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Funkadelic – One Nation Under a Groove 1978

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George Clinton certainly has one of the half dozen biggest names in the history of the funk. Other than Prince or James Brown his own bad Self, Clinton has as big a reputation as anyone.

For my part, I’m a little less than 100% sold on Clinton. His general creative vision was outstanding, and he had great bands and grooves, but the songwriting was mostly marginal at best. He was certainly no Sly Stone, much less Prince. I’m probably not alone in liking the idea of George Clinton far better than any of his actual records.

Then again, I mostly haven’t listened real closely and attentively to his work. So then, let’s look at the highly reputed 1978 Funkadelic album One Nation Under a Groove.

The title track has more of a tune than some of his stuff. Combine that with the taut and super detailed grooves, and even a skeptic can’t deny that this groove is indeed “So wide can’t get around it So low you can’t get under it.”

Actually paying attention to the lyrics, perhaps they could be credited with some becoming modesty. The Clinton crew manage to get flavors out of lyrics with some veneer of “social statement,” but don’t really in fact get into a bunch of political nonsense. Really though, “Pledge a groovallegiance to the funk The United Funk of Funkadelica” says all that needs said. Also though, that bass is doing all the talking by the end. This ain’t no cheap, repetitive disco; that’s jazz worthy playing that will bear repeated listenings.

“Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock” presents something of the basic Clinton problem. You can’t argue against the classic liberating sentiment. They do play a perfectly credible rock groove with heavy lead blues guitars. However, the song just isn’t that interesting. There’s just not six minutes worth of song. There’s about 15 seconds worth of central melody repeated ad nauseum, and it’s really giving them a fairly big benefit of the doubt to say that the guitar play is interesting enough to justify the whole enchilada.

They work up a pretty strong slow rock funk groove for “Promentalshitbackwashpsychosisenemasquad (The Doo-Doo Chasers)” but I’m not going to listen to it again voluntarily. Look, I’m too big a South Park fan to be accused of not appreciating a good potty joke, but this loses me.

A musical bowel movement
Designed to rid you of moral diarrhea
Social bullshit
Crazy do-loops
Mental poots

George spends over ten minutes giving the most loving, creatively ornately detailed lyrics of his career, entirely devoted to being as absolutely unappetizingly copraphilic as humanly possible. He just HAS to carefully describe the original food and the exact details of it in the middle and on the other end. In short, this does nothing to free my mind, and leaves my ass with no interest in following. Does diarrhea make YOU want to dance?

“Into You” is basically just boring. It has a more developed tune than some of this, but it’s just not a very interesting tune. After about two minutes, I’m patiently waiting for the end. “Cholly” is perhaps slightly more agreeably sprightly, but no more interesting musically.

“Lunchmeataphobia” has a solid hard rock groove, but there’s no significant melody vocally or instrumentally to sustain interest. Chasing down the strong guitar and drums rock sound, it doesn’t really have any of the great fruity freak flavors that mark Clinton’s best work.

They limp out of the original album with the mundane instrumental rehash of “PE Squad/Doo Doo Chasers-Going All the Way Off.”

The live version of their 1971 classic “Maggot Brain” (originally a bonus 7″) tacked onto the end of this certainly makes a better closing statement. It’s not really a song with verses and choruses, but an extended blues guitar showcase. This is notably NOT very funky, but it is directly dramatically effective.

This song in particular might be framed as a “jam band” song. Looked at that way, this track is more passionate and focused than any but the best few Grateful Dead jams.

Overall, there’s not more than a couple of things here at best that might really be called songs. The best three or four tracks might be thought of as worthy instrumental excursions. But really, this is no Stand or Purple Rain.

As background music at a party, this would be great texture. But if you listen to it at all closely, it’s going to start falling apart.

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  • You’d better apologize to Mr. Hankey right away.

  • Oh, I’m sure this is a #1 hit in the Hankey house.

