40 Years Ago: Funkadelic Make a Last Stand With ‘War Babies’ LP
With George Clinton's empire suddenly crumbling on a number of fronts, he tried to rally for Funkadelic's final stand, 1981's The Electric Spanking of War Babies.
But by his own admission, he wasn't fully up for the fight. After spending the past decade successfully juggling an ever-expanding musical family featuring the two-headed monsters of Parliament and Funkadelic, as well as numerous offshoot bands and solo acts, Clinton's reach had finally exceeded his grasp.
He was also stuck in legal and monetary battles with various labels and musicians; three of his longest-tenured former bandmates were even using the Funkadelic name without his permission on an album Clinton didn't appear. (Most commonly known as 1981's Connections & Disconnections, that album was originally released in Germany as 1980's 42.9% and later repackaged as Who's a Funkadelic?)
A hardcore drug habit wasn't helping either. "When you're fucked up on crack, you function from behind a thickening smoke screen," he explained in his 2014 autobiography, Brothers Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You? "At the time, it was hard to see the whole chessboard."
Still, with help from enigmatic music legend Sly Stone, Zapp's Roger Troutman and P-Funk regulars such as Michael Hampton and Junie Morrison, Clinton put together a farewell party for Funkadelic with War Babies, which was released on April 14, 1981.
Listen to Funkadelic's 'The Electric Spanking of War Babies'
Although in his autobiography Clinton laments not having the focus to bring the album to his usual standards - noting the sound was "too thin," some arrangements were "too busy" and he was "not sold" on the sequence - he still had good things to say about War Babies: "I love that album. I love the title. I love the concept. [It] was an extension of the line drawn from Uncle Jam Wants You to One Nation Under a Groove, in that it examined the darker side of patriotism."
Clinton's previous Funkadelic album, 1979's Uncle Jam Wants You, was certified gold and spawned the hit single "(Not Just) Knee Deep," but he believed Warner Bros. Records sabotaged War Babies. He specifically cited the label's refusal to allow him to release it as a double album, insistence on censoring the original cover art and lack of support at retail.
"The record was abandoned by the label - they only pressed 90,000 copies, and that was in the wake of two consecutive platinum albums," he declared in Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You? "I saw that they really didn't want it to happen."
He hit the road in support of the album, but it soon became clear to Clinton this was the end of a chapter: "In late 1981, after a final show in Detroit, I suspended operations for both Parliament and Funkadelic."
In retrospect, the change was mostly cosmetic, as Clinton stayed busy as ever. He continued working on simultaneous studio projects, including production duties on the Red Hot Chili Peppers' 1985 album Freaky Styley. He also kept touring with many of the same musicians, billed under names like the P-Funk All Stars and Parliament-Funkadelic. His 1982 solo debut, Computer Games, featured a who's-who of P-Funk alumni, including Bernie Worrell and Bootsy Collins.
A Computer Games song Clinton had cut from Electric Spanking when Warner Bros. refused to release it as a double album, "Atomic Dog," even became one of the biggest singles of his career. He released several more solo albums over the coming decades, including two on Prince's Paisley Park label.
More importantly, he became one of the most sampled artists in music history, with hip-hop superstars such as Dr. Dre, Public Enemy and Outkast citing him as a major influence.
Clinton even attempted to resuscitate Funkadelic for a new album, but the trend-chasing, unfocused By Way of the Drum was rejected by his label in 1989 and remained unreleased until 2007.
In a 2018 interview with The Guardian, Clinton noted he had finally "kicked the [hard drugs] habit five or six years ago. That let me reignite the spark for music, so to speak." This renewed focus led to Funkadelic's 2014 triple-album comeback First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate. Four years later, Clinton brought Parliament back for their first album since 1980, with the two-LP Medicaid Fraud Dog.
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