For those who weren’t fortunate to be around, the late ‘60s and early ‘70s were a wonderful time to be a young music fan. There was no Reality TV to compromise an artist’s mystique and no Internet to oversaturate their work. Without the “benefit” of YouTube, hungry fans had “skin in the game” — investing ourselves in seeking out new music on our own individual terms. And it wasn’t always an easy process.
MTV hadn’t even arrived on the scene yet. As a result, we looked to weekly 90-minute TV music programs as a means of “tuning in” and “turning on” to the latest trends. The cool thing about such shows as The Midnight Special, Dick Clark’s In Concert and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert was that all the performers played — live. Also, there was no racial division or genre difference presented in these shows — the acts all merely were “music artists,” sweatin’ and layin’ it down, live on stage. We were blessed to experience a diverse array of artists from David Bowie, Dolly Parton and Marvin Gaye to the New York Dolls, Loggins & Messina and The Bee Gees — often in the same episode. Hence, we couldn’t “hear” race or “see” genres. All we recognized was — music.
Commercial radio in those days also provided a similar public service. And it was then, in December 1975, when I first heard it — a sexy-sounding, stanky new record sandwiched in between the latest hits from the Captain & Tennille and Barry Manilow. I’d just turned 13, and as a naïve “church boy,” my first-hand carnal knowledge was non-existent. But thanks to my growing collection of Ohio Players and Sly & the Family Stone records, I was becoming educated to the ways of the world in short order, and even I understood that this record, “Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” was HOT! And soon, the infectious funky single and its companion album, Mothership Connection both had launched into their respective Billboard Top 20 charts.
While the name was new to my teenage crew, Mothership Connection actually was the fourth album by Parliament — the latest in the decade-long music product line of founding visionary, songwriter and funkmaster, George Clinton. Truth be told, to navigate through all of Clinton’s various related projects; The Parliaments, Funkadelic, P-Funk, The Brides of Funkenstein and P-Funk All Stars requires a sophisticated GPS. However, for us kids in 1975, only ONE name mattered — Parliament. And everything about the group was OVER-THE-TOP!
Produced by Clinton, the seven-song sci-fi concept album was the first of the P-Funk brand to feature James Brown alumni, sax legend Maceo Parker and trombone great Fred Wesley. The record also featured (among many others) perennial members; vocalist Fuzzy Haskins, keyboardist Bernie Worrell, guitarists Garry Shider and Eddie Hazel, drummer Tiki Fulwood and, the baddest badass — “starry-eyed” superstar bassist, Bootsy Collins.
As for the music, Mothership Connection was a glorious vessel that welcomed all the troublemakers from the “hood” on board — ringleader Dirty R&B, along with his homeboys Funky Grooves and Schizo Jazz, as well as the sexy new girl from around the way, Lil’ Pop. It was the era of lava lamps, black lights, shag carpet, mood rings, polyester pants and platform boots. And the captured songs and performances were authentic reflections of those magical times — raw and real, and it all stunk from the funk. Pee-yew!
The opening track, “P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)” fired a funky “warning shot” with the spoken intro — Good evening. Do not attempt to adjust your radio. There is nothing wrong. We have taken control as to bring you this special show. But we will return it to you as soon as you are grooving. To this day, Mr. Lollipop Man’s vibes still flow, and I still wants ta git funked up! Ya dig?
The title track felt like a party — as if the engineer merely pushed “play” and caught an unscripted soiree in “reel” time, while the aptly-titled “Funky UFO” truly was a bona fide, funkta fide celebration — which is indicative of the overall album.
Another golden highlight, “Handcuffs” asked the questions that “inquiring minds” really wanted to know — Do I have to put my handcuffs on you, mama? Do I have to keep you under lock and key? While that type of transparency never would be tolerated in today’s “enlightened” culture, the lyrics provide a vivid snapshot of a less inhibited, more playful world.
Referred to frequently as a “masterpiece,” Mothership Connection would serve as the blueprint for countless hip-hop artists to follow throughout the ‘90s, including Dre, Snoop and Warren G. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the Red Hot Chili Peppers having much to say without Parliament’s lines to recite.
In sum, 45 years later, Mothership Connection ain’t nuthin’ but a party, y’all — a true classic!
Mothership Connection Track Listing:
1. P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up) – 7:41
2. Mothership Connection (Star Child) – 6:13
3. Unfunky UFO – 4:23
4. Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication – 5:03
5. Handcuffs – 4:02
6. Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker) – 5:46
7. Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples – 5:10
Run Time: 38:06
Release Date: December 15, 1975
Record Label: Casablanca