By 1973, Funkadelic had performed more explorations of musical form in just four albums than most bands manage in their careers.
They delved into it all from blues and R&B to hard rock, psychedelic rock and jazz-rock, culminating with back-to-back classics in 1971’s Maggot Brain and 1972’s formidable double album America Eats Its Young. The George Clinton-led collective then settled upon a kind of lysergic funk for their next project, and in the process opened up a bevy of possibilities for their work.
Released in May 1973, Cosmic Slop emphasized Funkadelic’s psychedelic influences, while also featuring shorter songs than previous LPs. (None of the songs ran longer than six minutes). They also largely eschewed the deep dives that had previously yielded such transcendent moments as the Maggot Brain title track. By honing the players’ expansive ideas into more compact song structures, Clinton figured he could widen the group’s audience.
“Cosmic Slop was the first [album] we got actual serious airplay on,” he said in Kris Needs’ 2014 book George Clinton & the Cosmic Odyssey of the P-Funk Empire. “And it was workin’. … We was getting much neater at being psychedelic. And the musicianship … [the musicians] were able to play it when they wanted to play it, and not play it when they didn’t want to play it.”
One member of the group who wasn’t that keen on “playing it” was guitarist Garry Shider, who had joined Funkadelic the previous year and became known as “Diaper Man” for his infantile onstage attire. “That’s when George and them decided we got to take this crazy stuff and get it played on the radio,” he said in Needs’ book. “By the time it got to Cosmic Slop, it was like, ‘Do you want to make some money at this?’ George was ready to make money.”
Listen to Funkadelic’s ‘March to the Witch’s Castle’
Clinton, Shider, and the rest of Funkadelic were also ready to put on display the full spectrum of their interests and impressions of the world around them. Steeped in the politics of the day – most pertinently, the war in Vietnam – “March to the Witch’s Castle” gave voice to the voiceless, namely Black soldiers returning from their harrowing experiences in southeast Asia.
“It was structured like a sermon, or a news report followed by a benediction,” Clinton explained in his 2014 memoir, Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You? “We were hippies, sure, and we were opposed to the war – most of youth culture was – but we never had anything against the soldiers. They did the bravest thing imaginable, and we had known some of them. ‘March to the Witch’s Castle’ was a song that reflected the headlines – the album came out only months after the start of Operation Homecoming, which brought back the first POWs – but also one that reached far back into pop-music history.”
The historical nugget Clinton referred to was “If It Wasn’t for Love,” a single B-side by R&B singer Dee Clark, whose high-register melody Clinton borrowed for the music that played behind Shider’s spoken-word vocal. ”When you take something, you have to treat it right,” Clinton explained.
The Cosmic Slop title track also took on social issues of the day, with its tale of a Black woman forced into prostitution to support her family. The song hit home with Shider.
“I don’t know where [George] got the lyrics from, or how he came about ‘em, but it was almost like he was telling my story,” Shider said in Needs’ book. “There was seven of us, we were in foster homes, and all kinda shit. My mother, I can remember her out hustling to get the cash to feed us. So I could relate to it.”
Listen to the Title Track From Funkadelic’s ‘Cosmic Slop’
The social consciousness embedded in the far-out funk of several Cosmic Slop songs was meant to be stealthy, even though it was apparent to anyone listening. In his memoir, Clinton noted this approach “was an example of how we could only get to political songwriting through outre songwriting. Straightforward political messages came with risks: risks of being ejected from the pop realm, risks of resistance, and so on. Marvin Gaye largely backed off of protest songs after What’s Going On. Curtis Mayfield remained topical but detoured into film soundtracks.”
The album wasn’t all serious and purpose-driven. As one would expect from a band that had recorded tracks like “Loose Booty” and “I Call My Baby Pussycat,” there was also plenty of sex to be discussed on Cosmic Slop. One such track was “Nappy Dugout,” which Clinton described as “a vicious, low groove that [bassist] Boogie [Mosson] brought us wedded to a lyrical idea I got from something a girl said to me about pussy: ‘You’re just trying to get some nappy dugout.’ Lots of ideas arrive along that route, from what you hear somebody say or what you think you hear them say.”
Another element that came to define Funkadelic debuted on Cosmic Slop: the album art of Pedro Bell. The Chicago-based Bell’s intricate, surrealist drawings and strange yet sophisticated album notes all but created the mythology that came to surround the band – that of futuristic Black superheroes, toiling to bring justice, harmony, and (most of all) funk to planet Earth and its people.
Clinton would discuss his songs with Bell, or play him some of the music on a given record, then largely gave him carte blanche to render the message of the record through his drawings and writing. Cosmic Slop was the starting point for that somewhat distanced collaboration. Clinton recognized the importance of Bell’s visuals to the experience of listening to Funkadelic’s albums, calling them “many people’s point of entry” for his work.
The music and art of Cosmic Slop present a complex, eccentric statement on the life and times of Black America in the early ‘70s, filtered through the peculiar vision of George Clinton and Funkadelic. The album helped cement the man and the band in their place among the finest musical artists of their day.
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