Posts Tagged ‘George Clinton’

It’s about fucking time I said this, so here it is, plain and simple, because I am through holding back:

I love Rick James!

I first met the late Mr. James in a parking lot in Boston. In that summer of 1978, when I thought punk was a joke because I believed in something lasting (disco), I lived near the urban campus of Northeastern University. One hot, humid evening I walked past the parking lot where a black fraternity had set up a fortress of boom boxes. At that moment all of them were playing James’ “You and I” from his first album, Come Get It.

I was funkedelicized!

Later on they played A Taste of Honey’s “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” but come on, I’m being serious here. That night I learned that Rick James knew how to make you shake your moneymaker. Even when his albums are stupid – and there’s enough stupid in his collected works to suck the salt out of the Great Salt Lake – there’s usually something I want to dance to. What that man couldn’t do with a guitar, a cowbell, and thigh-high boots!

(Just don’t get trapped in the tar pits of his ballads. What’s that, Rick? You’ve been hurt by love before? How long is this going to take? This must be how the dinosaurs died.)

I saw him in concert the following year when he was touring after his second album, Fire It Up. “Love Gun” and “Come Into My Life” are the worthwhile numbers on that disc. I kept finding one or sometimes two songs on each album that could turn a dance floor into the disco inferno that The Trammps promised but couldn’t deliver. On Bustin’ Out of L7, that song is “High on Your Love Suite/One Mo Hit (Of Your Love),” which begins as more “You and I” but burns holes in your superhero underwear by the end of its 7 minutes.

By the end of the ’70s, it was clear that Prince had ambitions greater than James’, but it wasn’t at all clear that Prince had the talent to make that happen. In fact, Rick James in 1978-79 was one of Donna Summer’s few worthy adversaries.

Here comes Rick James’ ultimate, amazingest, most awesomest album
James stumbled into the new decade with Garden of Love, which was overrun by his ballads. If you enjoy scraping barnacles off a hull, this is the album for you. Meanwhile, Prince released his first good album, Dirty Mind. How would James respond?

He counter-punched with Street Songs and that immortal study of human sexual response, “Super Freak”!

No disco comp can receive the coveted Orthodox Union Kosher Certification if it doesn’t include “Super Freak.” But Street Songs is so much more than this stupid song. I’m lying. Most of these tracks are dull, including “Fire and Desire,” James’ duet with his former girlfriend Teena Marie. It doesn’t have the fire and desire of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell or June & Johnny Cash or even Daryl Hall & John Oates.

But the album opens with the impact of Hillary Clinton plowing into a bar fight while waving a bicycle chain over her head. If you heard “Give It to Me Baby” and “Ghetto Life” in a club you’d knock over your table and your date to get to the dance floor. “Give It to Me” even has the “Thriller” bass line, and Michael Jackson didn’t release Thriller until a year later. These two songs are in the starting lineup in the World Series of Funk.

You could explore James’ catalog past Street Songs, but why take the risk? As with Duran Duran, you only need a few of Rick James’ songs. And you do need them. You know I’m right. Don’t get all super freaky on me.

Come Get It, 1978
Fire It Up, 1979
Bustin’ Out of L7, 1979
Garden of Love, 1980
Street Songs, 1981

Oh yeah: Please vote for Hillary.

Random Pick of the Day
Funkadelic, Maggot Brain (1971)
George Clinton, the founder of Funkadelic and Parliament, knows how to get all up in your face. Maggot Brain is like Sly & The Family Stone turned to 11. “Super Stupid” is superior to the entire Grand Funk Railroad oeuvre and good enough for Jimi Hendrix. You could disintegrate Coldplay or Tears For Fears with this one song.

The mesmerizing title track was the centerpiece of this album. It has no lyrics so I can’t tell you what “Maggot Brain” means. My guess is that he was saying fuck you. That would also explain the cover photo. This is one of the most unappealing jackets in the history of vinyl record jackets.

The guitar solo on “Maggot Brain” would make doves cry.

Random Pan of the Day
Adele, 19 (2008)
Come back when you’re 25.

Oh shoot, she did!

 

In 2014 I heroically listened to every album Prince ever made. Well, I heroically came close. I listened to the first 14. I will eventually listen to the remaining 987. This was an exciting, enlightening quest for which I received 100% zero thanks. I didn’t get a link from Wikipedia. I didn’t get a lousy T-shirt from Prince. And, as always, WordPress refused to give me any money.

