Introduction to Parliament

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The architect of Parliament, Funkadelic and P-Funk was George Clinton. He was born on July 22, 1941 in North Carolina but grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey. During his teens Clinton became interested in doo-wop, and so he formed the vocal group The Parliaments which consisted of himself, Ray Davis, Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon and Grady Thomas, with Clinton making himself leader and manager. The group got signed to Revilot Records and eventually netted their first charting single with “(I Wanna) Testify” in 1967.

Capitallizing on the success of the single, Clinton formed a backing band that consisted of guitarist Eddie Hazel, bassist Billy Nelson, rhythm guitarist Tawl Ross, keyboardist Mickey Atkins and drummer Tiki Fulwood.

Eventually, Clinton had a contractual dispute with Revilot, and that led him to form a “new” band named Funkadelic. But in truth Funkadelic also consisted of Parliament members and their backing musicians. Revilot later folded, and the group’s contract was sold to Atlantic Records. But instead of recording for a major label as the Parliaments, Clinton decided to abandon his old band name for the moment. “A New Day Begins” had been one of Parliament’s previously recorded singles and was later released on Atlantic’s Atco subsidiary; it went to #44 on the R&B singles charts in 1969.

The Formation of Parliament from Funkadelic (or Parliament-Funkadelic)

In 1970 Clinton regained his rights to the name Parliament. Now he renamed his entire Funkadelic lineup Parliament, and signed them to Invictus Records. As Parliament, the group released their first album Osmium, that same year and scored their biggest hit yet with “The Breakdown,” which charted at #30 on the R&B singles charts in 1971. However, Clinton decided to drop the Parliament name and continue with Funkadelic, which was doing much better on the charts. Nevertheless, the band continued to be called Parliament-Funkadelic.

The band expanded its lineup with the addition of keyboardist Bernie Worrell, singer/guitarist Garry Shider, and bassist Bootsy Collins, (who was recruited from James Brown’s backing band, the J.B.’s), as well as other musicians and singers who contributed to the Parliament-Funkadelic sound.

Clinton revived the Parliament name in 1974 and presented them as an R&B-based funk group, in comparison to Funkadelic’s guitar-driven sound. The group was signed to Casablanca Records and then released their second album Up For The Down Stroke. The title track became Parliament’s first charting single, barely reaching the R&B top 10. They had also reworked their old 1967 hit “Testify” and released as it a single.

The Masterminds Behind the Music

Parliament was helmed by the visionary George Clinton, whose creative genius steered the band toward its legendary status. However, the band’s success was a collective effort, with several key members contributing to its distinctive sound:

  • George Clinton: The charismatic leader, lead vocalist, and principal songwriter, Clinton’s imaginative concepts and production techniques were crucial to Parliament’s identity.
  • Bootsy Collins: A bass virtuoso known for his star-shaped glasses, Collins’ rubbery bass lines provided the foundation for many of Parliament’s hits.
  • Bernie Worrell: The keyboard maestro, whose innovative use of Moog synthesizers, added a futuristic texture to the band’s sound.
  • Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley: This dynamic horn duo, alumni of James Brown’s band, added a powerful brass section that enriched Parliament’s arrangements.

Top Hits That Defined an Era

Parliament’s discography is a treasure trove of funk classics that have stood the test of time, resonating with audiences across generations. Among their most celebrated tracks are:

  • “Flash Light”: A synthesizer-driven masterpiece that became Parliament’s first number-one hit on the R&B charts, showcasing the genius of Bernie Worrell’s keyboard work.
  • “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)”: An anthemic call to funk that became a defining song of the genre, urging listeners to let loose and dance.
  • “Mothership Connection (Star Child)”: The title track from their groundbreaking album, it introduced the concept of the Mothership and Parliament’s space-funk mythology.
  • “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadooloop)”: A fun, aquatic-themed funk expedition that highlights Parliament’s playful and innovative approach to music.

Fantastic Success and Eventual Internal Strife

George Clinton Nighttown

Chocolate City was Parliament’s third album in 1975, with the title track reaching #24 on R&B singles chart and #94 on the pop singles chart. Clinton and Parliament continued their success with the release of Mothership Connection also in 1975. It became the group’s first platinum album, reaching #13 on the Billboard 200. It also went to #4 on the soul albums chart. The success of the album was helped particularly by the single “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” which reached #15 on the Hot 100 and #5 on the R&B singles chart. Two other singles from the album placed high on the R&B chart as well: “P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)” and “Star Child.” Mothership Connection was one of the peaks of Clinton’s success.

A mere six months after the release of Mothership Connection, Clinton and Parliament released a follow up, The Clones of Doctor Funkenstein. Though it wasn’t as successful as Mothership Connection, The Clones Of Doctor Funkenstein did well enough to earn a gold certification, buoyed by the R&B hit single “Do That Stuff.” Parliament-Funkadelic consolidated their mainstream success with their following albums Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome (1977) and Motor Booty Affair (1978).

Despite the success, the band was encountering internal problems; old members were feeling less important as new members continuously came into the fold. Many of the members were also having disputes with Clinton because of his style of managing the band. By 1977 Parliament-Funkadelic was starting to disintegrate. The discord between Clinton and the members resulted in two less successful LPs, Gloryhallastoopid and Trombipulation.

Escalating internal strife and continuing contractual problems from managing one group with two different names, Clinton dissolved both Parliament and Funkadelic in 1980. However, some members of the group continue to perform as P-Funk All-Stars, and George Clinton also pursued a solo career.

Cultural Impact and Legacy

Parliament’s influence extends far beyond their funky beats and groovy basslines. They were pioneers in creating a unique brand of Afrofuturism, blending science fiction themes with African-American culture, which not only entertained but also empowered black audiences during a tumultuous era in American history. Their elaborate stage shows and alter-egos (like Dr. Funkenstein and Starchild) broke new ground, paving the way for future artists in hip-hop and beyond to explore identity and narrative in their music.

Moreover, Parliament’s sound has been a goldmine for sampling in hip-hop, with artists from Dr. Dre to Kendrick Lamar weaving snippets of their grooves into the fabric of modern music, ensuring that the funk is very much alive and kicking.

In summary, Parliament wasn’t just a band; they were a movement, a cultural phenomenon that transcended music to touch on fashion, identity, and social commentary. Their legacy is a testament to the power of creativity, innovation, and, most importantly, funk. As we look back on their contributions to music and culture, it’s clear that Parliament didn’t just give up the funk; they gifted it to the world, leaving an indelible mark that continues to inspire and entertain.

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