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In 2018, Parliament-Funkadelic leader and pioneer George Clinton announced that he would retire from touring in 2019 – or whenever he decides – marking another major milestone in the history of the massive P-Funk empire which he has masterminded for some six decades. At 77 years old, Clinton is not ending his work as an artist, producer, songwriter, conceptualist and overall referee; he just oversaw the recent releases of new albums by Parliament (Medicaid Fraud Dogg, 2018 – the first Parliament release since 1980) and Funkadelic (First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate, 2014). He plans to remain involved, in the studio and on the sidelines, continuing to direct the super-group that he founded and worked hard to keep alive.

The most common narrative told about the Parliament-Funkadelic legacy is generally concerned with the Mothership. The Mothership spaceship, as a symbol, played an integral role in Parliament’s 1975 platinum-selling album, Mothership Connection, which found Clinton and crew partying in outer space, in a fantasy that excited the group’s core enthusiasts and attracted a larger audience – then overwhelmingly young and black. The Mothership was also a real, larger-than-life theatrical, and expensive, spaceship prop. Clinton believed in it enough to convince Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart to fund its construction as well as the cost of touring it around the country in massive halls and arenas. The Mothership landing became the live P-Funk show’s climax, as the spaceship appears to fly over the audience and then land on stage, with Clinton emerging from its rafters dressed as his character Dr. Funkenstein, who was introduced in Parliament’s 1976 album, The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein.

The Mothership rode on for years amid successful tours throughout the late ’70s, carrying with it Clinton’s slew of projects and spinoffs. They all consisted of the same core members and employed the same production and writing teams with Clinton at the helm, yet were all signed to different record labels. Parliament was signed to Casablanca Records, as was the female-fronted Parlet, while Funkadelic signed to Warner Bros. in 1976 after ending its contract with Westbound. Warner Bros. was also home to Bootsy’s Rubber Band and one album from guitarist Eddie Hazel, while Atlantic Records got the Brides of Funkenstein and Fred Wesley & the Horny Horns. Finally, keyboardist Bernie Worrell was signed to Arista Records. Some argued that Clinton’s P-Funk empire was too big. Clinton always conceptualized big, so surely his empire wasn’t big enough.

On August 21, 1979, Funkadelic released “(not just) Knee Deep,” the dancefloor-friendly lead single from the Uncle Jam Wants You album, which would come out the next month in September. The song would reach #1 on Billboard’s R&B singles charts and #77 on the Hot 100, propelling its parent album to gold status.

1980 and 1981 featured a series of events in the P-Funk empire that would suggest implosion. With no recent hit singles from Parliament or Funkadelic, ticket sales slowed for live shows. Mothership landings were replaced with odd experiments, such as a series of concerts at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, billed as “George Clinton’s Production of Popsicle Stick,” in which a giant egg prop landed on stage and cracked open to reveal not Clinton, but one of the newer group members, vocalist and keyboardist Michael “Clip” Payne. Or Clinton emerging from the Mothership prop completely naked.

In 1980, Polygram Records took over ownership of Casablanca Records. Neil Bogart, Casablanca’s original president, departed soon after as the label did not share his enthusiasm for Clinton’s vision and projects. Plans for Clinton’s own subsidiary label on Casablanca, called Choza Negra, or “black shack,” were short-lived, and only saw one release, Parliament’s Trombipulation in December 1980, which would be the group’s final release with Casablanca. In 1981, Warner Bros. forced Clinton to trim Funkadelic’s Electric Spanking of War Babies from a double album set to a single album. The Women Against Violence advocacy group sent protest letters to Warner Bros. over artist Pedro Bell’s controversial Spanking cover illustration, and began printing censored versions to replace the originals.

To make matters even more complicated, Clinton’s former vocalists and original Parliaments members, Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon and Grady Thomas, released an album calling themselves Funkadelic. They even promoted their album with an appearance on Soul Train. Their LP contained a disclaimer sticker stating that no contributions on the album came from George Clinton. But a 1981 court case squashed the duplicate group’s efforts entirely with a ruling that stated, “There is no partnership in the ownership of the Mothership.”

Uncle Jam Records, by Clinton’s promise, was expected to restore the P-Funk empire to its former glory. The label’s first release was the 1980 self-titled album by the Sweat Band, produced by Bootsy Collins and featuring saxophonist Maceo Parker, keyboardist Joel “Razor Sharp” Johnson, percussionist Carl “Butch” Small and other members of Bootsy’s Rubber Band. The second 1980 release for Uncle Jam Records was Wynne Jammin by vocalist Phillipe Wynne, former leader of the Spinners. After leaving the Spinners in the late 1970s, he joined P-Funk, notably providing vocals throughout Funkadelic’s Uncle Jam Wants You album and on the hit single “(not just) Knee Deep.”

Excitement for Troutman’s solo project for Uncle Jam, titled The Many Facets of Roger, geared up and recording was completed, with sessions paid for by Clinton. However, Troutman’s solo project wound up on Warner Bros. In his autobiography, Clinton stated, “In short order, Warner Bros. released the album, and it was the exact same album that we had intended for Uncle Jam. It had the same title, The Many Facets of Roger. It had the same cover design. ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’ went out as the single, and it was a big hit, like I thought it would be. It just wasn’t a hit for Uncle Jam.” The album, released in August 1981, would go platinum, and Uncle Jam Records, unable to recover from the financial loss, would go out of business. Clinton finally decided to give up. In his memoir, he stated, “In late 1981, after a final show in Detroit, I suspended operations for both Parliament and Funkadelic.” The P-Funk empire was left for dead.

Part of this new sound included David Lee Spradley, a young Detroit-based keyboardist whose first P-Funk session, Parliament’s “The Big Bang Theory” in 1979, was technically a union session. Clinton enthusiastically invited him to join the group shortly after.

Initially ignored and considered just an album cut, “Atomic Dog” was finally released as a single in December 1982, one month after Computer Games had come out. Clinton wrote in his autobiography, “Over in England, I appeared on Top of the Pops with Grandmaster Flash. I was technically promoting ‘Loopzilla,’ but all anyone wanted to talk about was ‘Atomic Dog.’ That’s when I realized that the song had blown up.” A video was filmed, and it won awards for its use of animation by graphic artist Overton Loyd – even though MTV wouldn’t play it, as Michael Jackson had not yet forced the channel’s hand in playing videos by black artists. The song reached #1 on the Billboard R&B Singles charts on April 16, 1983. It was Clinton’s first #1 hit since Funkadelic’s “(not just) Knee Deep” in 1979, knocking Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” from the #1 spot after a nine-week run. “Atomic Dog” would remain in the #1 slot for four consecutive weeks. The empire was back.

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Check out these 1983 released tracks from the masters of funk! George Clinton and the Parliament / Funkadelic crew came together to create pure dance floor electronic funk!