  • godoggo

    Grooveallegiance has a pretty good melody, but, really, that’s not the point; it’s funk, you see…this whole “a is not as good as b” approach to music becomes really tiresome after a while… …your admiration for Prince’s songwriting is, well, not bewildering, really, just wrong – his melodies are weak, and he’s not nearly as soulful or funky or funny as this…uh-oh, I’m starting to sound like you, not a good sign.

  • Maybe your probing review has finally opened up the real reason us white folks can’t dance.

    Too much anal retention.

    Maybe if more of us learnt how to shake our groove thangs, we could be more happy and less constipated.

  • I’m trying to compare like to like, trying out different frames to get the good out of it. The “Grooveallegiance” might best be thought of as like a jazz instrumental. The development of the bass part is what’s most interesting.

    There’s no reason why funk can’t also have strong melody and overall composition. If there’s not a vocal tune or instrumental melodic development somewhere, you’re going to have eight or ten minutes of not much happening.

  • The public enema stuff just distinctly causes MY ass to tighten up. Again, does ten minutes of yammering about diarrhea make black folk want to dance? It seems unlikely.

  • I’m not saying it makes them want to dance; I’m suggesting perhaps their desire to dance is strong enough to withstand it. That’s an entirely different claim, and I’m far too anal-retentive myself to let the distinction pass unnoticed.

  • godoggo

    Anyways, I went through a big Clinton phase in my late teens, early twenties, though I really prefered my Bootsy records (and my God, they seemed ancient at the time – youthful time perception and all that), but, I’ve come back to this lately, and I find myself moved by it more than ever, now that it’s become a part of me. I find “Into You Know” beautify – love the gospel bass vocals against the psychedelic noodling in the background. I love the wailing guitars and vocals in that Promential whatever song, like the pretty chords, the funkiness of it even at that slow tempo.

    You know what I heard on the radio the other day, though? Troublefunk! Goddamn! I used to hear about them all the time, but never heard them before. Amazing.

  • Darren Shupe

    You make some valid points about this album. Clinton, et al. do have a tendency to go on without limit. I kinda enjoy that, though, in a party mode. I recognize that a lot of critics consider this album Funkadelic’s best, but I’m more a fan of “Standing on the Verge of Getting It On,” “Cosmic Slop,” and “Maggot Brain,” in that order.

    Thanks for the interesting and well-written piece!


  • godoggo

    I agree that the earlier period, which I guess is more psychedelic soul than funk, is more exciting, although I’m not as familiar with it as you. Also I want, for no particular reason, to reiterate that my favorite Clinton-oriented funk stuff (that I’ve heard, anyway; I’ve never heard Eddy Hazel’s solo stuff, for example) is Bootsy’s Rubber Band.

    Actually, the only “One Nation” track that I really think goes on a bit too long without much happening is “Who Says…” and maybe the title track. In the the others, a lot of the interest is in the background jamming and singing, which tends to gradually get more intense throughout the song.

    It occurs to me that the comparison and contrast thing is the way we were taught to write and think in high school. A 5 paragraph structure would complete the effect perfectly.

  • Don

    In my humble opinion, Clinton has been a Guru of music geniuses who has graced the music scene in this generation. Whoever that was that criticized the lyrics as being boring certainly couldnt have been listening intensely enough to recognize the messages hidden behind the seemingly disguised dialogue. Listen to the 1974 “Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts.” I’m not sure about anyone else, but this song had a profound impact on how I thought about my life. Eddie Hazels guitar riffs were as good as any one during that time. There were many verses to that song that were profound but one that sticks that I think about often, even today, was “every thought true, or allowed to be accepted as being true in your conscious mind, takes root in your subconscious, blossoms soonere or later into an act and bears its own fruit..Good thoughts bring forth good fruit, bullshit thoughts will rot your needs.” There were a lot of thought provoking passages in this song, as well as several others on several of his releases. “Can You Get to That,” “Cosmic Slop,” and its social element. I can go on and on but I think I’ve shared my point.

  • Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Don. Note that I’m just reviewing this one album here, trying to digest Clinton’s work one album at a time.

    Godoggo, yes “compare and contrast” is a basic writing technique from grade school- which still seems to be beyond the grasp of many adults.

