Funkadelic – America Eats Its Young
Vinyl rip in 24-bit/96kHz | FLAC and mp3 | LP Artwork (sans gatefold)
Funk/Rock| 1972 | Westbound/ 4 Men With Beards ~ 4M179 ~ 2010 180-gram reissue
A1 You Hit The Nail On The Head
A2 If You Don’t Like The Effects, Don’t Produce The Cause
A3 Everybody Is Going To Make It This Time
B1 A Joyful Process
B2 We Hurt Too
B3 Loose Booty
C2 America Eats Its Young
C3 Biological Speculation
C4 That Was My Girl
D2 Miss Lucifer’s Love
D3 Wake Up
Distributed By – Janus Records (original release)
Produced For – Westbound Records (original release)
Recorded At – Manta Sound
RCA Studios, Toronto
Toronto Sound Studios
Artie Fields Studios
Mastercraft Recording Corp.
Pressed By – Mastercraft (original release)
String and horn arrangements – Bernard Worrell (tracks: B1, D2 to D3)
String and pedal steel guitar arrangements – David Van De Pitte (tracks: A2 to A3 , B2, C2 to C3)
Produced, arranged, cover concept by– George Clinton
Vocals arranged by Bernard Worrell
Bass – William Collins, Cordell Mosson, Prakash John
Cello – Peter Schenkman (2), Ronald Laurie
Guitar – Eddie Hazel, Garry Shider, Harold Beane, Phelps Collins
Steel guitar – Ollie Strong
Juice Harps – James Wesley Jackson
Keyboards, Melodica – Bernard Worrell
Percussion – Frank Waddy, Tiki Fulwood, Tyrone Lampkin, Zachary Frazier
Alto Saxophone – Randy Wallace
Tenor Saxophone – Robert McCullough
Trumpet – Al Stanwyck, Arnie Chycoski, Bruce Cassidy, Clayton Gunnells, Ronnie Greenway
Viola – Stanley Solomon, Walter Babiuk
Violin – Albert Pratz, Bill Richards, Joe Sera, Victoria Polley
Vocals – William Collins, Clayton Gunnells, Diane Brooks, Ed Hazel, Frank Waddy, Garry Shider, Harold Beane, Phelps Collins, Prakash John, Randy Wallace, Ronnie Greenway, Steve Kennedy
Vocals [Uncredited] – Calvin Simon, Fuzzy Haskins, George Clinton, Grady Thomas, Ray Davis
Written-By – B. Worrell (tracks: A1, A3 to B1, C2, D3), G. Clinton (tracks: A1 to B3, C1 to D3)
Artwork [Cover] – Paul Weldon
Artwork [Poster] – Cathy Abel
Concept By [Cover] – Ron Scribner
Coordinator [Album] – Mia Krinsky
Engineer – Lee De Carlo
Engineer [Assistant] – Rick Capreol
Supervised By [Producer] – Bob Scerbo
A PARLIAFUNKADELICMENT THANG
Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply; Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed with Click Repair, manually auditioned, and individually with Adobe Audition 3.0; resampled using iZotope RX 2 Advanced SRC and dithered with MBIT+ for 16-bit. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.
America is on a bad trip, y’all. The Empire is crumbling and in flames. And I’d say that’s mostly a good thing. Sure it’s depressing and scary. Don’t worry though, Funkadelic is here to help you pull through another day in the 240-year-old genocidal nightmare of white supremacy and capitalist greed. Just don’t expect to feel much better when the record is done playing, though.
This one probably should have come with a warning label on it in 1972, cautioning listeners to only mix it with mind-expanding substances under supervision of a professional. Sure there were a lot weirder records out there – Funkadelic’s three records prior to this one, in which recording sessions were reputedly fueled by manic acid binges, were more “far out” than most of what graces these grooves. And they were peppered with meditations on death and Armageddon. But this one has always seemed more sinister and strange to me. It was one of the last of their classic early records that I got into, preferring the releases that bookended it (Maggot Brain and Cosmic Slop) instead. Lots of people describe this record as “transitional” and bit all over the place, a reflection of the dissolution of the original band lineup and the presence of over thirty musicians participating on it. But I think there is more than just an aural confusion that makes the album dense and inscrutable at first. It is also ideologically and spiritually incoherent, and in that sense perfectly captures where the band – and, hell, most of the world – was at in 1972. If I take each song individually, this is classic Funkadelic, top notch material with a couple of near-misses, but taken collectively all at once they have me reaching for a Thorazine injection.