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Exactly what kind of band is Parliament-Funkadelic? Although the focus of our video above is their totemic single, “Flash Light,” the brains behind it — George Clinton, Bootsy and Catfish Collins, Bernie Worrell, Eddie Hazel, Junie Morrison, and Garry Shider, among many others — were always one group. To distill every nook and cranny of their influence requires a bit more nuance. Rather than look, solely, at all their sterling crew of musicians, let’s take a deep dive into what made them, as a collective, legendary.

From their humble beginnings in Plainfield, New Jersey, they transformed from a doo-wop group known as The Parliaments into something far more nebulous. And in turn, their sprawling cultural and musical ideas would take on mutant shapes of all sorts of genres and styles they helped evolve — psychedelic soul, funk, disco, and electro, to name a few. Whether as Parliament, Funkadelic, Parliament-Funkadelic, P-Funk, or something else, it was their own brand of freak, flying its flag on every bit of territory hit by those under the little light under the sun.

There wouldn’t be any true creation story unless it starts out with a bang. It all began for one George Clinton, a sometime barber and hairstylist, when his original doo-wop group The Parliaments dissolved under contractual disputes. Rather than completely give up his artistic aspirations, he took some members like guitarist Eddie Hazel, Lucius Ross, and Ramon “Tiki” Fulwood, and resolved to do something different.

Exploring a new groove introduced by the godfather of soul, James Brown, George came up with the idea to name this group Funkadelic — a play on combining funk and psychedelia. In Funkadelic, he could create music with a wigglier bent. As luck would have it, George would also gain back rights to his old group’s name, Parliament. Now owning two groups, rather than jettison his R&B side, why not use Parliament to explore the cool, urban soul mainstream? Now as two groups, Parliament and Funkadelic could cover all sorts of musical ideas and markets.

The ‘70s introduced a nascent idea of what Parliament and Funkadelic could be. Funkadelic was a hard-nosed funk group led by the sterling guitar work of Eddie Hazel, who tried to introduce the sonics of Jimi Hendrix-style electric blues into the framework others like Sly and The Family Stone or The Chamber Brothers had built.

What initially began as an acid-fried take on funk, on albums like 1970’s Funkadelic and Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow, grew increasingly more out there and experimental. Joined by keyboardist Bernie Worrell, early attempts to go with the musical flow proved too simplistic for Funkadelic. Earth, Wind and Fire they surely weren’t.

For two years, the whole mythos of Funkadelic started to flower on albums like America Eats Its Young and Cosmic Slop. Finding a way to mix the booty and the mind, Funkadelic took the ideas of funky psychedelia to their logical conclusion, creating longform, sprawling grooves that touched on the trials of urban Black America in far more surreal ways. Now, the bass-heavy ideas of Bootsy took center stage, departing from much of the idyllic, flower power of their earlier days.

However, by the mid ‘70s you’d be hard-pressed to think of any reason why Parliament, as an entity, should exist. Its 1970 debut, Osmium, was deemed a flop. For the sum of three years, the more “accessible” side seemed destined to be put to bed. Things changed in 1974.

Somehow, this flop of a group started to right both ships to their own course. Funkadelic became more insular, taking some of the ideas of the crossover Parliament group and leaning on them for their own sonic explorations. On albums like Let’s Take It To The Stageand the Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic, proggier, glam rock-inspired asides started to take the lean of P-Funk stylings. The outlandish ideas of George Clinton had spurred onstage personas to match the wildly imaginative graphic art adorning their Pedro Bell-designed covers. But one can’t get to that without acknowledging what brought them to it.

Fully owning and expanding on the forward-thinking ideas laid by groups like Sun Ra’s Orkestra, Parliament saw inspiration in the possibilities of taking Black thought into space. Their idea of Afrofuturism, something seeded in 1974, flowered into its own on 1976’s Mothership Connection. On songs like “Give Up The Funk” and “Mothership Connection,” they posited their own ethos: “space is the place.” And armed with their most gargantuan grooves yet, all colors had space on their mothership to ride.

Lean in myriad ways, albums like Mothership Connectionand The Clones Of Dr. Funkenstein, showed Parliament to be not a copy of anything, but at the forefront of a new kind of funky music. For two years, understandably, George Clinton set aside Funkadelic, discovering and uncovering a freakier side that (arguably) came to its own on 1977’s Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome.

Critically and commercially acclaimed, Parliament went full id, lacing tracks like “Bop Gun” and “Flash Light” with all sorts of sonic wizardry (courtesy of Bernie Worrell, his trusty Minimoog and a Solina String Machine), taking this idea of knocking disco out of the charts by absorbing it, transforming it, and reinvigorating its ideas through their own freaky lens.

If anything proved how far the collective was from its salad days, it would be 1978’s One Nation Under The Groove. Gone were the Zappa-esque attempts at genre-bending, here were the mutant funk stylings and sheer musicianship possible under one band and one groove. Augmented by the ideas of keyboardist Walter ‘Junie’ Morrison and Bernie Worrell, Parliament-Funkadelic came into their own creating songs like the title track and “Groove Alliance.” These were desperately complex rhythmic long players with a hypnotic pull that was impossible to not fall under.

And as fast as other soul bands were discarding their players for synths and drum machines, somehow, Funkadelic found another gear on tracks like “Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doo Doo Chasers)” and “Into You,” treating fusion and reggae like they were their forlorn lovers. Within the Mothership Connection, this station of Funkadelic finally landed on their own planet of Funkadelia (one that others like A Tribe Called Quest, Pharcyde, and more would later rediscover).

Showing a bit of humility and self-awareness, George would receive help from Bootsy, Junie Morrison, Bernie Worrell, and longtime Funkadelic songwriter/guitarist Garry “Starchild/Diaperman” Shider. Influenced by the electro-leaning sound of Zapp’s Roger Troutman, his one-time protege, and in league with the contemporary ideas of Bill Laswell and Herbie Hancock, so too did the teacher try to learn a thing or too, shifting his sound to fully accept the trappings of instruments like drum machines, samplers, synths, and vocoders, taking a stab at creating his own form of future funk. Although the once lost and rejected Funkadelic album By Way of the Drummade its case for being the one, it wasn’t meant to be.

This project, in so many words, was a true labor of love. An homage to the wonderful sounds and musicianship of Parliament. Boiling the band’s seemingly never-ending catalog down to just one video felt like an impossibly cruel task though. What to choose? Even though it was a popular hit, there’s just no denying that the group’s 1978 song “Flash Light” serves as the perfect display of the many reasons why this band was so great at what they did.

The second guitar part, panned hard to the right, is the same guitar rig but with an Electro-Harmonix Q-Tron+ envelope filter pedal instead. I chose the Band Pass filter setting, which passes only the mid range frequencies, and set the Response knob to Fast. This extra “quacky” sound can be heard panned to the right on the original Parliament recording too.

The weight of this entire track rests on one key foundation (pun intended): the crushing synth bass tone. Keyboardist Bernie Worrell had stepped in to take over bass duties on this song after Bootsy Collins decided he didn’t want to play the bass part himself. But Bernie had a secret weapon: his Minimoog Model D synthesizer. The Model D turned into a pumping and growling beast, and introduced the world to truly funky bass synthesizer tone. There was nothing like it.

