Good evening, do not attempt to adjust your radio, there is nothing wrong, we have taken control as to bring you this special show, we will return it to you as soon as you are grooving. Welcome to station W.E. F.U.N.K., better known as We-Funk, or deeper still, the Mothership Connection, home of the extraterrestrial brothers, dealers of funky music. P.Funk, uncut funk, the bomb.
Coming you directly from the Mothership, top of the chocolate milky way. 500,000 kilowatts of P.Funk power, so kick back, ya’dig, while we do it to you in your eardrums. Who me, I’m known as Lollipop Man, alias The Long Haired Sucker, my motto is…
At the age of 5, I had heard something I had never heard before. My young life existed by listening to records on the radio but this was the very first time I had ever heard the radio on a record. As someone who fell in love with the means of communication through on-air announcer and listener, my first job was not wanting to be a police officer, astronaut, or a fireman. I wanted to be a disc jockey, the idea of playing music for anyone willing to listen was the ultimate goal, so to hear these peculiar aliens broadcasting from an unknown radio station felt like I was entering a secret club house. At 5 years old, I may not have known the reality of this club but I certainly wanted to live there forever.
From the moment I heard these fictitious radio DJ’s in “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)”, I couldn’t stop listening. I had never heard a radio show recreated in song, and this voice speaking from the unknown was a place I wanted to visit, it sounded like someone I could trust. There were three characters in the song: the unknown mellow man, the high-speed voice known as Lollipop Man (a/k/a The Long Haired Sucker), and the laid back man who dominates the song talking about doing it to you in your earhole and discovering people in the southern part of the United States lived bands like the Doobie Brothers, Blue Magic, and David Bowie. Being a kid, I could only understand what I had known so when he said ” but can you imagine Doobie in your funk?”, I knew what he was hinting at. My dad smoked, so when I heard him talking about a doobie, it wasn’t something from one of my dad’s Cheech & Chong records. Someone else talked about marijuana cigarettes, the world I experienced was not exclusive. Outside of hearing about Lollipop Man, “P. Funk” introduces another character to the Parliament empire, someone named Starchild, and we were tuned to stick around and “tune in”, to wait and see what this Starchild was about.
One thing I would realize later was that the first two songs on the album are not really proper songs, neither of them are verse/chorus/verse or even casually traditional. They were a bit like being in a car, finding a radio station that had music you liked and just kept it there for the duration, taking in whatever the DJ talked about to absorb the community he was speaking to. What made the song interest were the other references such as mentioning the Bermuda Triangle and Easter Island, along with the biblical reference “when Gabriel’s horn blows, you’d better be ready to go.” These were new things to me and again, not knowing what he was saying made the world described much more interesting, a need to figure out if he was speaking in code or would I eventually learn about why he talked about these things.
When I’d get deeper into the music of Parliament and Funkadelic, that’s when I learned about the social and political side of Clinton, someone who was more than willing to speak about how he and others lived or finding a way to simply live a regular life that isn’t available to everyone on Earth. Clinton and the other members were often direct and to the point but they made it fun by throwing in slang and odd references that would make listeners go “oh, so THAT is what he’s singing about?” As the song ends with a nod to a well known gospel song, it slowly became clear what this Mothership was about and why it was called the Mothership. It was a vehicle where people from the motherland are able to ride together as one, without fear or harm, where everyone is able to find out how they are connected as a united force, whatever that force may be. “Swing down, sweet chariot stop and let me ride” was merging the hymns and metaphors of the past and bringing it to modern times in the hopes of celebrating a much better future. By asking if they could “let me ride”, it was a nice way of saying “please, I am a good person, welcome me in”. He knew if this mothership is as good natured as he had heard, he will find others within the community who is just like him. It’s a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood that many of us look to finding throughout our lives, but the idea is to keep that vibe intact.