I remain undeterred. Why? Because it says BLOGGER on my uniform! So today I jump on my new project, the project I should’ve jumped on before I jumped on Prince: the black music of the 1970s. But first: The Rules!

Rule 1: Provincialism is good. I’m disqualifying 98% of planet Earth. Once you dive into my unscientific survey you’ll discover that almost all of these performers are from the USA. That’s because I’m from the USA. USA! USA!

Rule 2: One-hit wonders are blunders. The 1970s were a magnet for the truly awful (that was somehow spectacularly popular). For every passable tune such as Jean Knight and “Mr. Big Stuff” you get a dumpster full of this:

Billy Paul, “Me and Mrs. Jones”
Peaches & Herb, “Reunited”
Labelle, “Lady Marmalade”*
Anita Ward, “Ring My Bell”
A Taste of Honey, “Boogie Oogie Oogie”**
Hues Corporation, “Rock the Boat”
Carl Douglas, “Kung Fu Fighting”***

* This is the “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, c’est soir” song.
** I hate to put them on this list, because they were an early girl-power band with two female guitarists. Also, they looked most excellent in backless swimsuits. But their song sucks.
*** According to legend, “Kung Fu Fighting” was recorded in 10 minutes. Of course it was.

Rule 3: I make the tough calls! Reggae was obviously a vital part of the ’70s – it was a huge influence on British punk – but I don’t care for reggae so you won’t find it here. I like the blues but there’s no blues on my list because after half an hour it’s not the blues, it’s whining. There’s no rap because, while I like some rap, I don’t understand it.

Even within the genres I like – rock, psychedelia, disco, soul, R&B – I’ll have to leave out some fun people to make sure I can get through this project before 2250 A.D. Here are two:

  • Eddie Kendricks, who sang lead on The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” and had a solo hit with “Keep on Truckin’.”
  • Johnny “Guitar” Watson, who played blues, jazz, and funk but is probably best remembered for that sentimental lament, “A Real Mother for Ya.”

Rule 4: I’m sure to forget somebody. I only remembered The Spinners about 5 minutes ago.

This list I’m about to unleash is not exhaustive, though it’s exhausting me. I might not make it past 1974. But here goes.

The ’70s begin!

On the starting line we have:

  • Marvin Gaye and worthy but lesser satellites: Al Green, Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Diana Ross, but not The Supremes
  • Quincy Jones
  • Ray Charles
  • James Brown
  • George Clinton
  • Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, and Barry White
  • The Jackson 5, The Isley Brothers, and other notable families
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Sly & The Family Stone
  • Ike & Tina Turner
  • Gladys Knight & The Pips
  • Earth, Wind & Fire and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
  • Rufus (featuring Chaka Khan)
  • The Four Tops
  • The Spinners
  • The Temptations

Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder were at their height in the ’70s, and their height is somewhere north of the Matterhorn. I could write about them and never get to anyone else.

Diana Ross released 17 albums in the ’70s. (First on this list is James Brown’s brain-busting 28.) She played Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues. She recorded duets with Marvin Gaye. Like a true diva, Diana Ross can’t be ignored. But I can ignore her former co-workers. This was not their decade.

I am mostly going to ignore Quincy Jones. Sure, Jones can compose, arrange, produce, conduct, and play. He brought out the best in the senior-citizen Frank Sinatra and the young-adult Michael Jackson. “Killer Joe” is one of my favorite jazz standards. But almost everything I like about him comes before 1970 or after 1979. I’m only going to mention Jones once, for an album I’m not recommending, and I hope the Lords of Kobol will forgive me.

Did Ray Charles do more in the ’70s than make those dopey commercials for Scotch Brand recording tape? Run-DMSteve investigates!

Everyone on this list owes something to James Brown. Everyone who isn’t on this list owes something to James Brown, even if they were born in a galaxy far, far away. Soul Brother #1 began the decade with the 11-minute “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine,” a song that added substantially to my knowledge of how to deal with women (building on what I’d learned from Capt. Kirk and a stolen copy of South Pacific).

Brown ran out of fissionable uranium by mid-decade. His disco resurgence in 1979 doesn’t count.

