Class of 1970: ‘Free Your Mind… And Your Ass Will Follow’ — Funkadelic

Fall of 1970. A fraternity brother handed me an album and said simply YOU NEED TO LISTEN TO THIS. He was right. He had handed me Funkadelic’s second album of the year, Free Your Mind… And Your Ass Will Follow. And devoted George Clinton fans know what follows:

THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS WITHIN

Correct on all counts. George Clinton had been at the business of making music since the late ’50s. He made his first minor splash with “(I Wanna) Testify” by The Parliaments in 1967. Then all was quiet on the western front until 1970 when the first Parliament album Osmium, came out, as did the eponymous debut album from Funkadelic. This was the first time an album said Produced by George Clinton, calling it “A Parliafunkadelicment Thang.” The album, on Westbound out of Detroit, was best know for “I Got a Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody’s Got a Thing” and our introduction to Ed Hazel, the spectacular guitarist who helped answer the question posed by another song on the album, “Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic?”

Free Your Mind… was issued July 20, 1970, and immediately it was apparent that the band had upped the ante. Whereas Parliament would go the horn-driven soul band route — cosmically, of course, Funkadelic would pose the question which would later crop up on One Nation Under a Groove: “Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?!”

If you’re looking to lay blame, look at Jimi Hendrix and at The Chambers Brothers, whose anthem “Time Has Come Today” changed everything we thought about soul and R&B bands. Clinton took the ball and ran. Dean Rudland noted in the reissue liner notes that “the inspiration for this album was, according to Clinton, an attempt to “see if we can cut a whole album while we’re all tripping on acid.” (Thanks, Wikipedia!) You might come to that same conclusion yourself.

Funkadelic at the time were: George Clinton, lead vocals; Ray Davis, vocals; Fuzzy Haskins, vocals; Calvin Samuels, vocals; Grady Thomas, vocals; Eddie Hazel, guitar, vocals; Tawl Ross, guitar, vocals; Bernie Worrell, Hammond B3 organ, Vox organ, piano; Billy Nelson, bass, vocals; and Tiki Fulwood, drums. Hazel, Ross, Nelson, and Fulwood all played on the debut album.

A word about the cover, which has been altered over the years. The original cover is the feature image above with the woman facing down (and reaching up) on the front and the picture of the band on the back. Inside the gatefold, the bottom half of the woman is on the left, with the credits on the right.

 

Free Your Mind… And Your Ass Will Follow

The title track is a ten-minute psychedelic trip, beginning with some very spacey sounds and then Hazel’s guitar begins to take shape. Clinton’s voice appears as if it were the huge head projection in The Wizard of Oz, speaking “Free your mind… and your ass will follow.” Voices pop in and out; that works when there are eight singers on the recording! As the drums, bass and organ kick in, the trippy funk descends. Hazel’s guitar starts to bounce back and forth between the channels, and Worrell’s distorted organ extends the manic effect. There is even a false ending.

“Friday Night, August 14th” is more trippy R&B, with Hazel and Nelson trading lead vocals. The female voices here are the ladies of Dawn (the group that also featured Tony Orlando): Telma Houston and Joyce Vincent. Hazel steps out even more. Nelson on bass is inventive throughout the recording.

In case there was any doubt about the direction Clinton would head with this project, “Funky Dollar Bill” makes it abundantly clear:

Funky dollar bill
U.S. dollar bill
Funky dollar bill
U.S. dollar bill

You go to school
To learn the rules
On how to love and life your life
But think about it twiceThe pusher push, the fixer fix
The judge acquits
The junkie leads his life
For the dollar bill

[chorus]

You don’t buy a life, you live a life
A father learns much too late
He was a-never home
He worked two jobs, never stayed at home
He had to, ’cause
His love life was gone

[chorus]

It’ll buy a war
It will save a land
It pollutes this air
In the name of wealth
It’ll buy you life
But not true life
The kind of life
Where the soul is hard
My name is dollar Bill

[chorus]

The guitar intro is pure bluesy rock and roll before it gets to the head, with jazzy ragtime piano in the background. Ross handles the vocals, and Hazel abuses his wah-wah pedal.

“I Wanna Know If It’s Good to You?” is more acid-tinged music, Hazel and Nelson on lead vocals with plenty of chorus help. More than any other track on the album, this is the one where you can hear Hazel heading toward “Maggot Brain,” the iconic title track of the group’s next album, in 1971. He deserves far more praise. The studio effects heighten the sounds of Worrell’s electric piano and then jazzy organ.

Funky soul blues launches “Some More,” with Clinton’s thoroughly distorted vocals joined by Hazel’s. This would be the first of many warped, slowed-down, and speeded-up vocals to appear on future Clinton albums. Blues guitar and organ are propped up by Fulwood’s excellent time-keeping.

As an appropriate epilogue, Clinton delivers the first of his soliloquies in “Eulogy and Light.” Backward vocals (that’s Hazel) and forward vocals swirl around as he continues his sermon, while Worrell’s warped organ sounds wash over the track.

Our father
Which art on Wall Street
Honored be thy buck
Thy kingdom came
This be thy year
From sea to shining sea

Thou givest me false pride
Funked down by the riverside
From every head and ass
May dollars flow
Give us this pay
Our daily bread
Forgive us our goofs
As we rob from each other

He maketh me to sell dope to small children
For thou art evil
And we adore thee
Thy destruction and thy power
They comfort me
My Cadillac and my pinky ring
They restoreth me in thee
Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of poverty
I must feel their envy
For I am loaded, high and all those other goodies
That go along with the good god big buck

To young whores
In muck grows there
Ahead in time
The unexpected soul-searching beam of the strobe
But now, the stairway looms
And as I rise
The cries of kittens, gray, make way
For there, now near
Here now, gone, alone
I feel my wrist, it flicks the switch
No lights reveal the room or me
She sees, then panics, grabs a light
I scream, silent comforts that are not heard
I panic, for I have not said a word
Hysteria hold the room in sway
I run, I back away, to hide

From what?
From fear?
The truth, the light?
Is truth the light?

“Fish, Chips and Sweat” is one of four bonus tracks not on the original vinyl (there is also a radio advertisement plus two shortened versions of “I Wanna Know If It’s Good to You?”). Haskins sings vocals; this track is, by comparison, relatively normal. The only really outstanding party is Worrell’s organ. Liner notes from the reissue indicate that Martha Reeves was involved, but no track information is indicated.

 

The Kingdom of heaven is within, and you know how to reach it!

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