Funkadelic: The Electric Spanking of War Babies (1981)


The funk stops here.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: While Parliament rode high in the charts singing about motherships and star children, Funkadelic dealt with more underground concepts like America eating its young, maggots and slop. At least they did before they moved to Warner Brothers Records, when they jettisoned their guitar-heavy Black-nationalistic raunch’n’roll for synth-happy radio-friendly tunes from George Clinton’s Assembly-Line-O’-Funk.

Their turning point came in 1981 when the band realized Warner Brothers no longer had any interest in them, so they recorded an album solely to please their die-hard fans, the ultra-wacky The Electric Spanking of War Babies.

A shiny but spiny dance treat with a surprising world music edge, War Babies brought back lovely layers of nasty fuzztones and angry coded politics. The title track refers to the media’s eager participation in promoting our governments’ pro-war propaganda machine. A weighty topic for a weighty song, it bounces from a sprightly march to a raging metal singalong.

Along the way Funkadelic performs their take on reggae (the goofy “Shockwaves”) and African polyrhythms (the all-drum tour de force “Brettino’s Bounce”), while adding a major dose of giggles to the major league curse-off “Icka Prick”:

…If you think that’s nasty
Follow me to the men’s room
Watch me write on the wall

(This excerpt is the only clean part of “Icka Prick”. I was going to add more lyrics but the printed page misses how gleefully filthy the song is in context).

“Hmm” said the label. “That’s CLEARLY not single material.”

THE FALLOUT: Warner Brothers rejected the album cover, eventually printing it with a censored flap. Warner Brothers also rejected the length, refusing to release it as a double album. They dumped it in the marketplace, pressing only 90,000 copies even though the previous album, Uncle Jam Wants You, moved half a million units.

The only P-Funk product they did like was the soon-to-be-released debut album from Roger Troutman, who had recorded it for George Clinton’s label Uncle Jam Records. Warner Brothers did the unthinkable and secretly purchased the master tapes from Roger, releasing The Many Facets of Roger in 1981. Clinton promptly sued Warner, rightly claiming that he was the original owner of the tapes since he’d paid for the entire recording.

The courts agreed and George Clinton was awarded a chunk of cash, all the master tapes from the four albums Funkadelic recorded for Warner Brothers and the immediate termination of Funkadelic’s contract. Although this made them free agents the P-Funk army imploded under label stress and financial woes, and neither Funkadelic nor Parliament released another album again.

Well, not under those names anyway. The very next year George Clinton released his first solo album which was chock full of P-Funk alumni and featured a song Warner Brothers deemed unfit to include on War Babies: “Atomic Dog”.

Wow, what visionaries.

The Electric Spanking of War Babies is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

A kiss to their fans and a kiss-off to their label, The Electric Spanking of War Babies is the best P-Funk album you’ve never heard.

NEXT WEEK: The first birthday of Uppity Music. Who’s bringing the cake?

Parliament: Osmium (1970)


If the Funk is ahead of its time, does it make a sound?

THE SCENE: According to George Clinton, the five-man ex-doo-wop group Parliament performed polite music you could play for your mother, while their five-man backing band Funkadelic was the group that would scare your mother into cardiac arrest. The fact that all ten people were in the same band was simply a matter of convenience.

In 1970, even though Funkadelic was already signed to the Detroit-based Westbound label, Clinton signed Parliament to the Detroit-based Invictus label and delivered Osmium. Parliament had released several smoothed-out hit singles in the previous years, so the raw and roughneck Osmium had the effect of discovering that your seemingly normal parents were actually two-headed Martian warlords.

Although this album preceded their use of squiggly synths, alter egos and sci-fi concepts, Parliament still had loads of goofball energy and naïve eccentricity. Half the album is co-written by folk artist and label mate Ruth Copeland, and her straightforward melodicism and religious themes make a downright bizarre platform for the funk. “Oh Lord, Why Lord/Prayer” is a harpsichord and choir-led hymn based on Pachelbel “Canon” and is performed completely straight! No joking about Jesus this time around.

“Put a Little Love In Your Life” is a mini-progressive rock opera detailing the journey of a would-be star, with enough mood changes to rival a Broadway song. Slow organ riffs merge into spazzed-out guitar solos, voices drop in and out, tempos speed up at will, and yet it holds together.

Parliament gets its Nashville on with “Little Ole Country Boy”, a hyped-up country-and-western song complete with pedal steel guitar solo, washboard percussion and lots of yodeling. Yes, yodeling. Parliament also finds a place to showcase the bagpipes, of all instruments, on the beautiful dirge “The Silent Boatman”.

Peppered between these mid-tempo quasi-show tunes are lots of crazed funk songs. “Funky Woman” is an exceptionally tough call-and-response about personal hygiene that showcases guitarist Eddie Hazel’s sizzling tone and Clinton’s grizzled humor:

She hung them in the air
Funky woman
The air said this ain’t fair
Funky woman

She hung them in the sun
Funky woman
The sun began to run
Funky woman

She threw them on the line
Funky woman
The line, it started to cryin’
Funky woman

She threw them in the yard
Funky woman
The yard, it cried, Oh Lord!

The rockabilly “My Automobile” is a cute re-enactment of the songs’ own creation, with the band sitting around the studio harmonizing top-of–their-head lyrics, followed by the “real” version of the song. Osmium also contains an early version of Funkadelics’ “I Call My Baby Pussycat”, a naughty crunch rocker about, er, cats:

Now I’m a tom cat and you’re the pussycat
And I’m just sittin’ here, licking my paw
Now I’m the tom cat and you’re my little old pussycat
Why don’t you scratch me on my back with your claw?

I don’t know, but I’ve been told
That dogs are man’s best friend
Wild and warm is my baby’s love
My kitten is where it’s at

The album has a low-budget and fun country charm with a surprising amount of restraint, considering the source. Neither Parliament nor Funkadelic were ever this peculiar again.

THE FALLOUT: Even the band didn’t think an album this eclectic would sell many copies, and they were right. It did OK in Detroit but that was it. Parliament lost their recording deal but they were picked up by Casablanca in 1974 and released Up For the Down Stroke, which began a long string of bagpipe-free and high-selling albums.

Osmium is available at Amazon and you can also listen to tracks here:

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Terence Trent D’Arby does his Brian Wilson impression and brings his career to a screeching halt.