George Clinton’s bands were Funkadelic and Parliament. After reacquainting myself with the few songs I knew and listening to the many I didn’t, I see him now as the secret weapon of the ’70s. Clinton has suffered the most from the way white radio playlists, particularly the Oldies and Classic Rock formats, exclude black artists.

We’ll get to Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, Barry White, and Marvin Gaye, James Brown, and Quincy Jones again when we dive into the deep end of the Shaft/Super Fly machismo pool.

The Jackson 5 were the best family act of any color of any era. Their only contenders are Don and Phil Everly, and I think that’s a very close race. (The Isley Brothers are right behind them. Two more challengers popped up in the ’70s: The Pointer Sisters and The Staple Singers.) The J5 were superior to Sister Sledge, The Osmonds, The Carpenters, The Cowsills, The Partridge Family (OK, that’s cheating), the von Trapps, and everyone who has ever appeared on Lawrence Welk.

Jimi Hendrix existed in the ’70s for about nine months. His early death is the second-greatest tragedy in the history of pop music. (Mozart’s early death is first.)

With Aretha Franklin, it’s always 1967, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You is on the turntable, and you’re about to drop the needle on the first track, “Respect.” I can’t imagine the pressure this woman faced at the age of 25 with “Respect” heading her résumé. Bruce Springsteen faced the same pressure when he was 25 and had just recorded “Born to Run.”

Sylvester Stewart, aka Sly Stone, is mostly known for the music he gave us in the ’60s. By the time he got to the ’70s, his revolutionary zeal had congealed. Sadly, so had his optimism. Sly & The Family Stone’s last great album, There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971), is as confused, cynical, and hard to listen to as The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street (1972). The main difference between the two is that Stone was apathetic. The Stones were sleazy.

Sly Stone fun fact: You could transfer “Just Like a Baby” from There’s a Riot Goin’ On to Exile on Main Street and nobody would know the difference.

Most of Ike and Tina Turner’s music evaporates while you listen to it. For every “Proud Mary” or “River Deep – Mountain High” they have 20 songs that are guaranteed not to stick to your ribs. But we needed The Ike & Tina Turner Revue because they created the image of Tina Turner as a force majeure. Ms. Turner gave us one good record on her own (Private Dancer), but that’s off in the ’80s.

Gladys Knight & The Pips recorded the first version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” a hymn that could make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window. In the ’70s they recorded “Midnight Train to Georgia.” I still want to kick them.

Earth, Wind & Fire were just getting started and didn’t know what they wanted to be when they grew up. Same with Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes.

Rufus was funky for sure, but they’re not as good as their contemporaries War. But they’re important for giving Chaka Khan a launching pad. Khan has a voice like Tina Turner’s, with less power but more finesse at close range.

The Four Tops’ many classics are all from the ’60s. In the ’70s they recorded two albums with The Supremes (minus Diana Ross), The Magnificent Seven and The Return of the Magnificent Seven. Not enough of a draw to make me listen. Sorry kids, but as I’ve stated many times in this blog I am paid to be unfair. All right, I’m not paid, but I’m still unfair.

The Spinners have left little behind them besides the image of five guys in yummy-colored pantsuits. But they had a run of hits in the early ’70s, starting with “It’s a Shame,” which I always thought was Al Green until I finally looked it up. Duh. However, I don’t care for the rest of their easy-listening catalog, and they gave us the gift of “The Rubberband Man,” which is clearly related to the crud back in Rule 2, so though they meant well they disappear as soon as this sentence hits the period.

The Temptations recorded “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” in 1972. This was another show-stopper written by Norman Whitfield. The Temptations could’ve stopped right there. But they didn’t, and neither will I. I’ll be back next time with: Blaxploitation!

 

Anyone can plunge into a creative tailspin, or fail to live up to public expectations, or rush off in directions that alienate your fans. God knows I’ve done all of these. I don’t know what happened to Prince in the years 1987 through 1991, but here are some clues.

The Black Album
1987
Prince decided not to release this record, which immediately became an underground bootleg sensation. The aboveground release was in 1994, so I’ll get to it there.

Lovesexy
1988
A concept album from Prince in which his love of lust battles his love of God. I don’t know if Prince ever settled this, but I can tell you he didn’t bring it up again on Batman.

“Alphabet St.” is worthy of the old Prince, but you’ll have to memorize its position on the CD because there are no $#*&^$! index marks. “Dance On,” a protest song à la “Sign O’ the Times,” is remarkable, but good luck finding it on a disc where every FN song bleeds into every other song.