Critical reception seems split between people who panned it as being “over-indulgent” (that favorite word that critics use for anything ambitious that they don’t immediately fancy), or those who want to recover it as the groups great neglected “grand statement,” like in this story on the site The Quietus that I think is kind of mediocre but still worth a read for those interested. But whatever your take on it, there is no denying that this was an album of important “firsts,” with the departure of much of the original lineup and the inclusion of new players who would come to be major figures in the P-Funk Empire, most notably Bootsy Collins but also Gary Shider, Catfish Collins, and the funkiest Indian-Canadian around, Prakash John. As usual, George gets (or is it “takes”?) all the credit in that Quietus story, but as this Wax Poetics feature argues persuasively, Bernie Worrell was in many ways the key to P-Funk’s genius, and this is the record where his contributions were really allowed to shine and blossom. He arranged many of the songs, put his classical training to good use in arranging strings and horns, and his keyboard textures point the way forward for the next decade of P-funkateering. A Joyful Process is really a showcase for this. This cut was actually released as a single in a shorter edit (which is included with the Westbound CD version from the 1990s). For me, one of the great things about the great, recently-departed Worrell is that his genius could be a subtle one. On that song, as well as the B-side Loose Booty, attention to tone and rhythm helps his keyboard work to blend in synergistic harmony with the guitar work. You can find this kind of musical camouflage throughout his career all the way to his collaborations with Talking Heads: whenever Worrell was on stage, if you closed your eyes you would probably have trouble figuring out what sounds came from where and who was making them. And the string arrangements on this album are pretty brilliant. They seem so natural that it might it take a few minutes to sink in that “hey, there’s a string section on a Funkadelic album.” That is,if you hadn’t been around at the time reading interviews where George Clinton was citing Sgt. Pepper and Tommy as inspirations for this ambitious double-album. Hearing this eighteen years or so after it was released, the prog-rock allusions were not so pronounced or obvious to me. Likewise it was hard to see how anyone expected this to be “shooting for the mainstream”. Yes the songs are tightly composed, with none of the freeform freakouts found on the last two records, and a few tracks are rather epic in length and have multiple parts. Perhaps George had thoughts of college kids putting this record on after Thick As A Brick left their turntable. But even the sludge-rock crunch of “Balance” is funkier than anything you’ll find on an ELP record, so I prefer to ignore what the critics and maybe even George have to say about what the album was trying to achieve and just listen to what’s here. That, and maybe look at what the band had been doing rather than saying, which is to say sharing bills with other Detroit upstarts like the MC5 and Iggy & the Stooges, with whom they shared a kind of anarchistic, agit-prop aesthetic. Even their ad campaigns for this record were confrontational.
Speaking of sludge, this is the first Funkadelic record where you can clearly hear everything going on in the mix. Clinton once again accepts credit for this, as this was the first album where he was in charge of mixing, and apparently did many remixes until he arrived at the sound he was seeking. But that may be less a function of him being “in control for the first time” as it is a reflection of the haphazard, spontaneous nature of the preceding Funkadelic records. Multiple mix-downs of a record in any genre, especially with this many players on it, is actually the rule rather than the exception, and it would probably be more accurate to say this was the first time they actually started to care how the end result sounded.
