CULT CLASSIC: FUNKADELIC-MAGGOT BRAIN.
Cult Classic: Funkadelic-Maggot Brain.
Rumour has it, that when Funkadelic recorded their career defining album, Maggot Brain, they were on one long acid trip. Members of Funkadelic had dropped some Yellow Sunshine Acid before producer George Clinton pressed the record button and ironically, the result was their finest hour, Maggot Brain. Sadly, never again, would Funkadelic reach the same heights. Maggot Brain had come at a huge cost.
After the recording of Maggot Brain, Tawl Ross, Eddie Hazel, Billy Nelson, and Tiki Fulwood left Funkadelic. Maggot Brain became the last Funkadelic album to feature the original group. That’s not surprising.
The members of Funkadelic had a voracious appetite for the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. Although they the were a funk band, Funkadelic liked to live life hard. Part of their lifestyle was drugs. However, their lifestyle caught up with Funkadelic and the group’s lineup was torn apart by drugs.
Drummer Tiki Fulwood was the first to leave Funkadelic. After that, the floodgates opened and Tawl Ross, Eddie Hazel and Billy Nelson departed within a year. Bernie Worrell was the last man standing. Maggot Brain may have been Funkadelic ’s finest hour, but it came at a huge price.
The original members of Funkadelic never got to share the commercial success of the group’s two most successful albums, 1978s One Nation Under A Groove or 1979s Uncle Groove Wants You. One Nation Under A Groove sold a million copies and was certified platinum, while Uncle Groove Wants You was certified gold. By then, Funkadelic’s lineup was constantly changing. It seemed they had a revolving door policy, as far as members were concerned. This was very different to the Funkadelic’s early days.
Funkadelic’s origins can be traced back to 1964. That’s when George Clinton hired musicians Frankie Boyce, Richard Boyce and Langston Booth to back his doo wop group The Parliaments. Two years later, Frankie, Richard and Langston decided to join the US Army. This left George Clinton looking for three new musicians.
George recruited bassist Billy Bass Nelson and guitarist Eddie Hazel in 1967. Later, he added guitarist Tawl Ross and drummer Tiki Fulwood. This was the lineup of The Parliaments that headed to Detroit.
Now living in Detroit, The Parliaments found themselves in a dispute with Revilot, a record company. They owned the rights to The Parliaments. So, George’s group needed a new name. That’s when Billy Bass Nelson came up with the name Funkadelic. It stuck. Soon, in 1968, Funkadelic signed to Westbound Records.
Having signed to Westbound Records, Funkadelic’s music began to evolve. Doo woo was yesterday’s sound. The newly named Funkadelic needed a new, and much more contemporary sound. Psychedelia, rock, soul and funk were the musical flavours of the month. So were Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. So, it made sense for Funkadelic to fuse these musical genres and influences.
This is what Funkadelic did. However, Funkadelic were no ordinary band. This was, after all, the era of the civil rights movement. Just like many other bands, the civil rights movement inspired Funkadelic. Their lyrics were full of social and political comment. Funkadelic’s music would prove to be a heady brew, when the band released their eponymous debut album.
Before Funkadelic entered the recording studio for the first time, they’d spent two years honing their sound. They were a much more tighter band, than when they became Funkadelic. This was apparent when they released their eponymous debut album.
When Funkadelic released their eponymous debut album, on 11th May 1970, it was well received by critics. Rolling Stone magazine gave the album a positive review. Other critics followed suit. Some critics remarked upon Funkadelic’s rhythm section. The rhythm section, they said, were at the heart of everything that was good on Funkadelic. This included the lengthy jams, where Funkadelic took the opportunity to stretch their legs. George Clinton’s new band, had made a strong impression
When Funkadelic was released on 11th May 1970, it reached number 126 in the US Billboard 200 and number eight in the US R&B charts. For a debut album, by a relatively new group, the future looked bright for psychedelic, funkateers, Funkadelic.
Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow.
Just two months after the release of Funkadelic, George Clinton and Co. returned with Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow. It was unlike any album ever released.
