Living To Music – Parliament ‘Mothership Connection’




YEAR: 1975

This Sunday (July 1st) at 9pm, you’re invited to share a listening session with some likeminded souls, wherever you might be. This can be experienced either alone or communally, and you don’t need to leave the comfort of your own home to participate. Full lowdown here:

I bought my first Parliament record, a 7” import copy of ‘P Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)’, at a record shop called Rox, which was in Birkenhead, a short bus journey from where I lived in New Brighton. It was March 1976 and I’d just turned 16 – I’d started my first club residency at the Chelsea Reach the previous December, where I played every Saturday, and was now also working at the nearby Penny Farthing for a full-on 5 nights per week. It was at the Penny that I’d started my first Funk night, every Monday.

I remember Rox having a copy of Les Spaine’s current playlist, from his influential nights at The Timepiece in Liverpool, on their wall. Les, along with Radio Merseyside Soul presenter Terry Lennaine, would be a big influence on my early DJ career. The previous month I’d bought my first import from there, a copy of Brass Construction’s first album, which I’d seen on Les’s playlist. This had whetted my appetite for supplementing the UK releases I was playing with upfront US vinyl, although I had to watch the pennies, my £6 a night wage only stretching so far. As I mentioned in the text to the March ’76 edition of my Time Capsule series:

‘Because of the cost, buying imports at this stage wasn’t really a habit I could afford to get into, so it would only be something I’d do every now and then (during 1982 and ’83, my final years as a DJ, I’d rarely play anything but imports). Rox only stocked the odd import anyhow, so my choice was limited. It wasn’t as though I was appearing at upfront nights, where being at the cutting-edge of things was essential; it was purely a personal indulgence, due to my love of black music.

The ‘P Funk’ 7″ was my introduction to George Clinton and co. I was instantly hooked and couldn’t leave the shop without a copy. It would eventually be issued in the UK some months later back-to-back with a track that would go absolutely huge on the dancefloor (without ever crossing over to the charts here), ‘Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk)’.

‘P Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)’ blew my head off! It’s addictively lazy deep downbeat groove, topped with deliciously spaced out word imagery, delivered in proto-Rap style, was like nothing I’d ever heard before. This was Funk, but not as we knew it – as the lyric described it; ‘P Funk, Uncut Funk, The Bomb’.

The Parliament-Funkadelic crew (Funkadelic made up of pretty much the same members), whose iconic status as the greatest Funk collective ever assembled is forever assured, included a number of musicians who’d previously been part of James Brown’s band, The J.B’s – William ‘Bootsy’ Collins, arguably the greatest bassist of the era, his brother Phelps ‘Catfish’ Collins (rhythm guitar), trombonist Fred Wesley and saxophonist Maceo Parker (of Maceo & The Macs ‘Across The Tracks’ fame). These musicians, along with people like Bernie Worrell (keyboards), and guitarists Garry Shider and Glen Goins, were the lifeblood of P Funk, but it was ‘Dr Funkenstein’ himself, George Clinton, whose unique creative vision gave birth to this goldmine of black psychedelia.

Having bought ‘P Funk’, I grabbed a copy of the follow-up single ‘Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk)’, which came into Rox on import just a couple of months later, in May ’76. This would provide Parliament with their first US hit, reaching #15 on the Billboard Hot 100, and, along with ‘Flash Light’ (1978) and Funkadelic’s ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ (also ’78) would provide P Funk with its biggest club tracks.

These outstanding singles were both taken from ‘Mothership Connection’, and I picked up my copy in June ‘76, when it was released in the UK. As with the 45s, I absolutely loved the LP, not least because both ‘P Funk’ and ‘Tear The Roof Off The Sucker’ appeared in their full-length glory. This was beyond the cutting-edge, it was right off the radar – future Funk right here and now. It’s no wonder that, later down the line, Parliament-Funkadelic would, with the exception of James Brown, become Hip Hop’s greatest sample source.

Although there’s an overall comic book quality to ‘Mothership Connection’, it’s hip from the street words, sounds and rhythms vivid with colour, there’s also an underlying depth, and very much method and message amidst its playful exterior madness. It’s worth noting the connection between slave ship and spaceship, which comes to the fore on the title track, where the Negro-Spiritual, ‘Swing Down Chariot’, is potently evoked.