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George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic collective isn’t always posed as a leading candidate for greatest or most important band of the ’70s, but try and imagine what music would sound like without them. You’d still have Stevie pushing forward R&B’s artistry, Kraftwerk doing their thing to turn synthesized pop into a mainstream notion, Donald Byrd finding innovative ways to modernize jazz, Led Zeppelin taking heavy metal to exospheric new heights, the O’Jays hitting the zenith of close-harmony soul, Pink Floyd fusing musical intricacy with concert theatrics, the Ramones injecting pop music with rebellious pulp-culture irreverence, James Brown and Sly Stone and the Ohio Players turning out a fine succession of funk-defining records … and yet you wouldn’t have that one core of musicians that could do all of that, and did so to stunning commercial success without compromising their sound, their look, or an essential perspective on post-civil rights America that still carries through today.

P-Funk were geniuses disguised as weirdos, sentimental populists under the guise of freaky outlanders, and it is damn near impossible to think of some strain of popular music or another that they have nothing to do with. George Clinton grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey, immersed in doo-wop when he wasn’t cutting hair, and by the late ’60s, he and his vocal group the Parliaments had followed that rhythm & blues lineage through Stax and Motown with a revelatory detour through Hendrix and Sly Stone. By the time Clinton had begun to internalize the impact of rock’s new counterculture — his time in the late ’60s was just as often spent in thrall to Cream and Jethro Tull as it was to Smokey and Diana — he was more upfront than anybody about his desires to shake down the “black group = soul/white group = rock” dichotomy. Soon enough, Funkadelic became just the band to crumble those barriers, recruiting Clinton’s Parliaments co-singers — Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon, Ray Davis, and Grady Thomas — into a group that would eventually encompass one of the era’s most down-for-whatever ensemble casts. Throughout their peak, both Parliament and Funkadelic would feature a versatile show-band drummer who could play heavy or jazzy and all points in between (Tyrone Lampkin), a keyboard player with a thing for hi-tech experimentation who could sound like Mozart and Booker T. at the same time (Bernie Worrell), a succession of guitarists who took the precedent of Hendrix’s future-soul psychedelia into even further reaches (Eddie Hazel and Michael Hampton chief amongst them), and a bass player who started out stealing the show from James Brown and just got more spectacular from there (Bootsy Collins).

What Funkadelic and Parliament eventually accomplished in their initial 11-year prime was staggering: Imagine if a band that started as weirdo-niche as the Stooges somehow went on to become as big as Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, without having to compromise to go platinum and notch crossover radio hits. And almost as soon as they disbanded — a side effect of label woes and personnel frustration that only served to make Clinton’s vision even more modular — their effects started shaping the next three decades’ worth of music. Talking Heads, Uncle Jamm’s Army, Prince, Dr. Dre, Mike Watt, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dinosaur Jr., Fishbone, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Prince Paul, Snoop Dogg, OutKast, Missy Elliott, Meshell Ndegeocello, D’Angelo, Dam-Funk … those are just the artists who are the most obviously indebted to P-Funk in some way or another — stylistically, thematically, philosophically, or otherwise. And with Clinton still keeping the P-Funk spirit alive as a rapidly shifting ensemble cast of both original players and younger musicians who came of age looking up to them, it’s become nearly impossible to imagine even a contemporary pop music culture that would be unvisited by the Mothership.

Just as a forewarning, this list doesn’t cover every single album featuring a significant portion of Parliament, Funkadelic, or some mixture thereof. (If it did, we’d be here all week.) Individual members’ solo albums like the Bootsy’s Rubber Band LPs or Hazel’s Game, Dames, And Guitar Thangs are excluded, and that covers solo George Clinton records, too — though exceptions are made for the scattered post-’81 releases that are actually credited to Parliament-Funkadelic or the P-Funk All Stars, whether or not they follow the word “and…” There are no compilations or works featuring the band from multiple years (cf. the archival odds-and-ends Funkadelic collection Toys). And with as many P-Funk concerts as there are floating around out there in bootleg, semi-bootleg, or micro-indie form, we’ve had to limit their live releases to three — though they should provide a strong cross-reference of what made them such a spectacular live act in their various incarnations. With that said, let’s get started — there might be a roof over your head that hasn’t been torn off yet, and that should probably be addressed.

The general feeling among fans who bootlegged the bejesus out By Way Of The Drum was that MCA shelved the album in 1989 because the label didn"t get what they expected. And with the masters found a couple decades later, when the legacy of P-Funk felt far deeper than any late-"80s comeback attempt would hint at, you could say most fans who"d only heard rumor of it didn"t get what they expected, either -- at least not unless they expected an overproduced, laminated funk record that sonically lagged six steps behind Prince. The band"s vitally raw freakiness is tamped down by edge-dulling gloss; even the logo on the title track"s original "89 12" release omits the skull over the "i" in "Funkadelic".

This vault exhumation is technically more of a legit Funkadelic record than the infamous 1981 FINO hijack job Connections & Disconnections, thanks to the actual presence of George Clinton and a few P-Funk vets like Garry Shider and Dewayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight in the ranks. But with no sign of either Bootsy or Bernie, it"s still something of a ringer, especially in the moments Shider"s guitar isn"t wailing; the rest of the time it sounds like a bunch of hired hands concocting some okay-I-guess boogie funk driven by the kind of drum machines people like to invoke when they claim drum machines have no soul. A go-go take on Cream"s "Sunshine Of Your Love" is one of those unprecedented moments they stoop to the nostalgia-cover game, "Freaks Bearing Gifts" fails to dredge some party vibes from warnings of child-kidnapper come-ons ("little girl, do you want some candy/little boy, do you want to go for a ride"), the opening lines to "Yadadada" lifts the "Ricky Ricky Ricky, can"t you see" hook from Slick Rick"s "Mona Lisa" and turns it into an annoying, nasal ode to fancy liquor, and "Some Fresh Delic" is merely a string of uninspired chants and noodly shredding over an unchanging go-go beat. Weirdest of all is the title cut, which would make for a decent electro/New Jack Swing hybrid under a lesser group"s banner but sounds significantly further away of any right-minded notion of what a turn-of-the-"90s Funkadelic would sound like. Thank god Digital Underground were around to fill that duty for a while.

