Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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George Clinton [extended]

  • Osmium [Invictus, 1970] B
  • Funkadelic [Westbound, 1970] C+
  • Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow [Westbound, 1970] B-
  • Maggot Brain [Westbound, 1971] B+
  • America Eats Its Young [Westbound, 1972] C+
  • Cosmic Slop [Westbound, 1973] B
  • Standing on the Verge of Getting It On [Westbound, 1974] B+
  • Up for the Down Stroke [Casablanca, 1974] A-
  • Let's Take It to the Stage [Westbound, 1975] A-
  • Chocolate City [Casablanca, 1975] B
  • Funkadelic's Greatest Hits [Westbound, 1975] A-
  • Mothership Connection [Casablanca, 1976] A-
  • The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein [Casablanca, 1976] B+
  • Tales of Kidd Funkadelic [Westbound, 1976] B+
  • Hardcore Jollies [Warner Bros., 1976] A-
  • The Best of the Early Years Volume One [Westbound, 1977] A
  • Parliament Live/P-Funk Earth Tour [Casablanca, 1977] B+
  • Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome [Casablanca, 1977] A
  • One Nation Under a Groove [Warner Bros., 1978] A
  • Motor-Booty Affair [Casablanca, 1978] A-
  • Uncle Jam Wants You [Warner Bros., 1979] B+
  • Gloryhallastoopid [Casablanca, 1979] B+
  • Connections and Disconnections [LAX, 1980] C
  • Play Me or Trade Me [Casablanca, 1980] B
  • Trombipulation [Casablanca, 1980] B-
  • The Electric Spanking of War Babies [Warner Bros., 1981] A-
  • Computer Games [Capitol, 1982] A
  • You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish [Capitol, 1983] A
  • Greatest Hits: P. Funk, Uncut Funk, the Bomb [Casablanca, 1984] A
  • Mothership Connection (Live from the Summit, Houston, Texas) [Capitol, 1985] B+
  • Some of My Best Jokes Are Friends [Capitol, 1985] A-
  • R&B Skeletons in the Closet [Capitol, 1986] B+
  • The Best of George Clinton [Capitol, 1986] B+
  • The Cinderella Theory [Paisley Park/Warner Bros., 1989] A-
  • Hey Man . . . Smell My Finger [Paisley Park, 1993] A-
  • Greatest Funkin' Hits [Capitol, 1996] A
  • T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M. [550 Music, 1996] ***
  • Live and Kickin' [Intersound, 1997] ***
  • Dope Dogs [Dogone, 1998] A
  • How Late Do U Have 2BB4UR Absent? [The C Kunspyruhzy, 2005] B+
  • George Clinton and His Gangsters of Love [Shanachie, 2008] Dud
  • First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate [The C Kunspyruhzy, 2014] **

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Parliament: Osmium [Invictus, 1970]
What happens when a black harmony group names an album after the heaviest metal, depluralizes its name, and pluralizes its music? It may be pretentious bullshit, but it sure is interesting pretentious bullshit--bagpipes and steel guitars, Bach and rock, Satchmo as Kingfish, work chants as dozens, all in the service of a world view in which love/sex becomes frightening, even brutal, and no less credible for that. B

Funkadelic: Funkadelic [Westbound, 1970]
Q (side one, cut one): "Mommy, What's a Funkadelic?" A: Someone from Carolina who encountered eternity on LSD and vowed to contain it in a groove. Q (side two, cut four): "What Is Soul?" A: A ham hock in your corn flakes. You get high marks for your questions, guys. C+

Funkadelic: Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow [Westbound, 1970]
This is as confusing and promising and ultimately ambiguous as the catchy (and rhythmic) title slogan. Is that ass as in "shake your ass" or ass as in "save your ass"? And does one escape/transcend the dollar by renouncing the material world or by accepting one's lot? Similarly, are the scratchy organ timbres and disorienting separations fuckups or deliberate alienation effects? Is this music to stand to or music to get wasted by? In short, is this band (this black band, I should add, since it's black people who are most victimized by antimaterialist rhetoric) promulgating escapist idealism or psychic liberation? Or do all these antinomies merely precede some aesthetic synthesis? One thing is certain--the only place that synthesis might occur here is on "Funky Dollar Bill." B-

