Graded on a Curve: Funkadelic,
Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow

Funkadelic—and Parliament as well, naturally—were America’s go-to bands for psychedelic funk at the dawn of the Seventies; their acid-fried, groove-based jams came complete with fries, shake, and a generous helping of raunchy high humor, and you would practically have to be a member of the KKK to deny them. Theirs wasn’t just the sound of Black Liberation, it was the sound of Human Liberation, because as George Clinton understood only all too well, we all need to free our asses.

If 1970’s Free Your Ass… And Your Mind Will Follow isn’t my favorite Funkadelic album it’s not for lack of good old-fashioned genius. It’s just a mite uneven. Side One’s as great a one-two punch as you’re ever likely to bump your ass against. Side Two, with the notable exception of the brilliant “Funky Dollar Bill,” not so much. That said, this six-song LP—weaker second side and all—still constitutes an essential addition to any sentient life form’s home musical library. Believe me when I say the people on Venus (they prefer to be called people; “alien” is considered a racial slur) will want to purchase this album if they haven’t already. People from Venus are in need of some ass freeing too.

Robert Christgau once said of this baby, “Not only is the shit weird, the weirdness signifies,” and to that I can only add “Amen.” Opener “Free Your Ass and Your Mind Will Follow” is a 10-minute freak-out over which the brilliant Eddie Hazel plays blistering guitar of the sort that will make you forget all about Jimi Hendrix. He’s joined by a madcap chorus of vocalists (I count eight in the band’s lineup) repeating slogans (“Free your mind!”, “The kingdom of heaven is within!”, “Open up your funky mind and you can fly”), uttering paradoxes (“Freedom is free of the need to be free”), and generally getting all hotted up. It also boasts great bass by Billy Nelson and some very fuzzy organ by his magnificentness Bernie Worrell, and may well constitute the coolest dime bag of music you’ll ever snort up your ears.

“Friday Night, August 14th” is a rock solid rock’n’soul rave up complete with more brilliant guitar bedazzle by Hazel—his solo could melt the chrome off a Ford Continental—and oodles of rapturous vocals, and turns into a jam that would be the envy of the Grateful Dead. Drums and bass: astounding. Melody: top-notch. “Funky Dollar Bill” opens like the meanest blues you’ve ever laid ears on before proceeding to funkify its sanctified self; Hazel’s anarchic guitar slash and sizzle plays counterpoint to Worrell’s crazy toy piano sound. The classically trained prodigy’s is the coolest turn on the eighty-eights this side of Mike Garson’s avant spastic meltdown on David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane,” and that’s high praise indeed.

The slowed-down groove that is “I Wanna Know If It’s Good to You” works but doesn’t awe; you can cut the funk with a knife and Hazel once again shines, but the bedazzle on this one won’t blind you despite Worrell’s elegant organ turn. Which is to say it’s the fourth best song on the LP and worlds better than the bluesy “Some More,” which features some twisted Frank Zappa-school distorted vocals, more cool organ by Worrell, and not much more. I like the “heartache in my head” sentiment, and like I say Worrell is all over the place, but I wouldn’t include “Some More” amongst Funkadelic’s best. And I never listen to the spoken-word “funkperiment” “Eulogy and Light,” which funnies up the Sunday church sermon but hardly makes me want to leap out of my pew to cry “Hallelujah!”

P-Funk constituted—along with Sly and the Family Stone—the pinnacle of Seventies funk culture in the face of stiff competition, and George Clinton’s, er, ass-centric worldview made them totally unique. The world would be a much less funky place without them. Funkadelic produced better albums than Free Your Ass… And Your Mind Will Follow, but don’t tell that to the people on Venus. And don’t call them aliens either. They’re a touchy bunch.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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