    Some in fits of faux idealism would argue against the basic technique as a tool of review. They are silly, of course. Apparently, they think that a piece of art shouldn’t be compared to anything else, but held up in the air as some kind of holy disconnected artifact.

    But of course, any musician, for example, is working from and/or against those what came before him. Where does Clinton fit into the traditions of r&b and rock music? Those are basic questions for anyone trying to properly understand his work.

  • Al Barger wrote:
    > [George Clinton’s] general creative vision was
    > outstanding, and he had great bands and grooves,
    > but the songwriting was mostly marginal at best.

    Since all this is pretty much a matter of personal taste, it’s difficult to counter ‘arguments’ like the above objectively. Which is why I’ll reply on a personal level:

    While I believe that funk mainly is about grooves (definitely a strong point of GC / Parliament / Funkadelic), I also am heavily into GC’s songwriting – after all, he was influenced by ’50s doo-wop and ’60s Motown songs.

    This is particularly evident in his early songs for The Parliaments. Later, his songwriting evolved from ‘traditional’ Motown-style soul pop to clever and/or silly word-play, smart innuendo, and social statements.

    Over the past decades, he came up with single lines (e. g., “Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow” or “If You Don’t Like the Effects, Don’t Produce the Cause”) which, to me, are deeper than entire songs by many other singer-songwriters.

    > He was certainly no Sly Stone, much less Prince.

    And Sly Stone and Prince certainly were no George Clinton.

    Sly & the Family Stone had four, five strong albums over a course of about six years. George Clinton, Parliament, Funkadelic, Bootsy & Co. influenced the rock, funk, pop, and hip-hop scene with many great albums for at least 20 years (from the early ’70s to the early ’90s).

    As far as Prince is concerned, he certainly is a ‘better’ musician than George Clinton (who doesn’t really play any instruments). But – and this, again, is a matter of personal taste – as a producer and songwriter, I personally prefer GC.

    In fact, one of the worst songs GC ever was involved in – “The Big Pump” on GC’s Paisley Park album “Hey Man…Smell My Finger” – was co-written, co-produced, and mainly played by Prince.

    > Then again, I mostly haven’t listened real
    > closely and attentively to his work.

    Given this, you should only judge those songs/albums you have listened to closely and attentively (IMHO).

    > “Into You” is basically just boring.

    Let’s agree to disagree here. Musically (due to Ray Davis’ vocal performance) and lyrically, “Into You” has always been one of my favorite Funkadelic songs of all time.

    > The live version of their 1971 classic “Maggot
    > Brain” (originally a bonus 7″) tacked onto the
    > end of this certainly makes a better closing
    > statement. It’s not really a song with verses
    > and choruses, but an extended blues guitar
    > showcase. This is notably NOT very funky, but it
    > is directly dramatically effective.

    Have you ever seen George Clinton & Parliament / Funkadelic in concert? Many parts of their shows are “notably NOT very funky”, but “directly dramatically effective” – just like the early Funkadelic albums on the Westbound label.

    > This song in particular might be framed as a
    > “jam band” song. Looked at that way, this track
    > is more passionate and focused than any but the
    > best few Grateful Dead jams.

    This is true for the live version as well. I’ve heard about 40, 50 different versions of it in the past 20 years – with lead guitarists Eddie Hazel (R.I.P.) and Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton.

    > But really, this is no Stand or Purple Rain.

    I’m glad about any song which doesn’t sound like “Purple Rain” (one of my least favorite Prince releases). 😉

    > There’s no reason why funk can’t also have
    > strong melody and overall composition. If
    > there’s not a vocal tune or instrumental melodic
    > development somewhere, you’re going to have
    > eight or ten minutes of not much happening.

    Does this mean that you consider The Meters, Booker T. & The MG’s, or songs like Prince’s “Sexy M.F.” boring?

    > Godoggo, yes “compare and contrast” is a basic
    > writing technique from grade school …

    … which may not be the most appropriate technique for judging ‘adult’ musical styles like P.Funk.