There’s some steel guitar on this record from Ollie Strong. It’s not the first time they’ve incorporated the weepy country-and-western instrument – it also appeared on the one-off Invictus record by Parliament, Osmium, on “Little Ole Country Boy” (which you might recognize from a certain ‘Potholes In My Lawn‘ twenty years later). Osmium (aka Rhenium) had some other first-appearances related to this one. “I Call My Baby Pussycat” (here retitled simply ‘Pussy’) was the opening cut on that LP. In its incarnation on America Eats Its Young, the tempo is slowed way down, the lyrics nearly incomprehensible, the vibe lascivious. In a live setting they often combined both approaches, as heard on the archival release “Live at Meadowbrook” that appeared in the mid-90s. Compare and contrast if you like.
Personally, I don’t think the album is quite the magnum opus or Great Statement it strives to be, but it is still a classic, and certainly doesn’t merit the more negative assessments that some short-sighted critics gave it at the time. There is an undercurrent of malaise and unease, no doubt tied to the sociopolitical circumstances of the darkest years of Vietnam, the fracturing of the civil rights and peace movements, and the dissolution of the optimistic utopia found in Sly Stone’s upbeat Family vision as he traded it in for the wonderfully paranoid claustrophobia of There’s A Riot Going On. Oh and there is the matter of the band’s own heroin consumption at the time. One has visions of them snorting lines of smack off the mixing console during this record. But at least some of the malaise comes from its flirtation with the Left Hand Path. For years I ignored the spaced-out diatribes in the liner notes attributed to The Process Church of the Final Judgement on this album and Maggot Brain — I had assumed it was a fictional thing in the P-Funk universe, named after a hairstyle. But it was in fact a real organization (which may well have had an influence on that other Family, the one presided over by a certain Charlie Manson), so you also get this pseudo-occult, chic satanism bubbling up between the grooves that contributes to the hazy incoherence of it all. Now, I’m actually an aficionado of any music tied to weirdo cults from the 60s and 70s, whether its Tim Maia’s Racional period, Father Yod’s commune, Incredible String Band’s cryptic Scientology paeans, your run-of-the-mill Hare Krishna or TM-influenced artists, or musical invocations of that wickedly bald mountain-climber Aleister Crowley. (Edit: I forgot to add Prince’s “Rainbow Children” record to this list, which I shamefully just kind of listened to once when it came out and didn’t pay much attention to… it’s a solid and ambitious effort, albeit uneven). I’m certainly not bothered on religious grounds by these kind of antics. But there is something just icky about Funkadelic’s relationship to the Process Church and I’m relieved they didn’t continue down that road. In any case, that entity has swapped out its bodily vessel and now exists as an animal shelter in Utah.
Even the exhilarating, upbeat stuff here is not what it seems. I remember the first time I heard “Loose Booty” and assumed it was a song about shaking your ass on the dance floor, only to be slightly disturbed when I began to pay attention to the lyrics, eventually learning that it was slang for a junkie, a reference to their occasional inability to control their own bowel movements (loose butt!). And yet there are also songs of delicate beauty here, like the lovely “Everyone Is Going To Make It This Time.” The ballad “We Hurt Too” is a throw-back to the groups’ roots in doo-wop. It doesn’t quite work, but it works better than throw-away “That Was My Girl,” which is some sort of convoluted parody of The Temptations or Motown or love songs or something. Bootsy’s one songwriting contribution, on which he also sings lead, is a 60’s-style soul rave-up, and surprisingly unfunky. America Eats Its Young may be an ambitious Concept Album but it seems kind of rudderless and bereft of a clearly-articulated Concept – in short, a perfect representation of their spiritual and musical transmogrification in ’72. I for one am glad that it doesn’t have an explicit narrative like The Who’s Tommy or an Alan Parsons Project record, because it lets the album age a little differently and survive like a kind of musical Rorschach ink blot. One thing I think the Quietus piece gets right is that this record does sort of set a template for how Clinton & Co. would approach making records for the rest of their run. There is usually an over-arching Big Concept, increasingly populated with figures and icons of their own mythological universe. But unlike the majority of high-concept albums, it isn’t really necessary to fully immerse oneself or even pay much attention to any of those embellishments to fully enjoy the great music they contain. And there is a lot here to enjoy.