“Mothership Connection” by Parliament (1975)
Quite a few nostalgic looks at the ’70s would have you believe that everyone headed out in leisure suits and gyrated under disco balls.
I’ve never seen “Saturday Night Fever,” but I can tell you I never encountered anything remotely resembling that. Nor did I have the slightest desire to do so. Constant, reluctant exposure to disco music was more than enough of a deterrent.
As a relative novice in musical analysis at the time, I lumped everything that had a semblance of a dance beat into a single category. And so I was unable – or more accurately, unwilling – to differentiate between the genius of mid-’70s Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye and the dance-floor stylings of the Salsoul Orchestra and Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band.
I was savvy enough, though, to enjoy what George Clinton was putting on the charts at the time.
Parliament’s “Mothership Connection” broke Clinton’s eccentricities to the mainstream through the hit single “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker),” featuring the immortal lyrics “We want the funk/Give up the funk/We need the funk/Gotta have that funk.”
Even though I was extremely sensitive about my surname at the time, I often found myself singing along.
“Give Up the Funk” is much more musically complex than the typical disco offering of the time, as are the other six tracks on “Mothership Connection.” Clinton’s key collaborators in the songwriting and instrumental execution include acknowledged masters in the field: Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Michael Brecker and Randy Brecker on horns; William “Bootsy” Collins on bass; and the incomparable Bernie Worrell on keyboards.
Back when juke boxes used to contain 45-rpm records, we used to play both sides of the “Give Up the Funk” single at a pizza place in Harrisburg called Costy’s. (It now is a district judge’s office.) On the flip was an edited version of the album’s opener, “P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up),” which just might serve as Clinton’s signature song if he didn’t produce so many other gems.
The album’s theme seems to draw on speculations by jazz great Sun Ra, that black people came to the earth from another planet, or seek space travel to escape the earth’s inustices.
Whatever the case, the ace musicians and wide array of vocalists carry the listener – and, if you’re so inclined, the dancer – through an album’s worth of captivating jams, from “Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication” to the closing “Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples.”
It certainly is a fun ride, and if you’re curious about the quality side of ’70s dance music, “Mothership Connection” is a choice place to start.
The author and Mrs. Funk dance to “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker),” September 2011