  • Mr Jebsen, thank you for your extensive and thoughtful comments. As regards George Clinton, I consider myself but a humble student.

    Nonetheless, I try to be an honest student. Some aspects of Clinton stand out more than others. I can see some of the appeal of Clinton, but I don’t see how these one line compositions are much in the way of being songs.

    A lot of this stuff sounds to me like fine grooves waiting around for somebody to write a song to go with them. “Sexy MF” has a pretty strong vocal melody, actually. Or try “Kiss” or even “Gett Off.”

    But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a vocal melody. The melodic interest could be coming from the bass, which it is in a lot of the better Parliament. Bootsy Collins is a monster.

    Also, compare and contrast is a basic literary technique valid for many different uses, or should we give up using the alphabet to describe things because we learned that in grade school, too?

  • Larry Wise

    I would like to add a bit to Peter Jebson’s reply to your blog, Mr. Barger.

    It seems as if you REALLY didn’t get the meaning of what you called “A #1 hit in Mr. Hankey’s house.” it kinda shows a terrible generation gap.

    P.E. SQUAD/DOO-DOO CHASERS could, in this current Politcal Climate, be the ultimate PROTEST SONG against the GOP in general, POTUS in particular. To put it simply, George Clinton said in that song, a lot of folks have SHIT FOR BRAINS, and when they open their mouths,that’s all that comes out: SHIT!

    The ‘Enema’-part pertains to ‘straightening oneself out’–mentally. Clean your mind of all of it’s ‘corruption’ just as you would your ‘digestive system’. After all, as I remember well, the catchphrase from that song is (and I quote):

    “Music To Get Your Shit Together By”.

    Translation: Get it together.

    And, like I said at the top, such an example could–and should–apply to our current administration. Ain’t it funny how a 27-year-old ‘potty song’ could still ring true today.

  • FunkyMixx

    Your review of One Nation Under a Groove
    by most Funkateer standards is a slap in the
    FUNK is more than songwriting, its a way of life.
    You would have to understand the true concept and evolution to appreciate it.
    Ehy didn’t you review “America Eats Its Young”, or “Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow”.
    These are two very conceptual albums, and mark the foundation of what FUNK is all about.
    You have to start from the VERY beginnaing and
    personally digest the concept.
    “FUNK is its own reward”…do you know what he means by that comment?
    In other words, why were the inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame without ever winning a Grammy?
    I will stop here before my emotions take over..
    but when you have Eddie Hazel, Jerome Brailey, Mike Hampton, Bernie Worrell, Boggie Mosson, and the Horny Horns in full effect, with George running the show…the end result is Promentalshitbackwashphychosisenemasquad!
    Get it?

  • FunkyMixx

    Oh…I forgot to ask you?
    Have you ever ventured to one of the original Chocolate Cities?? GARY, INDIANA..look it up on the map or better still listen to the Chocolate City CD. Its my favorite question. Bet not.
    Most critics that talk shit haven’t.

  • Dear FunkyMixx, being from Indiana I have in fact been to Gary on my way to Chicago a few times. Generally, I gas up beforehand, keep the windows rolled up, and my foot on the gas. Not a place any sane person would spend a lot of time on a voluntary basis. However, we have black folk in Indianapolis among other places. I met one there once.

    I appreciate your emotional attachment to Clinton. I recognize that his one of the ultimate hipsters. I recognize him as a fine human being with whom I would love to socialize. He’s also made some pretty good music. My remarks are NOT a slap in the face, but purely professional criticism.

    I just think his music’s overrated. I mean, he’s done some good work, but a lot of people talk like he’s the second frickin’ coming of Jebus- and I don’t see how you get there based on the very marginal at best songwriting I’m hearing.

    Again though, I re-iterate that I am but a humble student of the funk, and I consider my George Clinton essays class notes.

    Also, be looking for my upcoming notes on the Funkentelechy album. I like this way the best of any Clinton I’ve heard, so you’ll probably be better pleased with that.

    Also, when they make the inevitable Broadway musical based on Clinton, I want to try out for the part of Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk. It’s a role I was born to play.

