Thursday, July 8, 2010

July 8: Parliament, "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)"

Artist: Parliament
Song: "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)"
Album: Mothership Connection
Year: 1976

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Though they may seem like completely different schools of musical thought, the fact of the matter is, Snoop Dogg and Red Hot Chili Peppers share a common musical ancestor, and this common influence stands as the core of both of their musical styles.  In fact, this single group can be seen as the base of the ENTIRE hip-hop genre, and one can quite easily make the case that there are few groups in history that are as important to the development of music than one finds within the sounds of Parliament.  Taking the elements of funk laid out by the likes of James Brown and The Funk Brothers, it was Parliament that but a psychedelic spin on the sound and the grooves and progressions orchestrated by the one and only George Clinton remain the quintessential grooves decades after they were first created.  Playing a fantastic contrast to Clinton's more exploratory band, Funkadelic, it was with Parliament that Clinton went for a no-holds-barred funk party, and this "free for all" feel led to some of the wildest and most memorable riffs in music history.  Though 1976 may have been the heyday for disco, it was also the year that Parliament dropped their most impressive album, and few records of any genre can compare to the awesome power and feel of the legendary Mothership Connection.  Containing many of the groups' most famous songs, hooks from these tracks continue to be sampled in various forms across genres, most notably within the hip-hop world.  While every track on the album is nothing short of fantastic, there is something special found in what may very well be Parliament's greatest musical achievement, their 1976 single, "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)."

Though at face value, "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)" is an all out party song, there is a great deal of complexity occurring beneath the surface, and the way in which the song is crafted cannot be overlooked.  In reality, the song has a very strong similarity to jazz in its musical arrangements, and this is not all that surprising considering George Clinton's wide range of musical knowledge and influence.  Built around three separate musical progressions or themes, they are "restated" throughout the song, and this is unquestionably a jazz arrangement, yet it remains largely hidden within the explosion of joyous music that "is" the song.  This highly complex musical arrangement, combined with the stunning manner with which it is carried out is a bit less shocking once one considers the musicians who played on the track.  Composed by Clinton along with Parliament bassist, the legendary Bootsy Collins, even after hundreds of listenings, the groove of the song is still as vibrant and irresistible.  The rhythm and mood, largely controlled by Collins, and the horn section led by Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker is complimented by the smooth, yet equally funky keyboards from none other than Bernie Worrell.  Yet these are not the only "top shelf" names found on "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)," as guitar great Michael Hampton, Tiki Fulwood, and Garry Shider are also present for the musical magic that makes the song so unforgettable.  It is all of these elements spinning around the shared musical themes that makes the song so fantastic, and one would be hard pressed to find a more talented musical lineup anywhere in history.

As extraordinary as the musical performances are on "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)," one can easily make the case that the key to the lasting impact of the song lives within the sing-along-demanding vocals.  The iconic, deep bass opening vocal refrain, performed by Ray Davis, sets an amazing tone for the song, and his voice seems to almost fade into the bassline from Collins, a move that has been copied countless times over the decades.  Much like the music, the vocals on "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)" follow an interlocking pattern based around a trio of lyrical phrasings.  Though the song lasts nearly six minutes, and contains a great deal of singing, the reality is that there are only four different lines in the song, and this proves that it can be far more important "how" you deliver a vocal as opposed to what is actually being said.  The fact that the vocals are almost never placed over one another may lead to the misinterpretation that there are more words to the song, but this repetition also serves as the key to making the song so "sing-along friendly."  This is further encouraged by the fact that, after Davis' opening vocal, there are almost no other "solos" to be found on the song, and this in many ways reflects the group ethos that made the music of Parliament so superb.  Completing the "party" atmosphere, the lyrics that are sung speak to large, joyous gatherings, and few lines have become as iconic as, "'ve got a real type of thing going down here tonight, there's a whole lot of rhythm going round..."  Even the "la la la la la" section of the song has been used in countless ways over the years, and this combined is why "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)" is so far beyond the rest of the Parliament catalog.

Fusing together complex musical arrangements with irresistible group vocals is what "made" Parliament the band they were, and there is perhaps no better a defining song for the band than one finds in "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)."  In every aspect, the song is far beyond that of every other funk group in history, and this is largely due to the absolutely stunning lineup which can be found on the song.  From Bootsy Collins to Maceo Parker to Michael Hampton, nearly every one of the "greats" of funk is present on the song, and George Clinton manages to find a way for them to all have their "moment" whilst working within the larger group scope.  Yet it is largely this balance that makes the song so impressive, as even when there seems to be so much happening musically, in reality, the song is almost exclusively a two-part rhythm section and a lone keyboard.  Though the rest of the band pops in and out of the song intermittently, the fact that so much can be made with so few instruments shows the true genius behind the musicians and musical arrangers of Parliament.  Furthermore, this strange simplicity pushed music as a whole into an entirely new direction, and many bands attempted to create an equally impressive "more from less" sound.  Working in perfect harmony with the music, the group vocals on "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)" in many ways capture the ethos behind the band, as "anyone," regardless of musical tastes or musical ability could easily sing along or "take part" in the songs' greatness.  Though it is difficult to pick a "best" track from a band with so many iconic songs as one finds in the catalog of Parliament, it is hard to argue that there is a better place to find everything that makes the group fantastic, as well as one of the greatest, most joyous songs in history than can be found in their 1976 single, "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)."

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