Funkadelic – Maggot Brain

danieltalsky | Albums,My Favorite Things (Classics),Reviews | Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Do you know what this album MEANS TO ME?  DO YOU?!  Tears have streamed down my eyes as I listened to this album, high on hallucinogenic mushrooms.  Roommates have nearly killed me for listening to the title track too many times ("That song sounds like Spinal Tap's 'Sex Farm Girl'!").  I have told the (dubious) story of its title track to anyone who I thought would sit through all 9 minutes of it and really listen.

I have real love for long-play albums that can realize their full potential in five or six songs (see Joanna Newsom's Ys (see my word record for parenthetical statements in this review (it's like Lisp))).  Maggot Brain is no exception.

First of all, for the totally clueless, who is Funkadelic, right?  I could answer by referring to the song, "Mommy, What's a Funkadelic?" which I bet George Clinton would prefer, but I won't.  Oh the venerable George Clinton, he's still touring, doing both songs from his older Funk/Rock band Funkadelic, and his late 70's horn ensemble funk band Parliament.  I just about guarantee you've heard a Parliament song.

The first few Funkadelic albums are amazing rock albums.  These dudes were stoned out of their gourds and clearly taking some amazing shit, because they were fountains of love, excitement and creativity.  They invented their own sonic worlds and terminology.  Rappers have been biting their style and getting Clinton to come do cameos, and probably will be propping up Clinton's old bones on stage 50 years from now for street cred.

Dr. Dre points at his Funkadelic weed leaf t-shirt in his The Chronic videos from the 90's.  En Vogue had a hit in the 90's with "Free Your Mind and The Rest Will Follow", a sad rip-off of Funkadelic's "Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow".  Countless hip-hop artists have sampled Funkadelic and chanted, "Think!  Think!  It ain't illegal yet!"  But this album came from back in the days when they weren't so influential.

The album opens with a little bit of machine gun sounds in the distance, and George Clinton's low growling chant, that I still play for people sometimes when they're feeling hopeless about the world:

Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time,
for y’all have knocked her up
I have tasted the maggots in the mind of the universe.
I was not offended
For I knew I had to rise above it all
or drown in my own shit

And then begins Eddie Hazel's nine-minute guitar solo, the story of which goes like this (cobbled from a biography and interviews I've read over the years and totally unsourced but widely believed):

Eddie Hazel and the rest of the band were total junkies by this point and Clinton is having a hard time even getting a decent recording out of them.  Hazel is totally gone on some Orange Sunshine LSD.  Clinton stands him up and says, "Think about the saddest thing you can think of."  Hazel's like, "My mom dying, man." Clinton says, "Okay, play a solo about that."

So Hazel plays this solo that really has to be heard to be believed (don't worry, I'm embedding it!) where the guitar goes through the 5 stages of grieving or whatever, howling, sobbing, accepting, raging, all that.  Clinton was so amazed he faded out the rest of the band and just let Eddie's amazing solo stand.

But that's not all.  "Can You Get to That", just totally changes the whole game with a simple, joyous funk song that warns, "When you place your love on credit, then when your lovin' days are done, checks you signed with the love and kisses later come back sayin' insufficient funds."  Words to live by, people.

The next three songs are just three unbelievably solid funk songs, and "Back in our Minds" is a reconciliation song that features some kind of strange water glass percussion.  "You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks" in particular moved me so much I always thought it would be the perfect song in a film soundtrack.  When I actually heard it in a film soundtrack I was happy but a little disappointed it wasn't what I had in my head.

Finally, the songs ends with another semi-epic, "Wars of Armageddon".  The whole album is kind of about household and family love and war, and Wars is a cowbell and tom-tom peppered noise poem on the topic.  Babies cry, someone shouts, "Shut up, I gotta go to work!"  Sirens blare.  People chant, "What do we want?  FREEDOM!  When do we want it?  NOW!"  Clinton stonedly intones, "More power to the people, more power to the pussy, more pussy to the people, right on!"

The song and album end with a huge atomic explosion and someone says softly, "Revolution!  It's a fat, funky person."  Right, dude.  Then one last funk lick and a mother's heartbeat bring it to a close.  Now that's a goddamn album.

Gotta do two on this one.  Maggot Brain itself:

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/01-maggot-brain.mp3]

and Can You Get to That:

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/02-can-you-get-to-that.mp3]

Enjoy!

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