After all, no band had tried to record an album while tripping on acid. That’s until Funkadelic tried. George Clinton had a brainwave. He wondered if Funkadelic could record an album whilst tripping on acid. The result was Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow, Funkadelic’s sophomore album.
On Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow’s release, in July 1970, the album was mired in controversy. This was down to the title-track. It was a ten minute epic, where, amidst a feedback drenched backdrop,
Funkadelic managed to offend Christians everywhere. Funkadelic’s subversive attitude towards the sacred, and specifically, The Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm, meant Funkadelic were unlikely to sell many albums in America’s bible belt. They would make up for this elsewhere.
Following the positive reception of Funkadelic’s eponymous debut album, Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow received mixed reviews. It seemed Funkadelic couldn’t please all the critics, all the time. Record buyers however, were won over by Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow. It reached number ninety-two in the US Billboard 200 and number eleven in the US R&B charts. This made Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow Funkadelic’s most successful album. The followup, Maggot Brain, would be both Funkadelic’s finest hour, and the end of an era.
Recording of Maggot Brain, Funkadelic’s third album took place during 1970 and 1971. This was the last album from the original lineup of Funkadelic. Partly, this was down to Funkadelic’s voracious appetite for drugs, and specifically, acid. What would become a classic album, cost not just Funkadelic, but the individual members dearly. Things were very different when work on Maggot Brain began.
Maggot Brain was recorded during 1970 and 1971. The lineup of Funkadelic featured a rhythm section of lead guitarist Eddie Hazel, bassist Billy Bass Nelson, rhythm guitarist Tawl Ross and drummer Tiki Fulwood. They were joined by Bernie Worrell on keyboards and backing vocalists Hot Buttered Soul. Funkadelic, unlike many groups didn’t have a designated lead vocalist. It changed from song to song on Maggot Brain, which was released on 12th July 1971.
On its release, on 12th July 1971, Maggot Brain was well received by critics. Most critics gave Maggot Brain glowing reviews. The occasional critic wasn’t won over by Funkadelic’s genre-melting music. However, mostly, critics realised Funkadelic had released the finest album of their career. This wasn’t reflected in sales.
Music buyers weren’t convinced by Funkadelic’s dark, moody worldview. Maggot Brain stalled at 108 in the US Billboard 200 and number fourteen in the US R&B charts. For George Clinton this was a huge disappointment. Worse was to come.
After the release of Maggot Brain, Tawl Ross, Eddie Hazel, Billy Nelson, and Tiki Fulwood left Funkadelic. Maggot Brain became the last Funkadelic album to feature the original group. Maggot Brain was Funkadelic’s finest hour, and is now perceived as a classic album. You’ll realise why, when I tell you about Maggot Brain.
Maggot Brain opens with the title-track. It’s a ten minute epic. A crackling sound gives way to a dark, moody spoken word introduction. It gives way to understated, sometimes dubby arrangement. At the centre of the arrangement is Eddie Hazel’s legendary guitar solo. Soon, it’s assailing you. Producer George Clinton pans the guitar right and left. All the time, the arrangement meanders along. The longer the track progresses, the better Eddie’s blistering, screaming, rocky guitar solo gets. Later, it’s drenched in feedback, as elements of psychedelia and rock unite. After that, Eddie’s guitar playing becomes understated, triply and dubby as Eddie Hazel master craftsman, delivers a stunning solo on what’s the equivalent of Funkadelic’s A Love Supreme.
Can You Get to That has a much more traditional rocky sound. This is very different to Funkadelic’s trademark sound. Gone is the groove oriented sound. It’s replaced by a joyous fusion of rock and gospel harmonies. Garry Shider and Ray Davis share the lead vocals. They’re accompanied by what seems like a joyous choir. Together, they deliver lyrics that seem to partly, have been inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream Speech. The result is a melodic, joyous song full of social comment.
