By 1975, Parliament had established themselves as one of the pre-eminent bands in the pantheon of African-American music. Guided by the mad genius of George Clinton, and building upon the funk foundation of James Brown and a hippie ethos inherited from Sly And The Family Stone, Parliament transformed from a doo-wop quintet from Plainfield, New Jersey, into a psychedelic funk-rock collective who broke all the rules with reckless abandon. They were essentially one band with two personalities: Funkadelic, the psychedelic, eclectic voodoo-rock outfit; and Parliament, the extraterrestrial explorers, mining the outer limits for uncut funk. With the release of Mothership Connection, on December 15, 1975, the latter unleashed a momentous album that changed the very nature of popular music.
‘We put black people in situations nobody thought they would be in’
Mothership Connection is a full-on assault by a group at their creative zenith. Widely regarded as the crown jewel in Parliament’s discography, it was the first in a long line of concept albums to explore the P-Funk universe. Combining science-fiction and Afrofuturism, Parliament created their own mythology, introducing a roster of fictitious characters and themes that would remain central to George Clinton’s work for years to come.
In an interview with Cleveland Scene, George Clinton revealed the inspiration for the album: “We had put black people in situations nobody ever thought they would be in, like the White House. I figured another place you wouldn’t think black people would be was in outer space. I was a big fan of Star Trek, so we did a thing with a pimp sitting in a spaceship shaped like a Cadillac, and we did all these James Brown-type grooves, but with street talk and ghetto slang.”
While Clinton is the undisputed star of the show, his ability to assemble some of the best musicians on the planet and give them free rein to explore their musicianship has always been a P-Funk hallmark, and that practice can be heard throughout Mothership Connection.
A musical mission
An ensemble of legendary musicians such as William “Bootsy” Collins, Bernie Worrell, Glen Goins, Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Michael Hampton, Joe Farrell, The Brecker Brothers, and a host of others, Parliament cast themselves as superheroes on the musical landscape, with the singular mission to “save a dying world from its funkless hell.” As the first beat kicks in, Mothership Connection sees them firing on all cylinders.
From its track sequencing to the audio engineering and album artwork, the album is flawless. On opener “P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up),” Parliament takes over the airwaves, laying down the gauntlet to any other band who dared challenge them as the supreme interpreters of funk. The groove-heavy jam “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” introduces the world to one of Clinton’s most famous alter egos; interpolating the lyrics of the spiritual “Swing Down Sweet Chariot,” Parliament creates a theme song that signals the arrival of Star Child.
Uncut funk – the bomb
On the booming “Unfunky UFO” and the laidback rhythms of “Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication,” Parliament brilliantly fuse elements of soul, R&B, jazz, funk, and rock while mixing in doo-wop and gospel harmonies that set them apart from other bands of the era. Meanwhile, “Handcuffs,” featuring the sanctified vocals of Glen Goins, shifts gears for a sexy slow jam.
Rounding the album out, “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” is one of the quintessential funk songs of all time, and arguably Parliament’s signature track. The highest-charting single from Mothership Connection, it peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart and No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart, becoming the group’s first certified million-seller. It sets the scene for the closing “Night Of The Thumpasorus Peoples,” which is, simply put, pure funk ecstasy
In the P-Funk galaxy, Mothership Connection is the band’s brightest star. Recognizing its brilliance, the Library Of Congress added the album to the National Recording Registry in 2011, noting, “The album has had an enormous influence on jazz, rock and dance music.” Additionally, it was listed as one of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time by Rolling Stone.
With the exception of James Brown, George Clinton and Parliament are the most sampled artists in music history. Their funk DNA is evident in their musical offspring: a dynasty that includes The Gap Band, Cameo, Prince, OutKast, CeeLo Green, Bruno Mars, and a host of others. Mothership Connection laid the template for Dr. Dre’s seminal debut album, The Chronic, and the P-Funk sound is one of the cornerstones of West Coast hip-hop, influencing the likes of Ice Cube, Digital Underground, Snoop Dogg, and Kendrick Lamar.
Mothership Connection is a masterpiece – the definitive funk album that still defines the genre over 40 years since its release.