  • Jon

    Some folks just don’t get it, and I suppose it’s not for those people. Perhaps one of these people is you. It’s definitely for me though. It seems you don’t understand songs like “Into You” and “Who says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock.” It’s about the groove, it’s about the message, and it’s about the feel. There’s usually some underlying statements in the songs, without being totally conscious of it. It’s playful yet serious. One Nation Under A Groove is a collection of songs from different perspectives, but still under the GROOVE. Funk is not just about music, it’s a way of life…and it’s the only way I care to live. Perhaps you should write about something that you understand. I’m not particularly a Clinton fan, I’m more into Eddie Hazel, Bootsy, and the musicians…but without George, most of their music wouldn’t have happened. He gave them all a creative avenue to work with, through this avenue, funk has touched many’s lives. George is a conductor, and a damn fine one at that. Try to dig records like Maggot Brain, Standing on the Verge…, Let’s Take it to the Stage, and Hazel’s Games, Dames, and Guitar Things…if you can’t feel that, you ain’t got no soul.

  • Jon, I think I’m mostly getting it, I’m just not completely sold on a lot of it. I’m all about the funk, but I’m just not entirely sold on Clinton.

    However, I’ve been into Funkentelechy pretty hard lately, which is definitely putting me on the Bootsy tip.

    Plus, I’m definitely digging on some Maggot Brain even as I’m typing here. I haven’t figured out what to say about it yet, but that moody guitar in the title song is definitely working for me better than this album did.

  • jon

    Well man, the One Nation album is a mixture of songs, it ranges from dance funk, to straight funk, to funk metal, to progressive soul. George put out so many records, under so many different names…he surely knew how not to put all of his eggs in one basket. Funkadelic began as psychedelic soul, then went on to heavy funk/rock, then to slick synth/heavy funk. And Parliament was simultaneously (after ’74) pounding out some of the funkiest records this side of Pluto. Two different groups, with evolution within it’s seperate cosmic entities. Then there’s the Brides of Funkenstein, Parlet, Bootsy, Bernie, Space Cadets, Mutiny and Quazar(not related to George, but still P-Funk), etc, etc, etc. There’s a whole P-Funk empire. I have over 75 cds and lps, just of P-Funk related stuff. It’s the best, man.

    I suggest you check out as much of this stuff as you can. The only funk bands who are arguably in the same league with P-Funk are the Meters, Brothers’ Johnson, Sly….stuff like that. Please, do not compare George Clinton with Prince, it’s like comparing apples to dust.

    I hope you find the funk man, cause you need it. The bigger the headache, the bigger the pill. Don’t fake the funk or yo nose will grow.

  • moni

    You have got to be kidding me.
    The minute I read your article I knew you did not have a clue as to what the music is all about.
    Basically Georges music is about the music not the lyrics silly. OMG!
    No one will ever recreat his era.
    that was 27 years ago. How old are you?
    when you listening to it then?
    It is like me watching Woodstock and saying those people were not hip and they were crazy.
    The moment of the funk has nothing to do with the lyrics. Listen to the beats!!!!!!!

  • Moni- I’m all in favor of being about music, not lyrics – but this album falls down exactly on the most important musical level. That is, there’s precious little melody on this album. Again, the melody could be a vocal melody or carried through the instruments. It’s all good – but it needs to come from somewhere. Mostly, on this album the tunes never show up. If you don’t got melody, then you don’t got a song.

    And that’s true no matter when you listen to the record or how long. It might take you a few listens to start picking up on some of the intricacies of, say, Prince’s Parade, but it doesn’t take 27 years of listening to decipher the half-assed songwriting on this album.

  • D

    Whoever wrote this article seriously lacks the funk. I feel bad for you. Clinton’s grooves are complex but calculated. They are designed to take the long way around. I love Prince, but you are comparing two different styles of music. P Funk is not comparable to what Prince does. It’s it’s own thing. Maybe it’s not your cup of tea, that’s cool. But discrediting the music is way off.