Friday, October 2, 2009

October 2: Funkadelic, "Maggot Brain"

Artist: Funkadelic
Album: Maggot Brain
Year: 1971
Label: Westbound

Throughout the course of music history, certain songs have become so iconic that they have become infused into common vernacular and taken on other meanings. Both the music and lyrics of these songs remain the most famous in history, and tend to hold an almost holy status among music lovers. While Parliament may have been the greatest party band in history, George Clinton's other project, Funkadelic, pushed the boundaries on both funk and psychedelic rock in ways like no other band. Perfectly summed up in the stoner anthem, "Maggot Brain," the group represented the space between Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. Initially formed in the early 1960's as the backing band for Clinton's doo-wop group, The Parliaments, Funkadelic began to take its own form as the decade closed. Over the decade which the group formally existed, Funkadelic released more than a dozen albums, containing many of the most famous songs of the funk-rock genre. It is also largely due to his work within Funkadelic that Clinton gained his many nicknames, as well as his status as one of the most iconic figured in music history. After releasing a pair of brilliant records to start their career, Funkadelic unleashed the song and album that would forever cement their place in music history with their monumental 1971 release, Maggot Brain.

The title track is by far one of the most famous songs to come out of the psychedelic era. Composed by Clinton and guitar-god Eddie Hazel, the song is one of the most stunningly somber pieces ever written. Clinton has often been quoted as having told Hazel to, " like your momma had just died" and the final product is unquestionably one of the most soulful, yet sorrowful instrumentals ever recorded. Though there are a handful of musicians playing at the onset of the song, due to the truly extraordinary playing of Hazel, Clinton faded out the other musicians, leaving only the bassline and Hazel's guitar. Making the song even more stunning, the fact of the matter is, the song was recorded in a single take. Such is a testament to the unparalleled musicianship of Hazel, and few songs anywhere in music history even come close to the majesty of "Maggot Brain." The song is truly Hazel's tour-de-force, and in one fell swoop, he cemented his legacy as one of music's greatest guitarists ever, and his style and sound have been copied countless times over the decades. In one of the most unique traditions anywhere in the world, a pair of Cleveland, OH based radio stations turned the song into a regular, time-honored experience. From 1976 until 1994, 100.7FM played the song every Sunday morning at 1:30am. Similarly, since 1988, 98.5FM has played the song just before midnight on Saturday night, giving it the nickname, "Midnight Maggot Brain." Such tradition and dedication behind a single song is truly unheard of anywhere else in music, and small aspects like this further the songs' undeniable greatness.

Though Hazel and "Maggot Brain" are clearly the focus of the record, the other songs and musicians on the album cannot be overlooked. Along with Hazel, this lineup of Funkadelic featured a second musical icon in the form of keyboard master, Bernie Worrell. Creating his unique sound with a Minimoog synthesizer (most players used Hammond or Fender Rhodes keyboards), it is one of the key aspects that sets the sound of Funkadelic apart from the rest of the genre. Worrell also played many tours with Talking Heads, and in 2002, he formed the all-star band, Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains with Les Claypool and guitar virtuoso, Buckethead. Though Maggot Brain would mark his final recording with Funkadelic, bassist "Billy Bass" Nelson is nothing short of phenomenal throughout the entire record. Whether it is his delicate touches on the title track or the deep grooves he creates throughout the rest of the album, and Nelson has been cited as an influence on everyone from Flea to Fishbone's John Fisher. The other half of Funkadelic's rhythm section, drummer Tiki Fulwood brings influence from jazz and motown, yet is truly fantastic in creating the funky rhythms. Though he officially left the band following Maggot Brain, he played on a number of later Funkadelic albums, as well as a few, brief sessions with Miles Davis. Rhythm guitarist Tawl Ross also makes his final appearance on Maggot Brain, and the manner in which he and Hazel interact serves as a testament to his amazing skill that would be absent from the music scene more more than two decades. Creating amazing grooves with influences from AfroBeat to jazz to blues, the musicians strong on Maggot Brain remain largely unrivaled to this day.

As the primary composer, producer, vocalist, and musical and spiritual leader, there are few names in history that demand more respect then George Clinton. Easily one of the most sampled individuals throughout hip hop music, Clinton's compositions are truly stunning and complex. Sprinkling random sound effects, vocals, and distortion throughout Maggot Brain, Clinton turns his songs into unique musical experiences, and his sense of sonic textures is like that of no other person in the history of music. Whether it is his legendary spoken introduction to "Maggot Brain" or his strange ramblings under the music of "Wars Of Armageddon," Clinton proves to be as much a lyricist as he is a music writer. Clinton's writing prowess is perhaps no more clear than on the song, "You And Your Folks, Me And My Folks." Somewhat based off of a traditional negro folk song, it is one of the most brilliantly crafted class-conscious songs ever written. Easily one of the most stunning lines ever written is when Clinton preaches, "...but if in our fears, we don't learn to trust each other...and if in our tears, we don't learn to share with your brother, you know that hate is gonna keep on multiplying, and you know that man is gonna keep right on dying..." It is moments like these where one clearly sees that the music of George Clinton and Funkadelic was far more than just stunning, funky textures; and that deep within the amazing music was an undeniable message which was summed up by a later Clinton work, "Free your mind, and your ass will follow."

Most musicians would have been satisfied with a single legendary band, music icon, George Clinton is responsible for two. Though they would later be fused together to form P-Funk, both Parliament and Funkadelic had their own amazing, unique musical sound and style. While Parliament was generally more upbeat and bright, the deep, more somber tones of Funkadelic are just as fantastic. Much like with Parliament, it is nearly impossible to find a "bad" song from Funkadelic, and every one of their albums is well worth owning. Fueled by the legendary title track, Funkadelic's third record, "Maggot Brain" remains a truly special moment in music history, and the ten minute guitar solo of Eddie Hazel ranks among the most stunning and unparalleled performances ever recorded. Hazel's playing on the song goes well beyond the term "inspired," and even after countless listenings, there are still moments when the listener is truly left in awe of his ability and emotion within the music. Though it overshadows the rest of the record, the truth of the matter is, all seven tracks on Maggot Brain are nothing short of phenomenal, and the rest of the album shows the amazing musical prowess of the band, as well as spotlighting Clinton's ability in both songwriting, as well as his unique use of various sounds and vocal techniques. Easily as stunning and moving today as it was nearly forty years ago, Funkadelic's third record, the legendary, exalted 1971 release, Maggot Brain, represents one of the greatest moments in music history and is by far one of the most important albums ever recorded.

Standout tracks: "Maggot Brain," "You And Your Folks, Me And My Folks," and "Wars Of Armageddon."

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