Having mentioned Parliament in my recent post Detroit Hustles Harder, Detroit being P Funk’s city of origin, and also with regards to last month’s Living To Music selection, Talking Heads ‘Stop Making Sense’, which featured Bernie Worrell (along with Bride Of Funkenstein, Lynn Mabry), I thought it’d be a good time to re-visit this groundbreaking album, which took black music beyond the stratosphere and firmly into outer space.

Your own thoughts are always welcomed, and, should you join us for Sunday’s session, it’d be great if you could leave a comment here after you’ve listened to the album sharing your impressions – how the music affected you, who you listened to it with, where you were, plus anything else relevant to your own individual / collective experience.

Mothership Connection Wikipedia:

Living To Music Events Page:

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

14 Responses to Living To Music – Parliament ‘Mothership Connection’

  1. Nadia July 2, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

    I first heard Parliament being played by my eldest cousin Stephanie. She was six years older than me and was going out to clubs in Manchester. I remember names like Pips and Fagins..(you’ll correct me if I’m wrong)….. I remember platforms and flares and tank tops and feathered hair and irridescent eyeshadow and something else….something in the air…apart from the hairspray and the perfume. Listening to this I remember what it was…..it was hormones. I didn’t understand …both the music and well…the sex. Well, I was only eleven and i was still living in the dreamworld of northern soul…I knew where I was in that music, where to clap, where to spin. I did wonder about the places Stephanie went though…wondered if I would ever be able to go there too. Listening again I still feel like there is a secret somewhere in the groove of that music…a secret I still think other people must have……I still wonder though x x

  2. Adrian Luvdup July 2, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

    Utterly brilliant. I love this album and think it is easily one of the most accessible to the casual or first time listener of the Parliament/Funkadelic back catalogue.
    So many brilliant tunes on here, not just the well-know classics like “P Funk” and “Give Up The Funk” but just about every track is a funky as Hell.
    Only got a re-issue of this on vinyl a few weeks ago and it was only the second time yesterday that I’ve listened to it non-stop in full.
    I even love the absurdity of the cover, front and back, with George in full Cosmic Space Brother get-up emerging from the flying saucer that won’t give Spielberg’s special FX guys any sleepless nights.
    Utterly funky but utterly accessible compared to other Parliament/Funkadelic classic albums like “Free Your Mind…” and “Maggot Brain” (great though they are) – this is my fave and I really enjoyed listening to it in it’s entirety (and LOUD) last night.

  3. Paul Wright July 3, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

    This was the first time listening to this album, what an incredible funky ensemble!

    The album launches with a superb intro and very quicky had me grinning. Great sax solo, piano, trumpet, sweet guitar and vocal harmonies.

    ‘Star child, citizens of the universe, recording angels; we have returned to reclaim the pyramids’ Brilliant! Very nice vocal harmonies, some of the third person vocal about the track really adds another layer to this.

    Unfunky UFO- Mad guitar and synth interplay at the intro, the track feels a bit rocky, some mad scaling bits. At times this album feels quite powerful and spontaneous almost akin to a live session.

    Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication- Ace percussive Funk, some of the guitar work sounds a bit like Pekka Pohjola, fantastic funky synth and cool percussive sounds. Time is being slowed down with the bells and tick tock percussion, entering another space and time….

    Handcuff- great soulful vocal and outstanding bass action.

    Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)- Loved this track all elements combined so well, guitar sections reminded me of Chic Cheer

    Night Of The Thumpasorus Peoples- Had me improvising my own vocal as it began, more superb bass, really enjoyed the guitar harmonies and effects. Gagga goo gar, gagga goo gar, gagga goo gar gar….mad!

    Overall fabulous album, really loved the musicianship, had me smiling through much of this 🙂 Gonna have to blast off again to get a full decipher of the messages…..

    All The Best

  4. minibreakfast July 4, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    My first time with this album too. Really enjoyed it and “David Booey” made me laugh!