Funkadelic: Maggot Brain [Westbound, 1971]
Children, this is a funkadelic. The title piece is ten minutes of classic Hendrix-gone-heavy guitar by one Eddie Hazel--time-warped, druggy superschlock that may falter momentarily but never lapses into meaningless showoff runs. After which comes 2:45 of post-classic soul-group harmonizing--two altos against a bass man, all three driven by the funk, a rhythm so pronounced and eccentric it could make Berry Gordy twitch to death. The funk pervades the rest of the album, but not to the detriment of other peculiarities. Additional highlight: "Super Stupid." B+

Funkadelic: America Eats Its Young [Westbound, 1972]
Their racial hostility is much preferable to the brotherhood bromides of that other Detroit label, but their taste in white people is suspect: it's one thing to put down those who "picket this and protest that" from their "semi-first-class seat," another to let the Process Church of the Final Judgment provide liner notes on two successive albums. I overlooked it on Maggot Brain because the music was so difficult to resist, but here the strings (told you about their taste in white people), long-windedness (another double-LP that should be a single), and programmatic lyrics ("Miss Lucifer's Love" inspires me to mention that while satanism is a great antinomian metaphor it often leads to murder, rape, etc.) leave me free to exercise my prejudices. Primary exception: "Biological Speculation," a cautionary parable about the laws of nature/the jungle. Secondary exception: "Loose Booty." Remember what Hank Ballard says, you guys: how you gonna get respect if you haven't cut your process yet? C+

Funkadelic: Cosmic Slop [Westbound, 1973]
Thank, well, Whomever, the "maladroited message of doom" inside the doublefold comes not from Brother Malachi but from Sir Lleb, and Whomever has rewarded the band with two definitively scary takes on sex and life in the future present--"Cosmic Slop" and "No Compute," both of which combine humor, pessimism, incantation, and baloney in convincing and unprecedented amalgams. Unfortunately, most of the rest is "interesting," including one profundo Vietnam monologue and many parodies of harmony-group usage. B

Funkadelic: Standing on the Verge of Getting It On [Westbound, 1974]
Although too often it lives up to its title, this is the solidest record this restless group has ever made (under its own name--cf. Parliament) and offers such goodies as Alvin Chipmunk saying "gross mutherfucker" and a stanza that takes on both Iggy Stooge and Frank Zappa with its tongue tied. It also offers this Inspirational Homily: "Good thoughts bring forth good fruit. Bullshit thoughts rot your needs. Think right and you can fly." B+

Parliament: Up for the Down Stroke [Casablanca, 1974]
What seems to distinguish this mysterious alternate version of Funkadelic (same personnel, different label) from the original is that it's more politic. Its excesses don't offend. Gone is all the scabrous talk of holes and bitches, and gone too are the politics themselves--the nearest this comes to social criticism is to praise the brain. But what's left is damn near a (musical) revolution. The material George Clinton has amassed over the years--the harmony-group vocal chops, the Jimi H. guitar, the James B. horns and rhythms--is here deployed in yet another audacious deconstruction/reconstruction of black pop traditions, and this time it works. All of the voice arrangements skew the original "I Wanna Testify" (which is reinterpreted for comparison) the way those of Big Star do, say, "Run for Your Life." The horns and guitars weave and comment and come front. And the title cut kicks and jams. One more riff like that and they'd take over the world. A-

Funkadelic: Let's Take It to the Stage [Westbound, 1975]
The group that makes the Ohio Players sound like the Mike Curb Congregation still has a disturbingly occultish bent--"free from the need to be free," indeed. But at this point I'm inclined to trust the music, which is tough-minded, outlandish, very danceable, and finally, I think (and hope), liberating. Including a Stevie Wonder ripoff and a Jimi Hendrix impression and a Black Sabbath love song and a long Bach organ coda ("Atmosphere," by Clinton-Shider-Worrell) over a rap that begins: "I hate the word pussy, it sounds awful squishy, so I guess I'll call it clit." A-