There"s something remarkably deceptive about this record, which came out literally one year to the day after the fantastic Motor Booty Affair and, at least on the surface, has some of the promise of that simultaneously provocative and silly masterpiece, right down to its giddy Overton Loyd artwork. But there are a combined 19 minutes and change on this record that flash some deeper problems in vivid neon. The first is "Party People," an uptempo borderline-Hi-NRG cut with a pace/energy imbalance that makes it feel like the band"s obligated to rush through an empty-meaning "all about having fun" autopilot mission. Then they forget to stop -- it goes on for more than ten minutes, churning away like an example of what Funkadelic meant that same year when they invoked "that one-move groovalistic/ that disco-sadistic" on "Freak Of The Week." "The Freeze (Sizzleanmean)" is the other drag, a midtempo slog that squanders an excellent Maceo sax performance on maybe their most underwritten song ever ("Can we get you hot?/ Can we make your temperatures rise?" Now repeat 100x.) As clear a Beginning Of The End moment as you can find in the circa-"79 tangle of events that eventually led to P-Funk"s dissolution, Gloryhallastoopid still has just enough power to move butts -- even if the two most propulsive cuts, "The Big Bang Theory" and "Theme From The Black Hole," could be picked up on the same 12" single. But when Clinton wails "Nothing has changed/ Even the bang remains the same" at the beginning of "Colour Me Funky," it"s a case of tell-don"t-show that doesn"t have the proof to back it up.

P-Funk in coasting mode could still crank out a couple gems here and there, even with the threat of a dozen-ish side projects cutting into their full artistic potential and threatening to stretch Clinton"s empire thin. Things were on well on their way to snapping in the early years of the "80s, but while the last Parliament LP is merely under-inspired rather than an embarrassing burnout, it"s also pretty hard to love. Hopping on a groove and riding it out for a while isn"t the worst idea in the world when the core of said groove is notoriously strong, but this is one record that"s severely Worrell-deficient, and the ensemble-cast arrangements shake the foundations into question -- "Humpty Dance" sample source "Let"s Play House" aside, side 2 sounds like Parliament Lite compared to the more cohesive and characteristic set in the first four cuts. And that waters down an already lyrically flimsy vibe. The concept on the record hints at jokes surrounding P-Funk mythos antagonist reformed anti-dance zealot Sir Nose, his newly discovered ability to pick things up with his titular trunk (complete with some groaner coke-snorting nod-and-wink references), and his plan to use his newfound knowledge to attempt out-funking Star Child himself. But the idea evaporates like so much sneezed-away marching powder after track two, after which we"re left with a mish-mash of generic dance-move paeans, half-baked puns, and non-sequitur cliches (ad-slogan-derived and otherwise). Only "Agony Of Defeet" and its ten-toed wordplay funks like they did just a couple years prior; it"s just as well the Parliament name wound up semi-retired after this one.

Urban Dancefloor Guerillas, the first album credited to an entity called the P-Funk All Stars, was Clinton"s first major attempt to consolidate members of the assorted Parliament and Funkadelic entities into one headliner band (and circumvent name-rights issues in the process). This album gave them their first proper top-billing credit after 1982"s Computer Games, featuring most of the same personnel, was credited as a George Clinton solo album. If a circa "89 Funkadelic couldn"t get the hang of synthpop-infused electro-boogie and go-go rhythms, it"s not because they hadn"t tried -- Urban Dancefloor Guerillas, or at least its second side, was plenty proof they could pull it off. "Pumpin" It Up" and "Hydraulic Pump" are two distinct takes on where their sound fit in the "80s, with a squirrelly synth-bass provided by David Spradley in a fine pinch-hitting appearance for Bernie Worrell (presumably busy at the time with Talking Heads, who"d fit well on a less-segregated circa-"83 airwaves alongside these jams). "Hydraulic Pump" in particular is one of the Mothership"s best cuts of the "80s, a wall of machine-shop boogie funk that sets a thousand piston-churning hands clapping and is one of the decade"s few moments to catch Sly Stone still on his game. (If it sounds vaguely familiar to new listeners, that"s because it was later loosely interpolated by one of the Coup"s funkiest jams, "5 Million Ways To Kill A CEO.") And "Copy Cat" is more or less a self-answer to the canine counterpart "Atomic Dog," complete with ceaseless puns and harmonized meows in the service of calling out biters.

Not George Clinton, not the P-Funk All-Stars, not even Parliament-Funkadelic -- this is an actual Funkadelic record, something that nobody"d seen since 1981. Call it semantics if you want -- with the core members who"ve passed since The Electric Spanking Of War Babies (Garry Shider, Tiki Fulwood, Eddie Hazel, Glen Goins, and Cordell "Boogie" Mosson, to name a few), skeptics might consider this an All-Stars kind of effort anyhow, even considering the number of performances brought out from the vaults and stitched posthumously into the tracks. But as the most overstuffed and stylistically experimental thing to come out of the P-Funk camp possibly ever, pinning it down to any one idea of what"s previously been offered under the Funkadelic name is beside the point. It"s not out of the question to expect an uneven effort from a three-plus-hour triple album with thirty-three tracks (one for each year Funkadelic was in storage). And maybe it"s hard to cut through all that to separate the fine from the mediocre; there"s not much further on either end of the scale, whether it"s outright stinkers or mind-boggling brilliance. But it does successfully put forth the idea of a version of P-Funk that incorporates a lot of familiar trademarks -- beautifully dazed close harmonies, deathless roller-boogie bounce, a philosophical notion of funk that permeates everything, no matter how far away it strays from "One Nation Under A Groove" -- while remaining wide open to brand new ideas.

Clinton admitted in his autobiography that the final Funkadelic album for 33 years "wasn"t exactly what I wanted." His coke-addled misadventures with musical collaborator Sly Stone, his struggles with getting his own ill-fated Uncle Jam Records label off the ground, and his squabbles with ship-jumping bandmates turned what could"ve been a fantastic concept record into an underfocused wind-down. Considering how massive his solo cut "Atomic Dog" was the following year, and given the overall strength of Computer Games as an album, Clinton clearly wasn"t out of ideas and hadn"t lost his commercial appeal. But there"s a reason that album was billed as a solo joint: the P-Funk empire was falling apart, and keeping it all together was more of a strain on the once-strong entity than it could withstand. It didn"t help that Warner Bros. lost their faith in the band -- they short-sold the LP (less than 100,000 copies were pressed) and made the unprecedented move of censoring Pedro Bell"s suggestive cartoon sleeve.

That"s tragic, given how right-place-right-time The Electric Spanking Of War Babies should"ve been -- a flirtation with New Wave that nailed every "80s corporate-government, mass-media manipulation shock doctrine fear while the decade was still in its Reagan-deregulated infancy. And it"s still strong enough to make a decent endcap to a stretch of decade-spanning wire-to-wire career greatness. First there"s the title track, an examination of the still-popular charges of Baby Boomer sellout syndrome, where a two-man operation (Hampton on guitar, Junie on everything else) bring up the formative experiences of nuclear fear, Vietnam, genetic science, and the Moon landing as media-mediated programming to mess up young minds."Oh, I," despite being originally slated for Parliament"s Trombipulation, fits the vibe well, too; Shider-wailed lyrics about escaping into memories of a lost love over a staggering blend of cocktail-jazz sax/piano and from-the-gut Hampton guitar give the album its wistful heart. The two-part "Funk Gets Stronger" stays defiant in the face of encroaching cultural defunkification, loping Mudd Club twitchiness giving Sly his most enigmatically compelling vocal performance since There"s A Riot Goin" On. Even the musically off moments have merit; hearing Funkadelic do extended pan-Carribean drum solos ("Brettino"s Bounce") and Blondie-adjacent reggae ("Shockwaves") feels out of character, but the communication to other reaches of the diaspora ("the third world is on the one... sending out shockwaves throughout the world") is worth the effort. And maybe the smutty satire "Icka Prick" is a bizarre note to go out on, but tweaking prudes years before the PMRC were a glint in Tipper Gore"s jaundiced eye is as good a legacy-cementer as anything.