  5. phil hongkins July 4, 2012 at 11:38 am #

    A samplers paradise !!!! hip hop owes nuff to theses boys n the godfather of soul of course JB… when this came out i was still knee deep into the northern soul scene , but as i was hearing about a shitty little club across wigan called pemps . it would be another 2 yrs before i left the casino way of life n began my new life in pemps . new clothes , new dancing styles (sweating was frowned on ) new music n that was the one for me !!! not only were parliament livin large but brass construction, slave , this was in ur face full on funk . n pemps was the place to be , the music was incredible really upfront n i enjoyed many many nights funkin my ass off . mad i was only 25miles away from greg n wot he was dooing . NUFF respect to the funk pioneers who made the end of the 70s such a funky funky time . OUTSTANDING ALBUM….mothership out …

  6. BrianE July 4, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    A pleasure to listen to. What a great line-up: Maceo Parker and Bootsy from James Brown. The Brecker brothers, Michael (Sax) and Randy (Trumpet) who did so much in the Jazz Fusion world. Bootsy is credited on drums and guitar as well as his fantastic bass playing. Great Grooves throughout. Although totally different musically Clinton must have been influenced in his ‘Mothership’ idea by Sun Ra and his Arkestra!

  7. Gavin July 4, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    I’d heard several songs from this album in different contexts over the years but Sunday was my first time listening to the set as a whole. Mind blowing! One of my favourite LTMs so far, a real black psychedelic excursion!

    Brian – I’m feeling the Sun Ra connection too!

  8. cez July 5, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    knew the music soon as i began to listen, but mainly from samples .
    it took me back to the 90’s where i could not stop bouncing my head to rap, i even had my baby girl with me on it at the age of 2 onwards… n my world you don’t get funkier than this.

  9. phillipa sillitoe July 5, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Boss Album…just wanted to dance all the way through..thanks Greg…xxx

  10. Lee Perry July 16, 2012 at 7:38 am #

    What an album!!!!

    As some of you have already said, i’d heard tracks in isolation but its when you listen to the album in its entirety that this thing, ….i was gonna say make’s sense…… come’s together and become this pulsating funk mothership!! Enjoyed this immensely, the production is soooooo tight, i’m sure on the second, maybe third track they’re using what sounds like bicycle bells and fishing reels as part of the percussion section! It goes without saying that the musicianship is second to none. Love It!!

    Another corker, cheers Greg!!

  11. Lou Lou July 18, 2012 at 8:03 pm #

    What the funk?! Superb album and great to have the opportunity to listen to it in full,. Impossible to keep still to. What musicianship! I knew some of the tracks very well thanks to Mr Wilson’s mixes. Loved “Star Child” most of all and was sad when it ended. One of those albums you want to press play on again immediately!

    Thanks to G & T for another great evening in wonderful company. 🙂

  12. greg wilson August 9, 2012 at 12:57 am #

    The response has been particularly satisfying given that, despite being one of my personal favourites, this is an album that never graced the UK chart, so would only be known to an ‘underground’ audience here at the time, who would either have been black, or black music lovers. This wasn’t something you’d have come across unless you found your way off the beaten track, and to the right clubs, or listened to the specialist Soul shows on the radio, which were once-a-week feasts of the latest US imports.

    So to have been instrumental in helping people discover this album somehow gives me an extra buzz, as it’s never been fully appreciated outside of this niche and it’s a wonderful album by any measure.


  13. lec August 12, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    Funky beyond funky BUT it wasn’t as awe inspiring as i remember it first time round.
    I can totally understand why it has been sampled to the sun and back though.
    Don’t get me wrong, it’s great, but lots of tracks seemed to melt into each other.

  14. Greg Wilson December 20, 2015 at 3:03 pm #

    Was linked into a tweet yesterday by none other than George Clinton himself. He wrote:
    ‘This past week it was the 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF “MOTHERSHIP CONNECTIONS” @djgregwilson on the album -… http://fb.me/7KLAtSbQT

    The fact that, on this landmark anniversary for ‘Mothership Connection’ he’d linked to this Living To Music piece is a mindblower for me in itself, but it was also clear from the wording of the post that he was aware of my own 40th anniversary (of my first club appearance in Dec 1975) and connected the two: https://blog.gregwilson.co.uk/2015/12/40th-anniversary-weekend-recorded/

    I replied: ‘Wow! Now that is cosmic. Blessings George – that album rocked my teenage world. It was a proud moment to DJ for you in Perth.’

    The DJ appearance was in March 2013 during my Australian tour that year. The poster, which includes my name as support, is in a frame at my home, and the occasion is deeply treasured.

    I listened to the album again last night and, 40 years on, it’s still sounding vital to these ears. For its main creator to reference a piece I’d written about it is something I could never have imagined all those years ago as that glorious vinyl blew my young mind.


Leave a Reply