Though Funkadelic had been initially conceived by George
Clinton as a commercial enterprise, the band spent the ten years following its
inception bending America toward its incomparable blend of Jimi Hendrix-channeling
blues, ribald funk, proselytizing, and scatological obsession—rather than
constructing a formula in order to get themselves on the charts. Between
1970 and 1978, Parliament and Funkadelic had released 16 albums between them,
and the year or so surrounding One Nation Under a Groove saw albums by
Funkadelic members Bootsy Collins’ Rubber Band and Eddie Hazel, as well as
spin-offs from Parlet and The Brides of Funkenstein. There was an
absolute frenzy of activity taking place around Clinton. Rolling Stone had gone
from “Who needs this shit?”—a phrase they used in their review of Funkadelic’s
1971 album Maggot Brain, which also concluded, “Funk for funk’s sake is
merely garbage”—to calling the Parliament/Funkadelic collective “blessed with unlimited
inspiration” in March of 1978. By the time One Nation Under a Groove
was released in September 1978, Funkadelic’s sister band, Parliament, had
earned a string of R&B hits, topped by “Flashlight” in 1977. In the
midst of all this, Funkadelic were still the lesser-known of Clinton
One Nation Under a Groove was Funkadelic’s chance to catch up to Parliament’s success. Their tenth album, it was both their first to go platinum and their first to spawn a number one R&B single, in the incredible title track. These days, One Nation Under a Groove is usually the representative Parliament/Funkadelic album to grace the G.O.A.T. lists and 671 Albums You Must Hear Before 2012 books. Generally spoken of as the album that pushed Funkadelic’s steez closer to Parliament’s, Nation filters the acid rock of their previous work through the accessible funk that helped Parliament break through commercially, without losing any of Clinton’s desire to actively free minds and asses with clever hippie talk/double speak/suggestion that the world unite over dance and enemas. In other words, especially for a massive hit and rock totem, it’s fucking batshit crazy.
Over six songs and 40 minutes (not counting the three song, 14 minute EP tacked on to most versions of the album, which includes “Lunchmeataphobia,” an instrumental version of “P.E. Squad,” and a live performance of “Maggot Brain”), One Nation Under a Groove careens from tightly wound, dance floor-minded anthems to ugly, dirty, literally shit-talking, obnoxiously abrasive, middle-of-the-night, psychedelic wank rock. On “Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?” they verbalize the very thing they’d been demonstrating on record for years—it’s less a rejection of R&B band stereotypes and expectations, and more a celebration of the musical beast Funkadelic had already created. This approach of creating a straw man with a closed mind about something—in this case, the hypothetical guy who says, “Hey! A funk band can’t play rock! A jazz band can’t play dance music!”—and using the framework of a counter-argument as an excuse to shred. “Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?” is a showcase for Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton’s Eddie Hazel impersonation on guitar, as is "Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doo-Doo Chasers),” which alternates Hampton’s blistering guitar playing with George Clinton screaming poop-related semi-philosophy—beginning with, “The world is a toll free toilet/ Our mouths neurological assholes/ And psychologically speaking/ We’re in a state of mental diarrhea” and then proving it at length on the ten minute song.
Of course, the inclusion of the title track alone would have made One Nation Under a Groove a contender. While most of the songs in Funkadelic’s catalogue veer off into extended solos or other instrumental arias, “One Nation Under a Groove” picks a single, limber rhythm and allows Clinton to riff over it, snaking an exclamation from James Brown’s “Get on the Good Foot” and giving his back-up singers ample room for a doo-wop “doe-dee-oh-doe” like they’re stuck in an old Looney Tunes cartoon. The song could have clocked in at thirty seconds, seven minutes, or four hours, and still be just as slippery and indelible, and, like all effective propaganda, the band's philosophies are funnelled into ten word catchphrases. With "One Nation" and the follow-up track, "Groovallegiance" (as in "I pledge a groovallegiance to the funk, The United Funk of Funkedelica") attempt to build a country tied together bycounter-culture values and the dancefloor. With Funkadelic's musicianship and outré charisma–-which could charm even the biggest prude with an enema joke—they should have started a religion.
-Martin Brown, 2009