There"s a reason this transitional Westbound contract-obligation release is generally considered an afterthought by fans, even with "Undisco Kidd" becoming a part of their set list during their legendary "76 and "77 tours. With material recorded concurrently alongside Hardcore Jollies (which is several clicks further along on this list), but not actually saved for their Warner Bros. debut, Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic is a misnomer in both album and song title. Guitarist Michael "Kidd Funkadelic" Hampton had his big coming-out moment with the astounding Let"s Take It To The Stage, as definitive an introduction as any newly-christened band member could hope for, while his instrumentation is relatively backgrounded compared to Bernie Worrell"s synthesizer. (That goes double for the wandering, thirteen-minute title track, which is the closest P-Funk"s come to the more indulgent Rick Wakeman-y side of prog.) In fact, the whole record feels weirdly enervated -- when you run across a song like the anthemic "Take Your Dead Ass Home! (Say Som"n Nasty)" or the truncated mini-jam "Let"s Take It To The People" and the immediate impulse is to think, "Man, I bet this sounds amazing live," it"s easy to fixate on how first-draft and b-side most of this record is. A little more polish, a little more oomph, and a little more getting in the ears of WB higher-ups, and this could"ve made a fine second LP in a Hardcore Jollies double-album set. As it is, it"s leftovers served lukewarm.

The first album to be released under the P-Funk aegis was a drastic break from the late-"60s singles that the Parliaments released on labels like Revilot and Atco, and the title signified as much: Osmium is the densest element on the periodic table, a transition metal found in platinum ore named after the Greek root word for "smell." Considering how much of a transition their early-"70s stank-riddled, heavy metal sound represented -- the platinum would come later -- it"s difficult to think of a more apropos title for the LP that would introduce the world to Parliament as we know it. Or at least somewhat know it: the last album released as Parliament until 1974"s Up For The Down Stroke thanks to a label dispute with Revilot, Osmium feels like a short-term hitch in George Clinton"s vision of a complementary two-band dichotomy. In other words, it"s a lot more similar to a circa-"70 Funkadelic record than tandem Parliament/Funkadelic LPs would be in, say, 1975; the main distinction is that it"s willfully, absurdly eclectic to the point where it"s clear they"re still getting their identity together.

You know that twangy yodel from De La"s "Potholes In My Lawn"? That"s from "Little Ole Country Boy," which features an honest-to-god steel guitar and a full-tilt wailing lament of a monologue from Fuzzy Haskins freaking out about being busted as a peeping tom after trying to find out if his girlfriend was cheating on him. "My Automobile" pulls Clinton and Haskins" doo-wop origins by the collar right into the thick of a down-home, uptempo rockabilly-blues shuffle (with a little bit of what sounds like a sitar for twangy flavor). And cuts like the booze-brewing, family-supporting bootlegger tale/"Cosmic Slop" quasi-prequel "Moonshine Heather" and dirty-drawers goof "Funky Woman" ("she hung them in the air/the air said "this ain"t fair"/ she hung them in the sun/the sun began to run") are in keeping with the kind of oddball heaviness Funkadelic were concurrently cranking out. There"s still room for headier concerns -- the gospel lament of "Oh Lord, Why Lord/Prayer" is easily their most reverent and straightforward cry against racial injustice, and there"s an unbeatable series of koans running through "Nothing Before Me But Thang" ("There"s good, there"s bad/ But a thang is a thang/ And there is nothing before you but thang"). And if there"s more weight than usual in the closing one-two of spiritual-minded sincerity -- the Jesus-invoking environmentalism of "Livin" The Life" and the afterlife reflections of "The Silent Boatman" (the only P-Funk cut to feature bagpipes!) -- they"re strong early indicators that Clinton and company had more to them than just party jams and psychedelic freakouts. (Later CD pressings, including the retitled First Thangs, tack on outtakes, rarities, and a few expanded versions of "71-"72 Invictus singles like "Breakdown" and "Red Hot Mama," that adds some excellent music but dilutes the original album"s character a bit.)

After three consecutive knockouts, it"s easy to think of Funkadelic"s fourth album as a bit of a mess in all kinds of ways. Its double-LP breadth is weighed down by a transitional and exploratory sound that wouldn"t fully gel until Cosmic Slop. And a liner-notes association with the Process Church Of The Final Judgement had queasy critics chiding them for potential Manson and occult connections, inferences that wound up getting read into what were actually more acute social-justice-oriented lyrics. But this really is a defiantly rebellious record in a lot of ways, from its literal cannibal-Liberty/funky dollar bill album art to the message in the music itself. The seventeen minutes of Album One Side One are enough to leave a lasting impression, even through the lighter moments to follow: "You Hit The Nail On The Head" shouts down complacent power-mongers under Bernie"s most fiery keyboards to date ("Just because you win the fight don"t make you right/ Just because you give don"t make you good"), "If You Don"t Like The Effects, Don"t Produce The Cause" chides a fair-weather underground stuck in a protestor-as-consumer mode ("You say you don"t like what you"re country"s about/ Ain"t you deep, in your semi-first class seat"), and "Everybody Is Going To Make It This Time" plays out like the recouping effort of a revolution that fell to a circular firing squad ("There"s not a doubt in my mind/ If hunger and anger place the blame/ There won"t be a country left to change").

From there, things flit around both thematically stylistically -- "Philmore" and its Creedence-via-James Brown energy (brought by Bootsy and Catfish Collins, fresh from the JB"s themselves), a woozy-carnival update of "66 Parliaments swooner "That Was My Girl," string-stung demi-spiritual "A Joyful Process" -- but each song points to an intriguing direction rarely, if ever, taken by the band from "73 onwards. The best moments may be the most familiar ones, whether it"s a serrated acid-rock soul ballad where Black Sabbath bleeds into Sunday service nodding to previous maggot-brained heaviness ("Miss Lucifer"s Love"), or the rubbery pre-shocks of Bootsy-bounce future (the deceptively sunny-sounding junkie-punchline rawness of "Loose Booty"). Paring this down to a powerful single LP"s worth might not be that difficult, but aside from the weepy-woo sentimentalism of masculine-sadness anthem "We Hurt Too," it"s harder to figure out exactly what to discard.