Parliament: Chocolate City [Casablanca, 1975]
On the first side A DJ who reminds me of original AM scatman Jocko Henderson jive-raps on the satisfactions of suffrage and then gives way to a danceable, listenable, forgettable groove. On the second side, interesting but hookless off-harmony excursions, two of them too slow and/or too long, break into some heavy funk for the ages. B

Funkadelic: Funkadelic's Greatest Hits [Westbound, 1975]
After "Can You Get to That," "Loose Booty," and "Funky Dollar Bill," which really are great, I'm ready to believe that "A Joyful Process" is balanced on an Ellingtonian paradox rather than immersed in schlocky pretensions. But the selection could be even better, and because Funkadelic is a groove band rather than a song band it's not very well-served by the "hit" format. In short, this is hardly the perfect Funkadelic LP. And in truth, neither are any of the others. A-

Parliament: Mothership Connection [Casablanca, 1976]
That DJ from Chocolate City, or maybe it's the Chocolate Milky Way, keeps the beat going with nothing but his rap, some weird keyboard, and cymbals for stretches of side one. And later produces the galactic "Give Up the Funk" and a James Brown tribute that goes "gogga googa, gogga googa"--only believe me, that doesn't capture it. A-

Parliament: The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein [Casablanca, 1976]
The message seems to be that clones are cool, and the proof seems to be the predictable yet effective funktoons that dominate the album. But I remain an unreconstructed Yurrupean rationalist/individualist, and I wish there were a few more tracks as specific as "Dr. Funkenstein" and "Sexy Body." B+

Funkadelic: Tales of Kidd Funkadelic [Westbound, 1976]
As with James Brown, whose circa-1971 J.B.'s provided this band with its horns and rhythm section, there always seem to be waste cuts on George Clinton's albums. The difference is that Brown's are intended as filler even when they come out inspired, whereas Clinton's feel like scientific experiments even when they're entirely off-the-cuff. The title cut here, a thirteen-minute congas-and-keyboard reconnaissance decorated with a few chants, turns out to be fairly listenable. Which I noticed because it's preceded by a catchy march called "I'm Never Gonna Tell It," their greatest post-doowop experiment yet. Also out there: "Take Your Dead Ass Home!" Not to mention the horns and rhythm section. B+

Funkadelic: Hardcore Jollies [Warner Bros., 1976]
A good sample of their surrealistic black vaudeville, this offers none of the great climaxes of their Westbound albums--no come shots, you might say--but an abundance of good old-fashioned raunch. As consistent as any album they've made, it's dense with ensemble funk and catchy riffsongs, post-heavy Mike Hampton guitar and post-backlash soul voicings. And it rescues from the public domain not only middle-period Jimmy Page but "Comin' 'Round the Mountain" and "They Don't Wear Pants on the Sunny Side of France." A-

Funkadelic: The Best of the Early Years Volume One [Westbound, 1977]
By cutting down to one track each from the first two albums, this upgrades Westbound's (now deleted) 1975 compilation. The only essential addition is "No Compute," but most of the six substitutions are improvements. And the one regrettable deletion, "Standing on the Verge of Getting It On," serves a rough concept: to present a very strange vocal group rather than a funk or psychedelic band. A

Parliament: Parliament Live/P-Funk Earth Tour [Casablanca, 1977]
Because it mixes music from all three George Clinton creations (including a new chant) and conveys a lot of the anarchic, participatory throb of a P. Funk concert, this live double serves a real function. But the recording doesn't do much justice to the music's bottom, or its top. B+

Parliament: Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome [Casablanca, 1977]
This seems like your representative 'delicment LP at first, featuring one irresistible and quite eccentric dance cut, other dance cuts that are at moments even more eccentric (including one based on nursery rhymes), bits of inspired jive, bits of plain jive, and an anomalous slow one. But with familiarity the three rhythm hooks that anchor the album start sounding definitive. And never before has George Clinton dealt so coherently with his familiar message, in which the forces of life--autonomous intelligence, a childlike openness, sexual energy, and humor--defeat those of death: by seduction if possible, by force if necessary. A