A guitar plays its way into a groove on Hit It and Quit It. Soon, the rest of the rhythm section explode into life. They’re joined by Bernie Worrell’s powerhouse of a vocal. He also plays an organ, which adds a dramatic, almost gothic sound. Adding the finishing touches are frenzied, urgent harmonies. While everyone more than plays their part in the song’s sound and success, Bernie plays a starring role. Later, so does guitar virtuoso Eddie Hazel, as he delivers another guitar masterclass.
Dubby and funky describes the introduction to You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks. Soon, it becomes a dramatic, emotive plea for unity. Here, Funkadelic Funkadelic use their music as a platform for social comment. It’s a plea for unity among the poor. If this isn’t achieved then never, ever will equality be achieved. It’s a soulful, funky anthem, where Funkadelic’s trademark sound shines through.
Super Stupid sees Eddie Hazel take charge of the lead vocals. Here, Funkadelic combine musical genres and influences. Funk, psychedelia, rock and soul combines with Sly and The Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix. The song is about a drug addict, nickname Maggot Brain, who buys the wrong drug. It’s a truly turbocharged track. At the heart of the driving, dramatic rocky track are Funkadelic’s rhythm section. Eddie however, plays a starring role, unleashing some of his finest, blistering guitar licks.
Back in Our Minds is another song about unity. It’s story about two friends who are reunited after falling out. George and Tawl Ross take charge of the lead vocal, on what sounds like a raucous, slice of good time music. Gone is the tightness of the previous track. It sounds as if Funkadelic are in a ‘relaxed’ state of mind. Sunshine soul, meets jazz, and a loose, funky sound.A myriad of avant-garde sounds are thrown into the mix. Later, McKinley Jackson adds bursts of trombone and a piano adds to the singalong nature of the song.
Closing Maggot Brain is Wars of Armageddon. It’s very different from previous tracks. Wars of Armageddon is an innovative and futuristic fusion of left-field music, sound effects and surreal lyrics. That’s not surprising, given Maggot Brain was recorded while Funkadelic were tripping on acid. Here, Funkadelic seemed to have opened the doors to perception to its fullest. They’re determined to end the album on a high. Bernie Worrell on Hammond organ and guitarist Eddie Hazel play starring roles. Meanwhile, the rhythm section create a groove laden backdrop. Above them, sound effects and snatches of dialogue flit in and out, as the original lineup of Funkadelic take their bow, producing a post apocalyptic vision of the Wars of Armageddon.
By the time Maggot Brain was released, the original lineup of Funkadelic were no more. Recording of their Magnus Opus, Maggot Brain, had taken its toll. The reason for this, were the sessions were drug fuelled. Funkadelic’s drug de jour was acid, which can have devastating effect. That was the case after Maggot Brain was completed.
Following the recording of Maggot Brain, Tawl Ross, Eddie Hazel, Billy Nelson, and Tiki Fulwood all left Funkadelic. Maggot Brain became the last Funkadelic album to feature the original and classic lineup of the group. That’s not surprising.
Funkadelic had a voracious appetite for the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. They liked to live life hard. Part of their lifestyle was drugs. However, their lifestyle caught up with Funkadelic. Their lineup was torn apart by drugs.
Drummer Tiki Fulwood was the first to leave Funkadelic. After that, the floodgates opened. Tawl Ross, Eddie Hazel and Billy Nelson departed. Within a year, only Bernie Worrell was left. He was the last man standing. Maggot Brain may have been their finest hour, but it came at a huge price.
When Maggot Brain was released, it was to mostly critical acclaim. Critics hailed the album Funkadelic’s finest hour and while they may have released more successful albums than Maggot Brain, they never bettered it. Maggot was was their finest hour.
It saw Funkadelic at their innovative best as they pushed musical boundaries to their limit and sometimes beyond. Funk, jazz, psychedelia, P-funk, rock, soul and social comment all melt into one on Maggot Brain, which is a groundbreaking and genre-melting acid fuelled Magnus Opus, where Funkadelic throw open the doors of perception on this career defining cult classic.
Cult Classic: Funkadelic-Maggot Brain.