"Y"all got to kinda bear with us," apologizes Clinton at the onset of a loping intro to "I"ll Bet You." "We got a new drummer here tonight... Tyrone. We gonna get it together anyhow, and go pee on your afro." This show should have been a complete disaster, and almost was. One of the only non-bootleg recordings of the original early "70s Westbound-era P-Funk -- there are a couple other scraps on Live: "The Funkadelic Collection" Greatest Hits 1972-1993 -- it happens to catch P-Funk with their pants down, and not the usual pants-down business that Clinton liked to get up to in concert when he was feeling streaky. Westbound owner and future sample-troll Armen Boladian figured he"d picked a good night to record the band for a potential future live LP release, overlooking the somewhat pertinent fact that drummer Tiki Fulwood and rhythm guitarist Tawl Ross jumped ship days before the concert and their replacements were in the process of being integrated into their new band. Stax sideman and guitarist Harold Beane, who"d stay with Funkadelic just long enough to contribute to America Eats Its Young before leaving, did all right. But Tyrone Lampkin, who"d stick around with P-Funk all the way through The Electric Spanking Of War Babies, had a problem. Fulwood was a strict on-the-one rhythm machine of a drummer, frequently powerful and prone to some heavy flourishes but otherwise rode right inside the pocket. Lampkin was an Apollo house band showman known for his jazz and big band "showtime" style. This conflict might have been possible to circumvent if these two new members had a chance to rehearse for the show. They hadn"t.

And yet somehow, they pulled it all together -- not enough to overcome Boladian"s after-the-fact assessment that the recording wasn"t "commercial" enough, and not enough to convince Eddie Hazel and a particularly frustrated Billy Bass Nelson to stick around for the recording of Cosmic Slop (though Eddie"d return with a vengeance on Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On). But for a band that was maintaining a rep for out-of-control freakiness, the push-and-pull between Lampkin"s drumming and Nelson"s bass isn"t enough to torpedo a hell of a set, one that captures a transitory mutation of Funkadelic in a particularly rare configuration. "Alice In My Fantasies" makes for a thundering opener, Hazel revealing new twists and heights in a six-minute jam that had previously only been available in its 2 ½-minute Standing on the Verge studio version. And even if the backbeat on concert staple/cosmic out-of-body experience "Maggot Brain" is a little more upfront and flashy than usual, Lampkin"s measured intensity is a surer sign of things to come than the wild-hair-up-the-ass overplaying that temporarily derails "I Call My Baby Pussycat" completely. Things eventually start to gel the further the set goes on, with more opportunity to give the rest of the band -- and the singers in particular in the intricately harmonizing "All Your Goodies Are Gone (The Loser"s Seat)" -- some much-needed breathing room. By Cosmic Slop, Lampkin had gone from sticking out to standing out, and getting to hear him make his first steps towards becoming one of the great rhythmic backbones of a peerless rhythmic band makes this concert oddity a priceless document.

After a few seconds of heavily reverbed lipsmacking slurps, the voice spills out in wild panning stereo: "If you will suck my soul, I will lick your funky emotions." Starting a new and definitive phase of a career with a declaration of pornographic metaphysics is how "50s doo-wop singer and "60s Motown aspirant George Clinton launched an empire of funk, and there"s no mistaking his band"s debut for anything other than the first salvo in an already characteristic assault on tired morals and square-assedness in general. Even if Funkadelic hadn"t fully established who Funkadelic were -- Bootsy and Bernie hadn"t made their mark yet, and many of the songs feature Motown session players (including uncredited appearances from Funk Brothers alumni Dennis Coffey, Bob Babbitt, and bandleader Earl Van Dyke) -- just what they were is clear from the get-go. "By the way, my name is Funk," intones Clinton in that opening cut, elliptically answering the titular question "Mommy, What"s A Funkadelic?", adding on the well-that-explains-it statement "I am not of your world." Even while rattling off come-ons while floating along to a riff that doses "Whole Lotta Love" with some Real Good Shit, the wordplay-laden digressions and trickster sloganeering reveal a wise (and wise-ass) depth that one-upped every ad sales pitch on TV ("Let me play with your emotions/ For nothing is good unless you play with it"). By the time you"re faced with "What Is Soul?", the other question bookending this album, answers like "a hamhock in your Corn Flakes" and "a joint rolled in toilet paper" make all the sense in the world.

Between those two queries lie two of P-Funk"s earliest triumphs. "I Bet You" was a foot in the door, lent to the Jackson 5 that same year as an ABC album cut as an offering to Motown"s post-Cloud Nine psychedelic dabblings but pushed here to its canyon-deep, in-the-red limits through six minutes of fevered intensity that established the colossal neck-snap thump of drummer Tiki Fulwood and slyly hinted at the future virtuoso depths of Eddie Hazel. The other watershed moment, the Fuzzy Haskins-penned "I Got A Thing, You Got A Thing, Everybody"s Got A Thing," is like watching a volcano erupt: a burbling glow of harmonic soul calling for solidarity despite social differences crests into a thousand-degree explosion of Fulwood-propelled funk power. Add on some powerful connections to the old blues roots -- "Music For My Mother," "Good Old Music," and "Qualify & Satisfy" slot neatly somewhere between Wilson Pickett and Cream -- and it epitomizes the notion of the all-killer-no-filler LP for the R&B world. Psychedelic soul had been done before, but never so heavily, so wildly, or so deeply in tune with a future few were so committed to both seeing and creating. Even at this early stage, Funkadelic perfectly split the difference between Jimi Hendrix and Sly & The Family Stone in a year where both artists were lost to tragic death and studio solitude respectively. They didn"t just fill that gap, they carved their own niche. And it"d only grow wider from there.

Behold: the rare example of a band leaving a regional indie for a massive corporate record label and somehow not missing a step. Well, not a big step, anyways -- precursor Let"s Take It To The Stage is a damn sight wilder, and the first Funkadelic LP on Warner Bros., Hardcore Jollies, is light on both politics and raunch. Don"t go in looking for a conceptual hook, a surplus of scandalous slogans, or a great leap sideways into a new and revolutionary way of twisting your head around -- it"s just a pretty good funk album with most of the core "73-"75 personnel. But considering what Funkadelic wound turn into nearly two years later, it"s good to think of this last blast of original-flavor style as a high note. Even if it is fairly slick.

While Funkadelic were getting used to being in the Warner Bros. ranks, Parliament had found their association with Casablanca Records to be a gigantic windfall: all that KISS and Donna Summer money was enough to give them the freedom to do their own super-elaborate concert set-up, inspired in part by their face-painted labelmates and stadium-filling peers like Pink Floyd. What this meant, naturally, was a philosophy that if people were going to pay big bucks for a concert, they deserved more than a concert. The Casablanca higher-ups were fine with this, what with Clinton being more of an inspiration-filled, image-savvy idea man than just about anyone in the label"s marketing department. So they gave him a spaceship.

The Mothership became inseparable from the image of P-Funk, even if the original article wound up lost and/or sold for scrap. But its centerpiece presence in P-Funk shows -- Clinton emerging from its massive structure through walls of dry ice as Dr. Funkenstein -- doesn"t really translate in audio form. Neither do the interstitial animated cartoons, the costumes, the shiny plush limousine, or the dozens-strong crowd of musicians and singers flooding the stage. So to call Parliament"s "77 live album Live (P.Funk Earth Tour) an incomplete experience is kind of a truism. Of course the legendary Earth Tour is even better seen than heard, which is thankfully a possibility if you can get ahold of the DVD, George Clinton: The Mothership Connection, that features a videotaped performance of an early tour stop in Houston on Halloween 1976. But that"s not what makes this live release feel a little out of joint.

