- August 31st, 2011
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Recently, I scoured the song catalogs for the video games Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Both contain gobs of questionable selections, including indie fluff by The Strokes and even teen pop from Aly & AJ. What I didn’t find is a single Funkadelic tune. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I feel like this means mainstream rock fans no longer consider them to be top-tier rock gods. Tell me I’m wrong. Please!
For me, as well as so many rock fans who grew up in the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s, Funkadelic were considered one of music’s most badass groups, and Eddie Hazel one of the all-time great guitarists. When I first got into classic psychedelia and hard rock, sitting down and cranking Maggot Brain, particularly the mind-melting 10-minute title track, was a rite of passage every bit as fundamental as blasting Paranoid, Led Zeppelin II and Machine Head. It didn’t matter one bit if their music was considered funk by some, or that they weren’t the same color as most other bands. They rocked.
I’m sure Flea, Mike Patton, Joe Walsh, Vernon Reid, Wayne Coyne, Robert Plant, H.R., Mike Watt, Greg Ginn, Ozzy, Tom Morello, Joe Carducci, Eddie Vedder and so many others would all agree with me: Funkadelic’s imprint is d-e-e-p. By the mid-’70s, their unique and often freaky fusion of brute strength, acid-rock distortion and spine-snapping syncopation had influenced many of the major heavy metal, boogie and Southern rock bands in America and the U.K. This carried into the next decade, with punk, post-punk, No Wave, noise rock, funk metal and especially grunge all carrying numerous Funkadelic chromosomes in their double helices. Mind you, this goes for both sound and image (for the latter, see The Flaming Lips and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.) I love Neil Young to death, but the title “Godfather of Grunge” is wildly overinflated. All those Seattle dudes were also rolling jazz cigarettes to the twisted sounds of Maggot Brain; you can hear it in their sense of groove.
What makes Funkadelic’s omission from the video-game genre particularly egregious is the fact that their impact, however indirect these days, is still super potent. But I guess all these nü metal, groove metal and metalcore bands no longer have any idea where their rhythms ultimately come from. But enough indignancy.
Can you get to that? I wanna know …
Sly & the Family Stone
There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to praise this 1969 release. The energy is near-terrifying, the funk is complex, and the songwriting left us with some of the most memorable and important pop/funk songs of the 20th century. “Stand!”, “I Want to Take You Higher” and “Everyday People” all came off this album. [Brolin Winning]
When talking about the great live albums in James Brown’s discography, 1970′s Sex Machine ranks right up there with the mighty Live at the Apollo and Love Power Peace. Of course, a decent portion of this set is merely live simulation (overdubbed audience and reverb). Nevertheless, if you want to hear the classic J.B. lineup at the very peak of its powers, then this is essential listening. Brown, feeling challenged by the emergence of Sly & the Family Stone and even Funkadelic, pushes his band into some heady spaces: extended rhythmic sequences that feel like byproducts of a genuine hive mind. [Justin Farrar]
Everybody knew how great the Temptations’ singles were in the 1960s. But with Cloud Nine, they made their first great album. The vocals are a highlight, but it’s Norman Whitfield’s production and the syncopated funk that stand out. The chaotic title track and the nine-minute funk epic “Runaway Child Running Wild” are the high points on this brilliant album. [Jon Pruett]
Vanilla Fudge suffered myriad weaknesses: poor choice in covers, lousy songwriting, way too much schmaltzy blue-eyed soul and an unhealthy obsession with hippie-baked sonic poetry. Despite all this, the band’s 1967 debut was a radical statement about the possibilities of heaviness in rock ‘n’ roll. Whereas The Jimi Hendrix Experience swung hard but with agility, the Fudge rumbled like a couple of continental plates slowly ramming into one another. It’s a plodding aesthetic that would influence a whole generation of hard-rock icons, including Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Blue Cheer. [J.F.]
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
The 20th century produced few double albums as iconic as Electric Ladyland. It kind of makes sense this was Hendrix’s last album with Noel and Mitch. Where else could the trio take their sound? Transforming the studio into a psychedelic laboratory, they cracked the rock genome and infused it with chromosomes pulled from soul, blues and even folk music. What has been lost to time is just how unique Electric Ladyland sounded in 1968. Other bands had ventured pretty far out: The Yardbirds, 13th Floor Elevators, The Byrds. But none of them rocketed into deep inner space quite like these guys. [J.F.]
The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volumes One & Two
The Heliocentric Worlds recordings — which over the years have been repackaged to the point of confusion, even for hardcore Ra devotees — are as good a place as any to get a feel for the Arkestra’s drastic evolution during their mid-’60s residency in New York. With the city’s burgeoning free jazz scene exerting its influence, Sun Ra’s music went from quirky and strange to heavy and sublime. Compositions — all twisted, shattered and stretched — now broke the seven-minute mark. Though the playing was still predominantly acoustic, it grew more percussive and abstract, even harsh at times. [J.F.]
Kick Out the Jams
Words can’t really explain this epic recording: you must listen to understand why MC5 were Detroit’s chosen child. These songs were recorded live at the Grande Ballroom in 1969 and demonstrate how powerful the band was in concert. Their solid, soulful chemistry will drift from your speakers like heavy smoke. [Eric Shea]
Earth, Wind & Fire
Earth, Wind & Fire
E.W.F.’s 1971 debut marks a culture clash between the group’s Chicago jazz and soul origins, and the sunshine pop of its new home in Los Angeles. Bandleader Maurice White aimed to merge the shambling energy music of Albert Ayler, the Latin rock of Santana, and the psychedelic soul and vocal pop of Minnie Riperton’s Rotary Connection and Fifth Dimension. Though “Love Is Life” and “Fan the Fire” have an appealingly ragged quality, neither White’s songs, nor his band, nor lead vocalist and veteran Chicago shouter Wade Flemons met his goals. After a second album, The Need of Love, White fired nearly all of E.W.F.’s original members and started over. [Mosi Reeves]
Live: Meadowbrook, Rochester, Michigan 12th September 1971
Funkadelic’s earliest albums are profoundly strange and psychedelic, but amazingly enough, their sound was even more out there in the live setting. On this impeccably recorded performance from 1971, individual songs melt into a gooey stew of fuzzy acid dirges and porno-cosmic incantations. Perversely visionary stuff for sure. George Clinton is a freaky scatological genius: “We might pee on you, but we won’t do you no harm,” he at one point implores. Guitarist Eddie Hazel, meanwhile, is a heavy metal feedback warlord. Would grunge and noise rock even have been born were it not for him? [J.F.]
The Chambers Brothers
The Time Has Come
The Time Has Come might be an uneven listen, but it’s an absolutely necessary (and possibly even initial) bridge between ’60s soul and the psych-funk revolution that exploded the following decade. Because of this, the album is divided between earthbound fare (“People Get Ready,” “In the Midnight Hour”) and serious acid vibes, the most significant of which is the 11-minute “Time Has Come Today.” The importance of this track cannot be overstated; the band released it in 1967, two years before Sly & the Family Stone’s Stand! and three before Funkadelic’s debut. Now that’s prescience, people. [J.F.]
The Meters: The Meters
The Impressions: This Is My Country
Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin
Booker T. & the MGs: Soul Limbo
The Stooges: The Stooges
Screamin’ Jay Hakwins: Legends
The Jeff Beck Group: Truth
Black Merda: Black Merda
Blue Cheer: Vincebus Eruptum
The Mothers of Invention: Freak Out!
Eric Burdon & the Animals: The Best of Eric Burdon and the Animals