Funkadelic: One Nation Under a Groove [Warner Bros., 1978]
I can't figure out why some Funkateers profess themselves unmoved by this one. The twelve-incher does come up a little short on guitar, but a generous Hendrix fix is thoughtfully provided on a seventeen minute, seven-inch third side, and the title cut is as tough and intricate as goodfooting ever gets. Plus: "Who Says a Funk Band Can't Play Rock?" and "Into You," two manifestos that bite close to the bone, and "The Doo Doo Chasers," a scatological call-and-response cum responsive-reading whose shameless obviousness doesn't detract from fun or funk. Fried ice cream is a reality! Or: Think! It ain't illegal yet! A

Parliament: Motor-Booty Affair [Casablanca, 1978]
A kiddie record that features the return of the Chipmunks as "three slithering idiots" doing their thing underwater. Irresistible at its most inspired--aqua-DJ Wiggles the Worm is my favorite Clinton fantasy ever--and danceable at its more pro forma. A-

Funkadelic: Uncle Jam Wants You [Warner Bros., 1979]
This is fairly wonderful through the first cut on side two, but in a fairly redundant way. Bernie Worrell's high synthesizer vamps sometimes seem like annoying cliches these days, and not even Philippe Wynne can provide the marginal variety that puts good groove music over the top--maybe because he sounds like a high synthesizer himself. B+

Parliament: Gloryhallastoopid [Casablanca, 1979]
At its stoopidest ("Theme From the Black Hole," which features a "toast to the boogie" that goes--naturally--"Bottoms up!") this makes Motor-Booty Affair sound like The Ring of the Nibelungenlied. But at its dumbest ("Party People," apparently a sincere title) it makes Motor-Booty Affair sound like "Sex Machine" or "Get Off Your Ass and Jam." And there's too much filler. Stoopid can be fun, George--even inspirational. But mainly you sound overworked, and that's a drag for everybody. B+

Funkadelic: Connections and Disconnections [LAX, 1980]
"This album does not include any performances or creations by George Clinton," disclaim Fuzzy Haskins and his band of claim-jumpers, but they sure try to simulate same, with generally pathetic results (except when they make "P-Funk" sound like "hee haw"). Where Jerome Brailey's mutiny on the mamaship deepened the funk, these renegades aspire to fuzak--pleasant only if you forget who they say they are. C

Parlet: Play Me or Trade Me [Casablanca, 1980]
Even though P-Funk's second-string auxiliary has no Dawn Silva or Jeanette McGruder, this comes on as strong as Never Buy Texas From a Cowboy, because it doesn't take much for funk to come on strong. Just a few dance-phrases is all--"help from my friends," "play me or trade me," "now button it up, I'll put it away." Endurance is something else. Watch them do their thang indeed. B

Parliament: Trombipulation [Casablanca, 1980]
Reports of George Clinton's demise are premature, but there's reason to worry about his body tone. Although the transcendent silliness of "Agony of Defeet" recalls past glories, the quotes from Bach, Brylcreem, and Mother Goose are dim echoes of the sharp confidence games of yore, and on occasion this sounds kind of like Fuzzy Haskins & Co. Hmm. B-

Funkadelic: The Electric Spanking of War Babies [Warner Bros., 1981]
His embattled empire/utopia in pieces around if not against him, George Clinton reaches into the disgusting depths of his drug-addled mind and comes up with the solidest, weirdest chunk of P-Funk since one nation gathered under a groove. Featuring icky sex, Sly getting stronger, and an on-the-one reggae about digging "the first world" that should make his brethren and sistren (way) down south splank their spliffs. In short, chock-a-block, for which we can thank the baddies at Warner Brethren, who forced him to reduce a projected double-LP down to this supersaturated single. A-

Computer Games [Capitol, 1982]
Nothing on this mature work of art will tear the roof off any mothersucker--Dr. Funkenstein's earthshaking jams are past. But that's hardly to suggest that he's lost his sense of rhythm or hermeneutics. In other words, if your ears say you've heard some of these grooves before, don't tell your ass about it and your mind'll never be the wiser. Clinton has deepened in the wake of his failure to turn the planet upside-down, and this is his most flawless album, paced and orchestrated without a dead spot and thought through like a mothersucker. Even the earthshaking jams of the past are accounted for, and in two or three different ways. Man's best friend spelled backwards is? And why would anyone want to spell it backwards? A