The thing is that the Earth Tour was a Parliament-Funkadelic tour, which means putting it out as an album meant Casablanca had to stick solely to the Parliament bits. This set, pieced together from two January "77 stops in Los Angeles and Oakland, does a decent job of it, at least. That owes to a quartet of giddy peaks: an opening slow burn to a lightning-strike powerful rendition of "P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)," the Mothership sequence and its breath-snatching "Swing Down, Sweet Chariot" coda (cruelly split and put on separate sides), a deranged fifteen-minute extended vampathon version of "Dr. Funkenstein," and the closing salvo pairing "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)" and a revved-up "Night Of The Thumpasorus Peoples." And the show as a whole -- or at least the whole we get -- is rousing from start to frequently-interrupted finish. But rough, Funkadelic-excising edits chop up the setlist"s flow, as does the insertion of a couple OK-ish studio cuts ("This Is The Way We Funk With You" and Invictus-era Parliament remake "Fantasy Is Reality). At least "The Landing (Of The Holy Mothership)" is a neat novelty if you"ve ever wanted to hear the classic Parliament catalogue in Dickie Goodman-style cut-up newscast form.

Parliament"s second album for Westbound is remembered for two particularly distinct reasons. The first is that title, and the title track, and all the implications thereof: Its moment arrived at the crest of post-Nixon government disillusionment, and drew vast imaginative power by combining a corruption-ousting power-to-the-people agenda with an envisioning of a completely new hierarchy of cultural leaders. Inspired by hearing a news report highlighting Washington D.C."s 80% black population, Clinton"s slyly outlined grab of the governmental reins and visions of a power long denied ("They still call it the White House, but that"s a temporary condition, too") is simultaneously optimistic and absurdist. His leaders of tomorrow include a President Muhammad Ali and First Lady Aretha Franklin rather than a Harvard-educated community organizer turned law scholar, but christening Stevie Wonder secretary of fine arts was a right-on notion given the man"s musician-activist role in getting MLK"s birthday recognized as a national holiday. And even among all the punchlines ("Richard Pryor, Minister Of Education!") was the acknowledgment that "We"ve got Newark, we"ve got Gary/Somebody told me we got L.A/And we"re working on Atlanta" -- all of a sudden, "you don"t need the bullet when you got the ballot."

The political insights largely vanish after that stirring intro, but that"s where the other great thing about Chocolate City comes into play: Bootsy Collins goes nuts. This is the album where Bootzilla discovered the Mu-tron III, a synthesized envelope-controlled filter that, in layman"s terms, was capable of creating what has come to be known as Space Bass. So an already liquid-smooth, heavy-as-a-lead-elephant playing style was channeled through a seething, sizzling electronic warble of a wah-wah, and thus you get this huge chunk of rowwrrrrr with every resonant note of bass in the low end. Once it sinks its talons into the motion of "Ride On" it doesn"t let go, giving an already bottom-heavy bounce this spaced-out state of seeming cranked to the point of being blown out but actually gliding nice and smooth, a hovercraft disguised as a monster truck. It"s such an arresting element -- slicing its way through the spring-stepped "Together," rolling its shoulders like a stalking big cat on "Side Effects," dislodging floorboards with every emphatic stomp on "What Comes Funky." Factor in Bernie Worrell"s increasing contributions to the songwriting and composition, and the core of what would become Peak Parliament was just a little more refinement -- and about eight months -- away from unstoppable greatness.

In a lot of ways, Funkadelic"s second album feels like an echo of the first. In the heart of the record, you get some single-worthy acid-soul cuts with hit potential, spanning both ends of the R&B-psychedelia continuum while making it feel less of a straight line than an Ouroboros. And the first and last tracks are both wigged-out journeys through a fully dilated third eye, all reverb and yelling and pitch-tweaked creature voices and phantasmagorical prayers. There are some crucial differences, however. One of them is that the band personnel is more centralized and sans session players; Bernie Worrell, having charged his way valiantly through Funkadelic highlight "I Got A Thing," is now the full-time keyboard player. Another difference separating this album from its predecessor is that Clinton reputedly got the band to record the whole thing in a day or so while tripping on LSD. So this is one of those special instances where, if somebody experiencing this album claims that "they must"ve been high when they came up with this," you can at least nominally confirm their suspicion.

While Funakdelic were a powerful fusion of rock and soul on wax, they were near-nonentities on radio -- college and freeform FM rock stations dug "em, but they weren"t reaching all the audiences that Clinton had hoped. He wanted pop and R&B airwaves, too, and once he got the Parliament name back from crumbling former home Invictus, he used that as his ticket to the top ten. A fortuitous meeting with Neil Bogart of Casablanca Records gave them a home, a few old-school Parliaments singles reworked to more ambitious standards gave them a kick-start, and Up For The Down Stroke put them in record stores, a new branch of the expanding George Clinton artistic empire that would bring Funkadelic"s creative nucleus straight into a Top 40 spotlight. It was something of a paradigm shift, but its success hinged on the kinds of things they"d already been doing; all they had to do was shine it up nice, dial back the freakout stuff, and drop in some horns.

Which kind of understates just what they pulled off with Up For The Down Stroke. Of those three re-recordings, one of them, "Testify," stands as a particularly joyous highlight, a revamp of the band"s harmonic roots that put their ensemble of voices front and center. (At least for the early pressings; later versions revealed somebody must"ve caught on to how potent that clavinet/horn section exchange was and pushed it up in the mix, whittling it down to a Clinton solo vocal on the verses.) The other two, the slinky, sizzling Tiki Fulwood-vs.-drum machine tour de force "The Goose" and the whispery, piano-driven head-nodder "All Your Goodies Are Gone," pull off the same feat of making the still-strong originals feel like redundant first drafts. Then, of course, there"s the title track, a top 10 R&B hit that gave P-Funk their first notable brush with the charts since (ironically enough) "(I Wanna) Testify" in 1967; in a year when bottom-heavy, slogan-chanting funk jams were flooding the airwaves from MFSB to B.T. Express, Parliament went above and beyond with their own; the way the song turns on the "when you"re hot, you"re hot" bridge and the horn section soars into the stratosphere is the kind of controlled-launch euphoria that hadn"t been possible with Funkadelic"s sprawling, guitar-driven sound. There were a lot of other chances for Parliament to infiltrate the pop consciousness further down the road; this was just the one filled with the most possibility.

