Funkadelic's 'Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On' cover art
Happy 45th Anniversary to Funkadelic's sixth studio album Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On, originally released April 29, 1974. (Note: Select sources reference July 9, 1974 as the release date.)
Few groups have a commitment to their own voice like Funkadelic. Spearheaded by the legendary George Clinton, Funkadelic fashioned itself as a heavy blues and rock influenced funk band that made psychedelic music. It was created by musicians under the influence of mind-altering substances and often best appreciated by an audience using those same substances.
Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On, Funkadelic's sixth album, was just as, if not more experimental and inaccessible than the other albums in the group's catalogue, a catalogue famous for its inaccessibility in the first half of its existence. Released 45 years ago, Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On is not one of the group's famous "themed" albums, but it nevertheless features a singularity in its vision that remains potent.
A central aspect of Standing On The Verge is the re-introduction of lead-guitarist Eddie Hazel into the fold. Hazel had been with Funkadelic since its early years. For those who don't know, Funkadelic eventually became the name of the backing band for Clinton's doo-wop group, the Parliaments. Hazel wasn't one of the initial members of the group, but was brought in during the mid to late '60s Detroit-based incarnation. As the band morphed into the collective of psychedelic weirdos during the late '60s/early '70s, Hazel was central to Funkadelic's lineup. He famously played a 13-minute guitar solo on the title track of their third album, Maggot Brain (1971).
Hazel left Funkadelic in 1971 due to royalty disputes with Clinton, contributing only sporadically to the group's next two albums. His re-integration into Funkadelic was complicated. He was definitely in the studio with the group, co-writing every track on the album. However, Hazel's mother, Grace Cook, is credited instead of him on half of the album's tracks. Hazel may have done this to avoid any royalty complications due to his impending incarceration stemming from charges of drug possession and assault of an airline stewardess and sky marshal during a flight.
Hazel is very much the star of Standing On The Verge. More than almost any other Funkadelic long-player, it's a guitar-driven album, with Hazel's jams and solos serving as the backbone of the project. When it comes to subject matter, Clinton and Hazel keep the themes familiar: young ladies looking for love, members of the band looking for a young lady's love, a young lady's love lost, and the notion that if you free your mind then your ass will follow.
At times Hazel's guitar prowess overpowers everything else. "Alice in My Fantasies" is akin to a punk rock number by the crew, with Hazel's energetic guitar riffs nearly drowning out Clinton's vocals. He pays homage to self-described freak Alice, who's committed to performing all types of unholy sexual acts for Clinton's benefit. It's not surprising to learn that the song was originally conceived as an instrumental jam, frequently played and improvised by the group live on stage.
"Red Hot Momma" is just as boisterous as "Alice in My Fantasies," but is more balanced between the musical backdrop and the lyrics. It's a "remake" of sorts of a song that had already been recorded by both The Parliaments and Parliament (under the names "Red Hot Mama" and "Red Hot Mamma"). This version is fueled by a Hazel's guitar-work, as he powers through a tale of a fine Louisiana country girl who's come to Savannah, Georgia, "scoping the places where fun's to be found." The version on Standing On The Verge is actually more toned down than the rendition found on the Parliament funk 45 RPM, which is practically a heavy metal track.
Standing On The Verge also features songs that are more traditionally soulful and set the template for what the group would consider "funk" as they continued to build their musical identity. The groove and feel of these entries echo the music of Parliament's Up For The Down Stroke album, which would be released soon after, and would assist Clinton in his decision to move Funkadelic towards creating albums with wider appeal, while still maintaining their weirdness.
The album's title track is one of the best pure funk songs that Funkadelic ever recorded. It's a rollicking anthem, undeniably funky and powered by Hazel's catchy guitar groove and memorable vocals that mimic its unique structure. The group implores the listener to keep their mind open when it comes to funk, and to let Funkadelic be their guiding musical light. "Sexy Ways" is another outstanding funk composition, held together by the song's vocals. Gary Shider's unique stylings are mesmerizing, along with the backing doo-wop influenced intonations, which invoke The Temptations' "Can't Get Next to You, Babe."
"I'll Stay" is a re-working of The Parliaments' "I'll Wait," where Funkadelic transforms the dense doo-wop ballad into a sorrowful dirge. Hazel plays his guitar like a mournful wail, backed by a heavy bassline. The original song's doo-wop sensibilities are still in the new version's DNA, as the group wistfully pines for the return of the woman that they love. Shider, handling the lead vocal, resigns himself to wait for her, trying to convince himself that she merely left him for a fling, swearing off all other women until she returns to his life.
The epic "Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts" simultaneously serves as the reverse of "Alice in My Fantasies" and a sequel to Maggot Brain. The 12-minute endeavor begins much as "Maggot Brain" did, with Hazel executing a long, complex guitar solo. However, unlike "Alice," the song is mixed so that the guitar sounds distant, like the listener is hearing it from another room or from outside a concert venue. The song seemingly fades out at around six and a half minutes, only to begin anew, with Clinton performing a spoken word piece with the guitar solo even further in the background. Using vocal distortion, Clinton waxes philosophic about the importance of putting positive energy out in the universe, as he explains, "Good thoughts bring forth good fruit, bullshit thoughts rot your meat." This second half isn't as strong as the first, but Hazel's musicianship carries the way.
Though Funkadelic would continue on as its own entity through the '70s and the early '80s, Standing On the Verge was one of the first steps that marked the end of the group's first phase. Clinton and company would follow it up in a little less than a year with Let's Take It To The Stage, one of the group's best albums. Soon the popularity of the Parliament incarnation of the group would become so big that it would dominate the group's sound. In 1978, the group would reboot itself with One Nation Under A Groove.
Even though their grooves would become more accessible, the Parliament-Funkadelic unit would remain one that embraced big ideas and cohesion of sound. As much as any of their other albums, Standing On the VergeOf Getting It On helped lay the groundwork for their future creations. The seeds of Good Thoughts that they planted on this album would continue to bear fruit and become a focal point of their legacy.