Sunday, June 21, 2009

June 21: Parliament, "Mothership Connection"

Artist: Parliament
Album: Mothership Connection
Year: 1976
Label: Casablanca

With countless albums and well over thirty members in their ranks over the years, there can be some confusion as to "which" band was Parliament, and why there seems to be so much chaos around the band. To set the record straight, in essence, Funakdelic and Parliament were, in fact, the same band, but on different labels. In the late 1950's, George Clinton assembled a doo-wop group he called "The Parliaments," and they had a minor hit with 1967's "(I Wanna) Testify." Clinton put together a backing band to tour after the hit, but then found himself in a contract dispute with his record label and lost the rights to the name. In response, Clinton formed a "new" band, with the exact same group members, and called them Funkadelic. After the contract dispute was over, Clinton re-launched Parliament, with the same members, yet both groups had a different take on funk. Shortly after the relaunch, the lineups of both bands began to go through countless changes as they would for the remainder of the life of each band. While both bands have recorded countless records, there is little doubt that the greatest moment for either band lies in Parliament's 1976 masterpiece, Mothership Connection.

Mothership Connection is an odd concept album, where Clinton took his love for Star Trek and used the theme of African Americans in space. The cover is a brilliant, retro representation of this theme, and the music found on the album is a perfect description of the term "space funk." Truth be told, it is nearly impossible to find an artist that has been cited or sampled as much as George Clinton. The deep, funky grooves and amazing musical hooks are second to none, and in many ways, the music of Parliament represents the beginning of the hip-hop genre. An overwhelming majority of early hip-hop records, as well as many of the most important records of the genre contain a heavy amount of sampling from Parliament, and one can make the case that hip-hop would have never existed had it not been for the work of Parliament. The pinnacle of the influence of Parliament can be found on Dr. Dre's seminal album, The Chronic, with a number of parts from "Mothership Connection (Star Child)" sampled regularly, as well as nearly every other song found on Mothership Connection. The sound on the album is perfect, and this is very much due to the fact that, as well as composing a majority of the songs on his own, Clinton also produced the entire album. After experiencing Mothership Connection, it becomes clear that George Clinton is undoubtedly one of the most creative, original, and talented band leaders in music history.

The lineup on Mothership Connection is truly a group of all-stars, from funk and jazz legends, to members of The J.B.'s, to musicians who have become legends from their work with Parliament. Having led James Brown's backing band (and recently left to join Parliament), the credentials that horn players Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker bring to the group are truly second to none. Alongside brothers Randy and Michael Brecker (who played with everyone from James Taylor to Billy Cobram,) the horn section easily rivals the talent level of any band in history. Infusing jazz, blues, and soul, the horns pop, slide, and groove through each song, and it is impossible to picture the songs without them. Fellow music legend Bernie Worrell handles all of the keyboard, synthesizer, and piano work on Mothership Connection, and his contributions are some of the most stunning on the record. Along with playing timeless riffs that serve as much of the foundation for the music, Worrell also helped with writing many of the songs found on the album. Having already cemented themselves as a legends with their playing on the stoner-anthem, "Maggot Brain," guitarists Eddie Hazel and Michael Hampton furthers their status with a stunning group of riffs and solos throughout Mothership Connection.

For all of the amazing musicians found on Mothership Connection, there are two who manage to stand slightly above the rest. The first of these two is bass legend, former J.B., and one of the most recognizable performers in history, Cincinnati, Ohio's own Bootsy Collins. The basslines that Bootsy lends to Mothership Connection are some of the most famous in history, and his lead and backing vocals are as dynamic as ever. Unquestionably, the most important figure in the band is the man behind Parliament, the originator himself, George "Uncle Jam" Clinton. Having started as a songwriter for Motown Records, Clinton is easily one of the most important figures in music history. On Mothership Connection, his combination of sung and spoken vocals give the songs the perfect touch, and his vocals became the inspiration for countless slang terms, most notably, the term "the bomb." The spoken, rapped vocals on "P.Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)" are filled with many now legendary phrases, and they have been referenced and sampled as much as the music since their release. Easily the most successful song on the album, and subsequently one of Parliament's best known songs, "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)" takes the groups' funk sound and places it into a jazz formation. The song has been sampled from everyone from the Cherry Poppin' Daddies to the Seattle Mariners baseball team and remains one of the groups' most popular songs.

While many genres can claim a number of musicians as the "father" of their sound, there is little doubt that George Clinton is the originator of what is considered "funk" music. Assembling the finest musicians in the world and sculpting some of the most amazing, original songs ever heard, the impact of Parliament remains strong to this day. Music legends like Bernie Worrell, Ray Davis, Fred Wesley, as well as the men known as "Bootsy" and "Maceo" have all spent time within Parliament, and set the standard for musicianship in the group. Having just added Maceo and Fred Wesley to the groups' lineup, the horns take a far more prominent role on the record, and this is a large reason why Mothership Connection finds itself vaulted above the rest of the Parliament catalog. The songs of Parliament played a central role in the evolution of hip-hop music, and the George Clinton remains the most heavily sampled artist in history. This is in large part due to the fantastic grooves he created, making the music of Parliament some of the most fun and enjoyable that you'll find anywhere in the annuls of music. While nearly every record from Parliament is packed with amazing jams and grooves, the group is presented in their finest form throughout their indispensable 1976 tour dé force, Mothership Connection.

Standout tracks: "P.Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)," "Mothership Connection (Star Child)," and "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)."

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