – this album when it dropped in 1970, folks my age (I was 8 then), who were digging psychedelic and garage music in the 80’s, had no idea that this stuff existed. The 45 mix (with about two minutes sliced off from the album track) is still quite powerful. Finding a copy of the original 45 ought’nt be too terribly expensive (maybe $25??). You can probably grab a copy of the CD for ten bucks. I’d do that first. Then, your mind suitably blown to bits, you can wander the flea markets and garage sales of the world tracking down some of the same good stuff on vinyl.


Blogger Todd Lucas said...

Found a Funadelic 45 not long ago called "Loose Booty" that's really good. Also, had a Parliament single on Invictus from around the same time titled "Breakdown" that was a really good song. Unfortunately, it was just too beat up to keep. I like "I'll Bet You" quite a bit. The vocals remind me quite a bit of the Temptations and there are some really cool guitar parts.

12/02/2005 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger Scott Soriano said...

Wow, Larry. I've heard this song a thousand and one times but never the 45 version. Those drums sound so cool. And that solo is nice & edgy. To think that there is probably a few sessions of Funkadelic out there that were recorded like this!

12/02/2005 06:34:00 PM  
Anonymous cj grogan said...

Pay dirt again, this is some pretty funky shit. Plainfield NJ rules....

12/03/2005 12:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ever thought about blogging ‘Good Ole Funky Music’, Larry?
That is, if its a favorite of you.
I've never heard it yet.

I only know and have the album cut so it's interesting to know about the shorter 45 version.


12/03/2005 01:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funkadelic. Rock. I was utterly raised on Parliament - their greatest hits were my first CD, really - but I heard Maggot Brain a couple years ago and my head exploded. Awesome.

12/03/2005 06:45:00 AM  
Blogger Repoz said...

As a 40-yr collector of soul 45's and a non-fan of funk...even I can find the base buzz waiting here.

12/03/2005 11:04:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

I blogged 'Good Old Music' back in May:
Not sure if I still have the sound file knocking around, but if I do I'll repost the link.

12/04/2005 01:45:00 PM  
Blogger poop said...

Yeah, I had the same experince of "finding?" Funkadelic about a year ago. I blamed my ignorince on living in Texas. How could a music lover not be hip to this? Oh yeah, there is a colection of pre Casiblanca, Incabus era Parlement out called "First Thangs" that is one of the Heavyest things out. Oh yeah and it also has country songs, bagpipes and well, you get the picture.

12/06/2005 05:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

"I'll Bet You" was out in the fall of 1969, and was played extensively on the great CKLW out of Windsor.
Appropriate because of the group's Detroit roots. I remember how different it was from other chart material at the time. It was not immediately apparent that this was a brother group to Parliament of "I Wanna Testify" fame in '67

12/08/2005 10:23:00 AM  

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