The Class of 1971: Funkadelic — ‘Maggot Brain’
Funkadelic flashed the world in 1970 with two releases: their eponymous debut and Free Your Mind… And Your Ass Will Follow. It mattered not that the world might or might not have been ready for Funkadelic; Funkadelic was ready for the world.
The message in the song “Free Your Mind… And Your Ass Will Follow” was one thing. The spoken intro to the title track from Maggot Brain was another thing altogether:
Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time
For 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.
Come on Maggot Brain
Go on Maggot Brain
Try to imagine hearing that ten-minute song on progressive FM radio during drive time in 1971! It was mind-blowing (shout-out to Chuck Morrell on WKTK in Baltimore!). First and foremost, the album showcased the brilliance of guitarist Eddie Hazel, who would adopt the nickname “Maggot Brain.”
Funkadelic at the time (and not for long):
George Clinton, Raymond Davis, Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon, Grady Thomas, Garry Shider, Hot Buttered Soul (Pat Lewis, Diane Lewis, Rose Williams), vocals; Eddie Hazel, guitar, vocals; Tawl Ross, guitar, vocals; Bernie Worrell, keyboards, vocals; Billy Nelson, bass guitar, vocals; and Tiki Fulwood, drums.
Hazel, Nelson, and Fulwood had become the instrumental backbone of The Parliaments by 1968, so when for contractual reasons that band had to stop recording, Funkadelic filled the void in 1970. We know, of course, that two bands became one, with Parliament the soul outlet and Funkadelic the psychedelic rock outlet, with much crossover and intermixing.
The album was produced by George Clinton with executive producer Armen Boladian. Album supervision was by Bob Scerbo, with co-ordination by Dorothy Schwartz. Cover photography was by Joel Brodsky, inside cover photography by Ron Scribner. The model on front cover was Barbara Cheeseborough; back-cover model not identified!
The title track, “Maggot Brain” [Hazel, Clinton] (10:21), begins with trippy sounds and a heavily reverbed spoke word with the paragraph mentioned above. Clinton had suggested to Hazel that he play as if he’d just heard that his mother was dead. Apocryphal or not, Hazel, certainly evokes that. Ross plays an obstinato background for Hazel’s mind-blowing solo the length of the cut. Hendrix jams aside, there really wasn’t anything else like it.
Acoustic guitar introduces “Can You Get to That” [Clinton, Ernest Harris] (2:50), which features that large chorus of vocalists, especially Hot Buttered Soul. The acoustic guitar and Worrell’s tack piano carry the tune. This was released as a single
“Hit It and Quit It” [Clinton, Nelson] (3:50) is hard-pounding R&B with the Hot Buttered Soul ladies offering great backing vocals. Worrell is out front on organ, and the bass line is fat. Drums are, of course, on the one. Hazel shreds a wicked solo. This too was a single.
“You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks” [Clinton, Fuzzy Haskins, Nelson, Worrell] (3:36) is reminiscent of “I Got a Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody’s Got a Thing.” It’s a heavy R&B track with great call-and-response vocals. Worrell’s gospel-inspired piano is a real treat. This was the first of the three singles issued from the album.
Searing guitar leads to all-out rocker “Super Stupid” [Hazel, Lucious Ross, Nelson, Clinton] (4:01). It might remind of the music Living Color played years later. Hazel soars, with massive rhythm support from Nelson and Fulwood, some great percussion, and Worrell on organ. This is straight-up badass.
“Back in Our Minds” [Haskins] (2:38) is a Fuzzy Haskins composition, a soul/R&B mid-tempo tune with Haskins’ vocals out front.
“Wars of Armageddon” [Fulwood, Ross, Clinton, Worrell] (9:42) opens with percussion, organ, thunder, a baby crying, chunky, funky guitar, sirens, random exclamations, more percussion, excerpts from a speech, Hazel shredding again, and madness. This is some trippy shit unlike anything most of us knew about at the time. The cacophony is cut short by an atomic explosion, thunder, rain, a heartbeat, and a quick music flash.
And they were just getting started. Next up: double-album America Eats Its Young.