Funk – there are wonderful connotations to that word aren't there? Funk! It just sounds nasty in a really good way, evoking images of people in dark sweaty bars getting all dark and sweaty. There's something sultry about just the very sound of the word that makes you want to move.
Funk was disco's older and more mature brother in the seventies. It was all disco promised but could never deliver in terms of energy, fun, and excitement. While disco pummeled you with its repetitive bass and drum beats, funk would lift you up with its drive and energy – propel you across the dance floor with the sound of trumpets and the throb of bass mixing with whatever else the band had going for it.
Funk evokes images of elegant men and women while disco brings sleazy seventies pick-up lines and tacky fern laden bars. Funk rises out of the ground like a primordial rhythm, while disco is manufactured by a machine and has as much of an organic quality to it as the polyester suits so favoured by its proponents.
Have I made it clear yet which I prefer? I hope so because I'm running out of damn comparisons and silly metaphors to make my point. Now not all funk sounds the same, (unlike disco – oops sorry) as within any genre of music your bound to get variations and funk is no exception.
From the late sixties and early seventies gospel influenced the sound of Al Green, Wilson Pickett, and James Brown with their horn sections and beautifully choreographed routines. The punk funk of The Gang of Four that used a speeded up funk base line to lead its assault against conventionality, to the Talking Heads extended funk line-up that gave us the wonderful sight of David Byrne getting down, Funk has displayed a versatility that not many dance rhythms could obtain.
But there has been one figure that has stood out from even the most flamboyant of Funkers to occupy his own strata in this galaxy – George Clinton and those two amazing bands he fronted Parliament and Funkadelic. These two bands went places mere mortals feared to go and took the funk stage show to such heights of excess it literally ended up becoming financially impossible to tour because of the sheer costs involved.
But it was the music that really set him apart from the others, taking it away from the gospel tinged sounds and moving more in the direction of what was coming out of some of the Jazz fusion groups. Of the two bands Parliament was the more commercial of the two and retained more of the recognizable sounds of the other bands. Funkadelic, with many of the same members as Parliament, were the experimenters. They increasingly went in directions further and further a field from both the mainstream of funk and pop music period.
Maintaining two full funk bands, even successful ones, was just impractical. So, in 1981 the two bands merged to form the P-Funk All Stars. At the same time Clinton and other band members began pursuing work outside the band (Two of them, Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worell, became part of the Talking Heads extended line up). Clinton signed with Prince's Paisley Park label, and also started to do some production work including stuff with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
In other words the band was pretty much dormant from the early 1980's until the 1990's. It was in 1997 that the CD Take It To The Stage was first released under the name Live and Kickin'. Now this double live disc of George & The P-Funk All Stars has been re-released for a new generation of Funkers to get off on, and for the old fans to remember why they have a pelvis.
The tracks were all culled from a tour the band did in 1996, and the division of the two sides falls along old affiliation lines. Disc one is primarily all the old Parliament showstoppers like "Cosmic Slop" and "Funk Getting Ready To Roll". I defy you to be able to sit still while listening to more than the first two bars of the first song. If your hips aren't moving or at least your toes aren't tapping you're either legally dead or you own shares in Pat Boon (Which amounts to the same thing).
Disc two is where stuff starts to get a little, how shall we put it, interesting. "Maggot Brain" is so hard it's almost a metal song and "Atomic Dog" and "The Mothership Connection" see them at their science fiction obsessed best. (One early Funkadelic tour saw them lower to the stage on a to scale flying saucer as part of the proceedings)
Disc two also features three previously unreleased studio cuts that were new releases from the second go round in the 1990's when George & The P-Funk All Stars rebooted their career as a band. The version of "Ain't Nuthin' But A Jam Y'All" included here is an extended take compared to the one released by the record company to the radio stations as a potential hit.
Clinton's & The All Stars influence is felt today as they continue to tour and perform live gigs, but also their old material is now the most sought after sounds for sampling by modern D.J.s and Hip Hop singers. I'm not a big fan of that whole business, but if it turns people on to the original music, or checking out George and company the next time they come to town that will be a good thing.
Take It To The Stage is a great overview of some of the best funk music ever produced, performed, and paraded. If you own no other funk disc, do yourself a favour and pick this one up. You don't know what your missing if you've not experienced George Clinton & The P-Funk All Stars.