You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish [Capitol, 1983]
This isn't as smart as Computer Games, or as soulful either--success will always go to George's head. So be thankful the head is a capacious one, and connected to his rump. Side one leads off with his version of The African King and quickly proves his most irresistible since Motor-Booty Affair, with "Quickie" a riff/groove that gleams like "Flash Light" and "Last Dance" a big fat fart in David Bowie's face. Even the talkover filler on the title track is worth listening to, and Philippe Wynne's lowdown oinks make "Stingy" a worthy heir to none other than the Coasters' "I'm a Hog for You." A

Parliament: Greatest Hits: P. Funk, Uncut Funk, the Bomb [Casablanca, 1984]
Clinton, Collins, Worrell & Co. always saved their funnest riffs (and scored their smashest hits) for P-Funk's kiddie half, which means that these radio-length condensations of the peaks toward which their concerts unwound (and around which their albums cohered) constitute their most tuneful and atypical LP. In a band that made a point of prolonging foreplay, it's like a serial climax, and the effect can be exhausting and even disorienting. But as you might imagine, it's also very exciting, an opportunity to concentrate on the deep vertical pleasures of music that makes forward motion a first principle. And as you ought to know, it was always the dense layering of whomever's guitar, Worrell's keyboards, Collins's bass, and Clinton's crafty vocal arrangements that made their forward motion stick. A

George Clinton/Parliament-Funkadelic: Mothership Connection (Live from the Summit, Houston, Texas) [Capitol, 1985]
Listening to their long-gone live double is like sitting midway back in the Garden because the fun is atmospheric: familiar epiphanies rise up out of the smoke, leaving the roof intact. This budget-priced one-sided video soundtrack offers a healthy serving of '70s raunch from about Row H of a hot '80s show--intense bottom, vocals loud and clear. Second side's a compilation, leading from "Atomic Dog" to two rereleases that'll make friends for Some of My Best Jokes. For fans, obviously. But if you're not some kind of fan by now, I've failed in my life's mission. B+

Some of My Best Jokes Are Friends [Capitol, 1985]
Some of his best jokes are rhythm parts, too, which isn't going to help the Thomas Dolby fans pick up on them. Oh well, they got their chance on Computer Games and Bit Fish and who bought those? The same tackheads who've always passed George their grift. So here he pulls Dolby in for real computer games, thus convincing Capitol that he's reached the proper pitch of commercial desperation, and then makes an antiwar record with dirty parts just like always--except that this time the antiwar stuff is very explicit. I wish it included something as ingratiating as "Atomic Dog" or "Quickie" or "Last Dance." But when he augments the drum machine with a flute solo and a middle-aged man gasping in the throes of sexual excitation, this tackhead-by-association can't resist. A-

R&B Skeletons in the Closet [Capitol, 1986]
Conceptually, featured vocalist Vanessa Williams and Pedro Bell's Neegrow cover are the only coups. Lyrically you'll have to settle for pidgin pygmy here, title credo there, some fast-food jokes, and the cautionary "Cool Joe." Groovewise it's Clonesville. In short, George's flattest in a decade. And you'd still settle for it in Boise. B+

The Best of George Clinton [Capitol, 1986]
The best-of has always been a dubious consumer service: even when it's a genuine bargain, it allows bizzers to make money off the same music twice, and don't think they don't love every dollar of it. In this case one of the bizzers is the artiste, who already stuck two of these cuts onto that strange half-live, half-compilation "mini-album" earlier this year. There's not much arguing with the individual selections. Since it reshuffles the entire first side of You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish, the most playable Clinton of the '80s if not all time, it's stronger cut for cut than that one, and it's a better dance record than Atomic Dog. But it's totally lacking in epistemological integrity, and if you think that's a ridiculous thing to say about a funk album, you've got placebo syndrome--George knows what I'm talking about, and without a dictionary. B+