The title track resembles Human League’s 1983 super explosive smash hit explosion “(Keep Feeling) Fascination.” Is that good or bad? To me it’s good, but 1983 was one of my favorite years.

I don’t understand this record.

Rolling Stone’s critics named The Black Album (which didn’t officially exist) and Lovesexy two the 10 best albums of 1988. Midnight Oil’s Diesel and Dust was #1 with the critics; the readers voted for U2’s Rattle and Hum. I’m with the readers on that one.

Batman
1989
Prince’s disco soundtrack is frozen in carbonite. I mean, stuck in the ’80s. You could still get people moving with “Partyman” (the Joker is the party man), “Vicki Waiting,” and “Trust,” but no one would remember them five minutes later. “Lemon Crush” has some zap to it, but only because it resembles “Thriller.”

“The Arms of Orion” is inferior to all existing songs about Orion, including “Orion” by Metallica, Jethro Tull, and Linda Ronstadt, and I don’t care for those songs, either. The 6-minute megamix “Batdance” gets this mention and nothing else.

Graffiti Bridge
1990
Objective: Write a sequel to Purple Rain.
Result: You can’t go home again.

Don’t ever say this man isn’t generous, though. He wrote all the songs but gave half of them to other acts: Mavis Staples, 14-year-old Tevin Campbell, and yet more Prince protégés, The Time. He also recorded one number with George Clinton and his Funkestra.

There’s not much to choose from here, but of the songs that are all Prince, Huey Lewis & The News would’ve sold their souls for “Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got.” “Elephants and Flowers” is about honoring God through multiple sex partners. High five. “The Question of U” reminded me of The Beatles: The music of “Come Together” and the lyrics of “Yer Blues.” Give Prince points for bowling a split.

Of the songs that are not all Prince, the one I like best is his collaboration with Clinton, “We Can Funk.” Add to that The Time’s “Shake!” (which sounds like Question Mark & The Mysterians’ “96 Tears”) and we can move on to 1991.

Bonus: Two of The Time guys produced Human League’s 1986 smash explosive super exploding hit “Human.”

Rolling Stone’s critics ignored Graffiti Bridge, but the readers named it one of their runner-up albums for 1990. Critics and readers agreed on Sinéad O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got as the best of the best.

Diamonds and Pearls
1991
This is more like it. Prince has a new backup band, The New Power Generation, and they can stomp, they can play a soul ballad, they can even play jazz. “Thunder” is his best opening track since “Sign O’ the Times.” It flat out rocks, and even though I get the feeling that the new boys are restraining themselves they still beat the couch stuffing out of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”

This reminds us yet again that Prince can reach into the grab-bag of pop and reinterpret anything he pulls out. “Strollin’ ” sounds as if it were inspired by the 5th Dimension’s “Stoned Soul Picnic.” “Willing and Able” is a Dire Straits song with better singing and a beat.

Because Prince is equally ready to fight record companies and his own fans, Rhapsody is only authorized to play nine of the 13 tracks on this album. I couldn’t find the rest on YouTube BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT AVAILABLE IN MY COUNTRY. For example, “Cream,” which Rolling Stone’s critics picked as one the year’s best singles. (R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” topped the critics’ and readers’ picks for best single of 1991. Prince will not reappear on this list until 2006.)

Even with that handicap, and even though the last four tracks on this disc are eye-crossingly lame, Diamonds and Pearls is easily the best album of today’s group. If you’re going to buy any of them, buy this one.

Join me next time for the moment you’ve been waiting for: Prince changes his name!

Reflections upon listening to the Flaming Lips’ With a Little Help from my Fwends a couple of times
(A guest review from longtime reader Number 9.)

When Sgt. Pepper first came out, I would put on side 2, turn out the lights, and play my violin along with “Within You Without You.” So I can understand the Flaming Lips wanting to play along also. I like what they and their, uh, fwends, have done. I haven’t heard of most of their, uh, fwends, except, of course, Miley Cyrus – who knew she could kinda sound like John Lennon (“Lucy in the Sky”)? Mostly I like the instrumental/electronic intros and interludes, the stuff that pushes at the Sgt. Pepper envelope. But my favorite track is “Fixing a Hole” by, uh, fwends the Electric Würms, a nice slowed down rendition – I hope Paul likes it too.