Unfunky kind of UFO
here from the sun
you’ve got the groove and we want some
We’re unfunky and we’re obsolete
and we’re out of time
gonna take your funk and make it mine
Why is Clinton and friends saying he’s obsolete and out of time? If Starchild is a man traveling from the future in a Doctor Who fashion, perhaps he wants to tell everyone that they have to unite for a better cause, whatever the cause may be. Some of the cause is explained in the verse, sung by Bootsy Collins and Glen Coins:
Stupidly, I forced a smile
my composure was secure
I wore a silly grin from ear to ear
a smile they saw right through
Oh, but then like a streak of lightning it came
Filling my brain with this pain
Without saying a word, this voice I heard
“Give up the funk, you punk”
The song sounds like a track to dance and get down to but the lyrics show there is a much more serious manner at stake. Combined with the horn arrangement, it could be a spirited song, which it is, but there’s much more going on than wondering why this UFO is unfunky. Or is it that the inhabitants of this unfunky UFO are looking for a means to steal the funk from a land where its riches are fully known?
Give the people what they want when they want
and they wants it all the time
give the people what they need when they need
and the need is yours and mine
When you hear the singers say “throw-down, baby do the throw-down”, it seems they are seeking and finding what they want in order to feel that goodness throughout the existence. It’s something worth fighting for.
If I have to keep you barefoot and pregnant
to keep you here in my world
get down and take off your shoes
girl, I’m gonna do to you
what it is I’ve got to do
If we’ve been bonding like you say that we do
I think you won’t mind if I’d be possessive, now would you?
your preach about loving, you know it is to blame
that’s why I can ask you and not even feel ashamed
One day before the 40th anniversary of the album, there has been one lyric that has bugged me for most of my life. Since he is on Twitter, I decided to ask George Clinton what he was singing, since it is he who is on vocals. I always wanted to know what exactly “can go to hell”, for it was unintelligible to my ears. A few hours later, Clinton was nice enough to solve my mystery:
I don’t care about looking like a chauvinistic kinda whatever
aw, corny can go to hell
and if I find that I need some help
gonna pull out my chastity belt
what it is, I’ve got to do
In the song, the song is much stronger than originally realized, the battle of the sexes explored. As the song began to be understood a bit more, it got more soulful and funkier and showed that the perceived space travels of the front cover was more earthbound.
On a side note, I remember reading something somewhere that while there were a full cast of musicians on the back cover, Collins was involved into the music more than we realized, including drums and guitar work in some songs. He’s credited with everytong on the cover but in a way, despite having a cast of over 20 people on the album, it could have easily be done by a small group of six or seven. Collins will forever be known as an important bass guitarist but his time in the recording studio was much more than just limiting himself to the four string. (NOTE: Collins didn’t play bass in “Give Up The Funk”, that song was done with Cordell Mosson.)
Plus, the lyrics mean nothing and yet it does:
ga ga goo ga
ga ga goo ga
ga ga, goo, ga ga
Who were these thumpasorus people and do they have other lifeforms in their habitat? Ga ga goo ga, ga ga goo ga, ga ga goo ga gaow, you know?
In truth, the universal travels are something that, for now, can only be dreamed of and we can only think about the possibilities if we better our universe within our immediate vicinity, the connection we must seek in order for any of us to function as one, if at all possible. Perhaps in the distant future, our ancestors will be able to meet up with Sun Ra to understand why space is truly the place, a dimension where there is no limit. For now, we have to find solace in our dreams and wonder why reality can’t be as grand as the man on the cover with a shiteating grin and knee high boots.
Two other songs from the album were also released as singles: “P. Funk” and “Mothership Connection”, both being edits with the latter being titled “Star Child”. Both did not do well on the pop charts, which is why you generally hear “Give Up The Funk” on oldies radio station more than any other Parliament song. Nonetheless, the influence of Mothership Connection and the entire P.Funk empire on hip-hop continues to grow, with fans realizing that the games and puzzles Clinton and friends introduced in song were commonly enjoyed, celebrated, and deciphered. While Parliament had existed with three albums before this, it was with Mothership Connection that started what is called the P.Funk mythology, introducing different characters that would be explored in musical adventures for the next five years. For many of us, P.Funk was the ultimate comic book fantasy and we got a chance to see and hear it, even if only in musical form. With this album, we were somehow connected as one, hoping to find access to the mothership upon its inevitable arrival.