The Cinderella Theory [Paisley Park/Warner Bros., 1989]
Except for the ballad (George, how could you), there isn't a a track here that doesn't stick out its tongue at the merely cliched. The first side isn't vintage, it's kinda fresh: guitar find and/or Rogers Nelson clone Tracey Lewis contributes a lite opener about getting down by never coming down, Chuck and Flav climb into bed with George's paisley hosts, "Why Should I Dog You Out?" rallies canines everywhere. Later, "French Kiss" sticks out its tongue for real. As happened so often when he ruled the world, the luck of the funk isn't always with him. But give Rogers Nelson credit for asking him back. A-

Hey Man . . . Smell My Finger [Paisley Park, 1993]
Half rap album the way so many rap albums these days are half P-Funk albums, it's never stronger musically than when one of a galaxy of rapping starchildren, most forcefully Humpty Hump and Ice Cube, is adding his or Yo Yo's natural rhythms to those of Uncle George, whose original-rapping was long ago extended technically by his extended family. For all their shows of militance, though, the kids's minds still haven't followed their asses as intrepidly as the old man's. And on "Dis Beat Disrupts" and "Get Satisfied," among others, his own beats beat all. A-

Greatest Funkin' Hits [Capitol, 1996]
A remix album, not a best-of, and one that avoids the promotional overkill and commercial double jeopardy of its half-assed demigenre. The live track, the previously unreleased, the remakes from the unnoteworthy R&B Skeletons and the unnoticed Jimmy G., the woofing bookends, the recycled P-Funk classics--all are renewed and of a piece. One secret weapon is youngbloods who owe him, including the Miss America he saved from the bluenoses and a typically nonjudgmental range of excellent rappers--Ice Cube and Q-Tip, Coolio and Busta Rhymes, Humpty Hump and Ol' Dirty Bastard. Another is Clinton's perpetually renewable tracks, which are always of a piece. A

George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars: T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M. [550 Music, 1996]
authenticated gangsta grooves for the sample factory ("If Anybody Gets Funked Up [It's Gonna Be You]," "Funky Kind [Gonna Knock It Down]") ***

George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars: Live and Kickin' [Intersound, 1997]
more funky than fresh, their best live one withal ("Flashlight," "Cosmic Slop") ***

George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars: Dope Dogs [Dogone, 1998]
The Goduncle hasn't made a bad record since the band broke up or an exciting one since Computer Games. Until now. Don't try this at home, kids, but the secret is that instead of adapting to youthcult fashion, a trick he manages like no other fiftysomething can, he indulges an idée fixe. For years he's been fascinated by the involvement of Old Mac Uncle's C.I.A. ("I-O") in contraband--meaning weapons, ultimately, but more enjoyable threats to human life first. So he starts by assuming dogs sniff dope because they gotta have it and takes off. Just about every song has both dogs and dope in it, with variations as comical as Mr. Wiggles the Worm and considerably darker. The funk is long on guitar and capable of anything. Is that bebop? You know, behind the elementary-school rappers and the pill-popping poodle? A

George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars: How Late Do U Have 2BB4UR Absent? [The C Kunspyruhzy, 2005]
Two and a half hours that confound my capacity for quantification. Some of the funk is standard-issue ass-bounce, many of the femme cameos are piss breaks, the slow ones run down; there's too much throwaway, experiment, and crap. But four long tracks are as remarkable as any Clinton of the past two decades: the so-funky-you-can-smell-it "Something Stank," the Jerry Lee/Danny & the Juniors medley "Whole Lotta Shakin'," "I Can Dance" and its stripper shit-talk, "Viagra"'s too-fucking-hard speed-metal. Add the Prince cameo "Paradigm" (rhymes with "spare a dime") and the is-that-a-girl? closer "Booty" for a great album lasting 48 minutes. Then do the rest of the math. B+

George Clinton and His Gangsters of Love: George Clinton and His Gangsters of Love [Shanachie, 2008] Dud

Funkadelic: First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate [The C Kunspyruhzy, 2014]
Three discs, three-and-a-third sample-ready hours, 33 mostly George-fronted subclassics, and you gotta hear Sly's Lord Buckley ("First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate," "Baby Like Fonkin' It Up," "The Naz," "Pole Power," "Snot 'n Booger") **

See Also