It is, on the whole, goofy as all hell in the best ways. After all, musicians might age, but cartoons never do, and Funkenstein"s crew put forth a looney toons version of themselves that dialed up the outlandishness of their alter-ego history to preposterous levels. In the words of the prelude track: "Funk upon a time, in the days of the Funkapus, the concept of specially-designed Afronauts capable of funkatizing galaxies was first laid on man-child, but was later repossessed and placed among the secrets of the pyramids until a more positive attitude towards this most sacred phenomenon, Clone Funk, could be acquired." That"s one way of saying the listening public wasn"t ready for a band this out-there, but what with Mothership Connection going platinum and hitting #13 on the Billboard Hot 100, it"s clear that they were -- and Dr. Funkenstein actually followed through by making their sound just a little less outrageous. Not that much less outrageous, thankfully. There aren"t many elaborate solos, and it"s heavier on the hooks, but it"s relentlessly fun and bright; the horn arrangements that Fred Wesley concocted with Bernie Worrell wound up being some of the liveliest to date in the whole P-Funk catalogue. "Children of Production," "Gettin" To Know You," and especially the soaring charge of "Funkin" For Fun" enshrined the Horny Horns as the not-so-secret sauce that made Parliament impossible to duplicate -- well, except maybe from within.

And then there"s the most eye-popping detail: Michael "Kidd Funkadelic" Hampton and Eddie Hazel, playing in the same band. P-Funk"s two most renowned guitarists could be considered co-owners of "Maggot Brain," which Hazel helmed in Funkadelic"s early years and Hampton adopted upon Hazel"s departure. But we get them both in this version, dueling and intertwining and harmonizing for what could be the greatest version of the song on record -- that DeWayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight throws in his own euphoric shredding only adds icing to the cake. The presence of so many phenomenal guitarists -- Cordell "Boogie" Mosson and Garry Shider round out the Mothership axe-slinger dream team here -- factors in on how wild and heavy so many of these performances are; "Cosmic Slop" and "(Not Just) Knee Deep" in particular are nearly Rust Never Sleeps serrated, and even Parliament cuts like "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)" and "Flash Light" get the Funkadelic acid-rock touch. And just about every song has this unhinged, supercharged vibe to it; once a relatively subdued "Do That Stuff"-driven intro sets the stage, everything starts escalating into a frenzied energy level that rockets through "Give Up The Funk" and runs rampant all the way through a nearly double-time run through "Flash Light." (In the process, they wind up making even the early, thrashy Red Hot Chili Peppers sound like quiet storm in comparison.) Like the best P-Funk shows, this show thrives on the hectic balance of sheer improvisational freak-out unpredictability and the core of relentlessly on-the-one steadiness, and its obscurity compared to the more commercially-available, less batshit Live: P-Funk Earth Tour is an absolute shame. Anybody who wants to doubt the power of this set, just know this: Prince was in the audience, and when he inducted Parliament-Funkadelic into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, he claimed that the moment the show ended, inspiration struck for him to write "Erotic City."

If pressure creates diamonds, then something in Let"s Take It To The Stage must have been fueled at least a little by Clinton"s desire to wrest Funkadelic free from the flimsy supports (or lack thereof) at Westbound. The after-the-fact contractual obligation would come later (via Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic), but Funkadelic kicked the door down on the way out, filling Let"s Take It To The Stage with a barrage of limber heavy funk anthems and hard-hitting sub-three-minute numbers that played up all their best sides. This is where William Collins fully became Bootsy, who augmented his nascent Space Bass sound on "Be My Beach" with the first instance of his characteristic Snagglepuss-gone-Hendrix voice and knot-tying referential come-ons ("I"d just like to be your bridge over troubled waters mama... dig while I smoke on it"). It"s got maybe their freakiest revamp of an older tune, a towering death-sludge monster called "Baby I Owe You Something Good," with a stunning lead by original Parliaments singer "Cool" Cal Simon. And it"s where they came up with maybe their purest mission statement -- "Shit! Goddamn! Get off your ass and jam!" -- with the help of a random, unknown white junkie kid who found his way into the studio and offered to sit in on guitar for $25; the result was one of the most breath-snatching solos you"ll ever hear. (So Clinton gave the kid $50. He vanished, and they never did identify him.)

It"s also one of their most combative albums -- not to confuse combativeness with hostility, more like an extra-heavy dose of the dozens. The title track is a call for a cutting session, Clinton pulling cards on "Fool And The Gang," "Sloofus," and "Earth, Hot Air, And No Fire" in the process of cranking out the kinds of filthy nursery rhymes Andrew "Dice" Clay would shamelessly gank. And as often as the music rides like good-natured, stank-riddled disco-funk, there"s deep distress between the lines: the ache for comfort in music in gorgeous ballad "The Song Is Familiar," a defense against spirit-killing hedonism in "Better By The Pound" ("Feeling good is the bait Satan uses to fish for you and me"), and the manipulative exchange between groupie and doorman in "No Head No Backstage Pass." It"s an unsettling vibe to the last of the truly heavy Funkadelic records, a facet that would fall away once they hit Warner Bros. and started transmogrifying into a Parliament without horns.

Guitarist Eddie Hazel was one of the most characteristic driving forces behind all of P-Funk, especially in the early years -- but he was mostly absent from the band in "72 and "73 due to financial disputes. One way to resolve disputes like that is to give an artist more of a say in the songwriting process, and that"s what Hazel got for Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On, the album that most strongly solidified Funkadelic as a band that could hit every angle of both styles their portmanteau name implied. Under cover of the credit "Grace Cook" -- which helped Hazel duck contractual rights problems and got his mother a nice little tribute in the process -- he and Clinton built the foundation for a classic that bursts forth like a bolt of broadsword-wielding freak metal, a million-millimeter shell fired across Led Zeppelin"s bow.

Give Parliament some of the credit for that; with the crew"s funkier aspirations channeled (quite successfully) into Up For The Down Stroke, the near-concurrently-recorded Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On was where all the Heavy Shit went. Even the proto-disco groove of the barn-burner title cut steps high in spiked iron platforms; you could pair it with Zep"s funk stab "Trampled Under Foot" and make the latter seem like coffeehouse music. (It helps when you have the best call-and-response ever.) Elsewhere you"ve got the jawbreaker opening pair of "Red Hot Mama" and "Alice In My Fantasies," two dysfunctional love songs which escalate a portrait of country-girl-meets-city-hedonism all the way to a series of bizarre kink negotiations ("I said "uh, lady, be my dog and I"ll be your tree/ And you can pee on me"). And the boogie-woogie put-on "Jimmy"s Got A Little Bitch In Him" outflanks Frank Zappa on both the gay solidarity and pop-art-doo-wop-scuz-rock fronts ("Why frown? Even the sun go down"). That makes the album"s two great elegiac guitar workout dirges -- the abandoned-lover lament "I"ll Stay" and the ether-frolic sermon of "Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts" -- all the more striking, especially in how they ground the heaviness in the humane.

If America Eats Its Young was a scattershot sprawl that couldn"t decide whether Funkadelic were an acid rock band or a weirdo-soul band, a protest group or a party-starter, Cosmic Slop was where they threw mutual exclusion in the garbage and streamlined all that identity-crisis stuff into their first great self-reinvention. There"s a catch -- there always is -- in that Eddie Hazel w