In 1975, Funkadelic still had a few years to go before theyâd unite us as one nation under a groove, but they offered a pungent whiff of things to come with their seventh LP, Letâs Take It to the Stage.
Released in April 1975, the album offered a more tightly crafted take on the bandâs sprawling sound, which incorporated elements of rock, soul, funk and whatever else bandleader George Clinton felt like weaving into their songs. Leaning on tighter funk-influenced arrangements, Stage served up a series of shorter cuts â only the closing track, the seven-minute âAtmosphere,â really lays out â while leaving plenty of room for the loose collectiveâs musical abilities to shine.
For Clinton, Letâs Take It to the Stage was just another step in the bandâs evolution â a journey that, as he boasted to NME in 1978, had already taken Funkadelic and their sister act Parliament to the forefront of the musical vanguard. âJames Brown, Jimi, Sly and ourselves took the whole other thing so far,â he noted, âmost of âem ainât nowhere near catching up yet.â
Of course, racial politics being what they were, no amount of genre-blending meant there was room for Clinton and his crew on rock radio â something he admitted figured into his musical game plan.
âIt took me a while to realize that I wasnât getting played on no white stations because I was black and I didnât get played on black stations âcause to them it sounded like I was white,â pointed out Clinton in the â70s. âSo then I had to go back and meet âem halfway with the Parliament situation, the horns and things, and then hand-walk âem up to where Funkadelic is at. âŚ Now theyâre gonna pledge grooveallegiance to the united funk of Funkadelica.â
Which is not to say that there wasnât a certain amount of chaos in the studio for Letâs Take It to the Stage, and Clintonâs orchestrated musical madness in general. With guitarist Eddie Hazel sidelined for the Stage sessions, the band was forced to improvise a little more than usual â and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise on at least one occasion.
Looking back on the tracking of the song âGet Off Your Ass and Jamâ in his memoir Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ainât All That Funkinâ Kinda Hard on You?, Clinton recalled how the band ended up stumbling into an unlikely new guitarist. âWe finished one take, took a smoke break or something, and noticed that a white kid had wandered into the studio, a smack addict,â he wrote. âWe didnât know him at all, but he said he played a little guitar, and he wanted to know if he could play with us and pick up a little cash in the process.â
Bemusedly agreeing to give the new arrival a chance, they stepped back and let him prove his worth. âWe set him up, started the track, and he just started to play like he was possessed,â continued Clinton. âHe did all the rock ânâ roll that hadnât been heard for a few years, and he did it for the entirety of the track. Even when the song ended, he didnât stop. All of us were up there goggle-eyed, saying, âDamn.â We had agreed on 25 bucks, but I gave him 50 because I loved it.â
Frustratingly for Clinton and the members of Funkadelic, the record offered yet another demonstration of how difficult it could be for artists to break through the color barrier at rock radio and on the pop charts. Letâs Take It to the Stage gave the band another R&B hit, peaking at No. 14, but stalled at No. 102 on Billboardâs Top 200 Albums. For Clinton, it again posed the question of why mainstream success continued to elude a band that stood alongside commercial giants in terms of musical and compositional ability.
âWhy couldnât we be the Rolling Stones? Why couldnât we be Cream? If it was just the color of our skin, that wasnât going to stop us,â Clinton vowed in his memoir. âNot when we had the tightest songs and the loudest guitars and the best singers.â
In time, Funkadelic would earn some measure of that status, scoring Top 20 hits with 1978′s One Nation Under a Groove and 1979′s Uncle Jam Wants You. And though Clintonâs often unpredictable journey soon led him away from Funkadelic for an extended stretch â their 1981 effort, The Electric Spanking of War Babies, was their last for more than 30 years â the bandâs ebullient crazy quilt of sound served as an effective calling card for his musical mission statement.
âFunkadelic is a combination of everything,â he told NME. âFunkadelic is anything that will subsequently be thrown in. Funkadelic is an attitude to whatever it takes. You can get away with so much when you havenât got to think about structures or constructions and can leave yourself to your instincts and know that itâs cool and all the musicians know it that way. Then the possibilities are unlimited.â