Happy 40th Anniversary to Funkadelic’s tenth studio album One Nation Under a Groove, originally released September 22, 1978.
Growing up, the music you listen to often defines you in the eyes of others. And when you’re a white kid in Australia drawn to the music of soul, r&b and funk, you can get quite the odd look and occasional musical bias. If you are white, you are meant to be into rock, or at worst new wave pop.
But thanks to artists like Michael Jackson and Prince, the color lines between what you should and shouldn’t listen to became blurred until instead of lines dividing music, you found lines connecting music.
For me, my love of artists like MJ, Prince and Terence Trent D’Arby filled in the gaps missing on a diet of Van Halen, Kiss, and Cheap Trick. And it was through this love of music—good music no matter if black or white—that I was introduced to other greatness in turn.
Sting introduced me to Weather Report. Bowie introduced me to Chic. And Prince led me to the world of P-Funk a few years before the likes of Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre would introduce a new generation to it through their sampling.
So is the six degrees of separation of Parliament/Funkadelic. You have everyone from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Snoop to Prince to De La Soul to Bobby Brown all cribbing from the P-Funk legacy.
And so with One Nation Under a Groove, Funkateer in Chief, George Clinton, produced an album that looked to rip up musical divisions and just let great music be heard.
Opening with the titular catch-all, Clinton and his band of funked up wizards bring unification through the power of music, and more specifically the power of funk. Clinton and his cohorts had long touted the power of funk to, famously, “not only moves / it can remove” in Parliament’s “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up.)” This wasn’t just a hip turn of phrase, this was an unabashed salute to the power of music to lift moods and ease pain. So with “One Nation Under a Groove” when Clinton sings “Here’s a chance to dance our way / out of your constrictions” he is espousing the belief in music and dance (and in turn self-expression) to be a way to free your mind (and yes, your ass will follow.)
With its juggernaut percussive groove, “One Nation Under a Groove” pays homage to music that has come before it with callouts to James Brown, The Delfonics and even Gospel, while co-opting legal and patriotic rhetoric to drive home the message. This is a call to dance rather than a call to arms. A call to unify and celebrate diversity rather than a push to homogenize. A call to tear down racial barriers that are “So wide you can't get around it / So low you can’t get under it / So high you can’t get over it” and live free. And yes, just as Funkadelic pay homage to great music that had come before it, Michael Jackson nods at “One Nation” with a lyrical call back in his hit “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin.’”
Clinton sings, “With the groove our only guide / we shall all be moved” and you are. The tightly coiled groove twirls continuously throughout the song’s seven-plus minutes and carries the blissful harmonies with ease. As a new utopian national funk anthem, “One Nation” keeps the party going and shuffles us all forward.
Carrying on the concept (and pretty much every Funkadelic album was a concept album) of a new nation united under the funk, tracks like “Groovallegiance” with its casual strutting reggae groove and sublime bass work, the slow burn crawl of “Into You,” and the trippy and somewhat indecipherable lyrical content of “Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doo-Doo Chasers)” furthers the cause of cleansing yourself of social conditioning and living a freer, truer life.
As well as promising to cross the racial divide, One Nation Under a Groove also wants to freely cross the musical lines of defined genres. In “Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?!” the focus is on letting the music lead the way as Funkadelic lay down a chugging beat, mix in their trademark chants and underscore it with a track-long guitar solo that sets the frets on fire. It’s all fuzz tone funk pushing up against a rock sensibility while the band sings “Who says a jazz band can’t play dance music? / Who says a rock band can’t play funk?”
Likewise album closer, the groove and bass heavy “Cholly (Funk Get Ready To Roll!)” tells the humorous tale of a classical purest discovering the intoxicating allure of funk complete with off beat accents and stacked backing vocal chants—a hallmark that defined P-Funk: infectious sing-a-long chants that would worm their way into your brain and have you singing each refrain in no time.
One Nation Under a Groove remains Funkadelic’s most successful outing and its most critically acclaimed, and rightly so. If you don’t own it or have never heard it, you need to. It delivers what it promises: a groove-filled exploration of the power of music to bring everyone together. And together we should all promise to funk.