How Funkadelic’s Funk Got Heavier on ‘America Eats Its Young’
"Funkadelic transcends the ceremony and ritual of religion and goes right to the core: Sometimes you have to lose your mind to gain your soul," stated the print ad for the band's fourth album, America Eats Its Young.
Following a trio of albums that burst forth with sounds of rock, funk, soul and psychedelia, George Clinton and company stripped away any purple haze to deliver this hard funk offering on May 22, 1972.
From the opening salvo of "You Hit the Nail on the Head," it's obvious some things have changed. The groove is so pure and heavy, it’s startling and instantly engaging. Ragged guitars crash head-on into the keyboard genius of Bernie Worrell as they mine that funk for three minutes straight before breaking the tension.
Variety is key within these four sides. There's the soul-pop sound of "If You Don't Like the Effects, Don't Produce the Cause," and on to the pure funk of "Loose Booty" before landing on the beautiful soul ballad, "Everybody Is Going to Make It This Time." The band covers a lot of terrain over the two-LP set musically and lyrically. Some of the subject matter veers toward darker topics such as the Vietnam War and drug abuse.
“The Vietnam war was happening when I made that album. It was about the heroin in Vietnam," Clinton explained in a 1989 interview from the Kris Needs book George Clinton & the Cosmic Odyssey of the P-Funk Empire. "That whole war was about heroin. But this album also reminds me of what’s happening NOW!” Heroin not only had a stronghold on many a Vietnam vet, but was also on a rampage in the inner cities of America at the time. Though the drug would have a cause and effect on members of his band, George Clinton never danced that dance.
“The Man With the Golden Arm cured me of ever thinking about heroin being recreation," he said. "Even with all the acid and stuff we were taking, heroin or angel dust never appealed to me at all. I did my share of coke. But with all of it, I never got to the point - other than acid. I would’ve taken acid forever if I could’ve, but it stopped working after a while. You just be up all night.”
Listen to Funkadelic's 'You Hit the Nail on the Head'
Though there are still faint nods to the psychedelic earlier albums, this one has a much harder edge along with a more sophisticated production. "A Joyful Process" is six minutes of pure instrumental funk bliss, while bassist Bootsy Collins takes the lead vocal on the driving "Balance," addressing Mother Earth and her issues of the era. Guitarist Eddie Hazel gets to shine on the slow groover, "Miss Lucifer's Love."
All was not without controversy however, as it was during this period that the band was briefly tied to the Process Church of the Final Judgment, an semi-occult leaning organization that, as the story goes, had ties to the Manson Family, among others. The Process provided liner notes for both Maggot Brain and America Eats Its Young, and though the connection never ran much deeper, it caused problems for Clinton and band.
"People didn’t know shit about us. We looked weird, and we had weird ideas," he recalled in his 2014 memoir, Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You? "The notion that we had anything to do with Manson caused a tremendous problem for a little while."
Noted critic Robert Christgau summed it up in his review of the LP by saying, "Their racial hostility is much preferable to the brotherhood bromides of that other Detroit label, but their taste in white people is suspect. It’s one thing to put down those who 'picket this and protest that' from their 'semi-first-class seat,' another to let the Process Church of the Final Judgment provides liner notes."
The album failed to make a dent commercially, peaking at No. 123 on the Billboard albums chart (though it did hit the Top 25 on the R&B chart). For many, America Eats Its Young is seen as a transitional outing coming after the heady early days and the more concise work that would follow with Cosmic Slop and ultimately One Nation Under a Groove, but it stands loud and proud among the band's finest works for sure.