Sunday, August 2, 2009

486. Maggot Brain- The other Clinton’s other band.

Title: Maggot Brain.

Artist: Funkadelic.

Year: 1971.

Genre: Funk, Soul, proto-metal.


1. Maggot Brain
2. Can You Get to That
3. Hit It And Quit It
4. You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks
5. Super Stupid
6. Back in Our Minds
7. Wars of Armageddon

What a gloriously demented bundle of funked-up, weirdness this is. It’s less an album as much as it’s a soundtrack for the world’s craziest flashmob. It’s like the sum of a magnificent equation: talent plus drugs minus sanity multiplied by inspiration equals Maggot Brain. It’s a fair bet that if you’ve heard this once you’ve heard it often and love it. If you haven’t then hunt it down because it will blow your mind into a happy place.

Funkadelic is led by George Clinton, a man with so many ideas and so much talent he needed two bands to accommodate them. For years he was the leader of Parliament and also Funkadelic before he just merged the two entities into P-funk or the George Clinton Allstars, or whatever name he felt like using. Either way if you had tickets for a show involving Clinton you were going to be treated to the greatest funk players ever assembled behind an inspired madman. Whichever band he led he followed the same procedure which was to gather a large bunch of talented people together and somehow squeeze something out of them that was greater than the sum of their parts.

Maggot Brain is Funkadelic’s finest hour on vinyl (but one that they would regularly top in concert) and it’s typical of their work: Ten credited songwriters, a different lead vocalist on each track, cosmic themes and general weirdness.

Wars of Armageddon, the final track is definitely the epitome of the Funkadelic ethos, it’s not so much a song as an insistent groove augmented by a collage of nutbag-ness. Lyrics such as…

“God damn!
Look at that pollution!
It's a fat funky person”


“More peter to the eater
More power to the pussy
More pussy to the power”

…are recited over a soundtrack that includes cuckoo clocks, cows, cats, explosions and the sort of farting sound effects that would reduce a schoolboy to helpless giggles. Percolating underneath for the entire 9 minute running length is a funky groove that turns the track into a danceable version of Revolution #9.

Hit it and quit it gives one of Clinton’s regular sidemen Bernie Worrell a chance to shine on lead vocals and funky keyboards. While the other two singles are also short and sweet dance floor fillers. The middle tracks on Maggot Brain are all anthemic and rousing with beats that will force you to shake your funky groove thing. And most tracks are augmented by the fierce guitar licks of Mr Eddie Hazel, widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists who ever lived.

When people talk about Eddie Hazel’s talent they’re talking about the title track on Maggot Brain, undoubtedly Hazel’s finest moment and for many the greatest collection of notes ever squeezed out of a six-string. If you haven’t heard Maggot Brain then let me try and write some sort of description to do it justice. It opens with a spoken intro: "Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time, cause 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." (The following track is 10 minutes long which still isn’t enough time to work out what that initial statement is all about). The rest of the song is taken up with a guitar solo played by Hazel over very minimal instrumentation. Apparently there were other instruments but producer George Clinton faded them out of the track when he heard what Hazel had produced. Legend has it that Clinton told Hazel to play as if he’d just heard his mother had died. The notes that pour out of Eddie suggest that he was extremely fond of the old girl and more than a bit peeved that he had to spend time organizing her funeral. When I was younger I used to wonder how people could argue about a guitar solo being “soulful” or “lacking soul.” Surely notes were notes and listening later there was no way of telling whether the performer was playing from his heart or his head? Maggot Brain kills that line of thinking deader than a guitarist’s mum. There is real passion in every note from Hazel’s guitar. I’m not going to wade into the best guitar solo of all time debate but there’s no doubt Maggot Brain is up there somewhere.

The title track alone makes Maggot Brain essential listening as far as I’m concerned but Clinton didn’t cruise for the rest of the sessions. It’s a fantastic album that personally I’d bump up a hundred or so places up this list. It’s also the second album I’ve encountered which I owned personally and didn’t need to find elsewhere. It comes highly recommended as does a lot of Clinton’s other work.

Every note Eddie Hazel plays.
Lowlight: The cover. Is that woman in pain, in ecstasy or just really, really embarrassed?

Influenced by: Substances and cosmic rays.
Influenced: Guitarists and dance floors in equal quantities. Not many albums can make that boast.

Best amazon customer review quote: “Eddie Hazel, mournful mind misty with maggotrocious memories of his majorly missed mum, takes that guitar and births both the acid-boiled stepchild of Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" and the blue-eyed son Hendrix never had, all over the studio floor in one long, painful, meandering squirt, slipping on the plasma in the process and just writhing in it”.

–who needs punctuation when you’ve got alliteration and genuinely unpleasant imagery?

So… Maggot Brain. Can you get into that or is it super stupid? Let me know below.

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