Funkadelic – Maggot Brain

by Jon Burke Rating:10 Release Date:1971-07-12

Pontificating about funk music is an exercise in futility. Funk is the music of The People and everyone is welcome, hang-ups, social barriers and prejudices be damned. All you need is a head to nod, a toe to tap or an ass to shake. Good funk is felt in the spine, behind the eyes and under the skin and there’s no need to speak because the music itself becomes a universal interlocutor. It’s the rare musical form for which listeners connect with the music by giving themselves over to it completely. Ask not what The Funk can do for your ass, ask instead what your ass can do for The Funk. This isn’t to say funk is mindless but rather it’s the work of all minds or of a universal mind. Funk is somehow primal and futuristic, simultaneously... and this is why it’s so silly to write about funk because one ends up sounding like Matthew Mcconaughey on a bad acid trip–decidedly shallow, ultimately meaningless and tragically square. With that said, what follows is an attempt to review Funkadelic’s glorious masterwork, Maggot Brain. All apologies to George Clinton and the ghosts of Eddie Hazel, and Bernie Worrell, whose hard work and dedication to humanity deserves better than whatever platitudinous nonsense follows:

Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain was released in July of 1971. For a bit of perspective, Carole King and James Taylor dominated the pop charts for most of the month. While the Isleys, Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes all charted in July of 1971, they were nowhere near the top. The funkiest thing to be found on the high end of the charts that month was probably the Bee Gee’s “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.” Thus it’s probably forgivable for the general public to have ignored Maggot Brain upon release, it was just too much. Too much funk, too much rock, too much blues and too much soul. Maggot Brain was also unapologetically original–name another album that opens with an increasingly calescent guitar solo which, over the course of its ten minute runtime, grows into a cascading shower of sparks so white hot as to challenge even Hendrix’s guitar-god supremacy… And that’s just the title track.

As if to remind listeners of their “free your mind and your ass will follow” motto, Funkadelic follows the introspective, smoked-out grind of Eddie Hazel’s “Maggot Brain” with the massive, laid back groove of “Can You Get To That.” The uninitiated might recognize this as the glorious looped sample deployed on Sleigh Bells’ hit “Rill Rill.” A chorus of voices proclaim: “I once had a life/ Or rather, life had me/ I was one among many/ Or at least I seemed to be…” The song, focusing on a kind of emotional karma, is about balance – a key theme for bandleader George Clinton. It also harkens back to Clinton’s days in doo-wop as, during the chorus, a wall of female voices ask: “can you get to that?” in response to a deep baritone male voice harmonizing “I want to know.” It’s all so funky you could stir it with a wooden spoon. 

Maggot Brain’s third track, “Hit It and Quit It” is a deceptively smooth soul track featuring a wall of gospel organ played by none other than funk legend Bernie Worrell. “Hit It and Quit It” immediately jumps-off with an infectious groove and repetitive chorus of “You’ve got to hit it/ Hit it and quit it!” The most glorious element of “Hit It and Quit It” though is the easy to miss but impossible to forget rhythm by Tiki Fulwood. Yet another perfect track on a near-perfect record.

If track four of Maggot Brain is memorable for anything it’s the wall of bass laid down by Billy Nelson. Heard on the right set of speakers, in the backseat of the right kind of car, “You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks,” will cause the listener’s lungs to rattle in his or her chest. It’s as sticky a track as “Can You Get to That” but thicker, like trying to pour maple syrup on a cold winter morning. If you can wait, and have some patience the reward is so sweet.

Next up, “Super Stupid,” is a mountainous rocker of a guitar jam, reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s work with Band of Gypsys but more fun. It’s a reminder that Maggot Brain is truly Eddie Hazel’s album. “Back In Our Minds” is the album’s weakest track, seemingly designed for the stoned listeners to marvel at the weird triangle effects and trippy lyrics about losing and finding one’s mind. It’s not at all serious and seems designed not to be taken seriously.

Maggot Brain’s closer, “Wars of Armageddon” is another ten minute showcase. This time, instead of focusing on Hazel, all of Funkadelic is allowed to shine on a song long enough for everyone to get a solo. While everyone is playing in top form and beyond technically competent, “Wars of Armageddon” is also incredibly self-indulgent. As if to affirm the self-indulgence, there’s even a very distinctive run of fart sounds starting at about 7:30. Ultimately though the most memorable element of the song are the bizarre, repetitive lyrics:

“More power to the people/ More power to the people/ More pussy to the power/ More pussy to the people/ More power to the pussy/ More pussy to the power/ Power to the pussy!”

As stated above, Maggot Brain is not a perfect record. It’s got a couple clunkers but even at their worst, Funkadelic are the most talented group of juvenile pranksters ever put on wax. If you’ve never heard this record, you need to remedy that immediately. Maggot Brain is an incomparable musical experience that transcends all the walls we throw-up to protect ourselves from what scares us. Just relax, press play and let Funkadelic do the work, you will be better for it.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars