Funkadelic: “Maggot Brain” Album Review

Written By: Ethan Griggs

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Who on Earth would be able to play guitar better than Jimi Hendrix? Clapton comes close – we all know that – but lesser known guitarists have found fame by being maybe just a little bit better than the classic rock God. Hendrix himself even remained modest; when he was asked in a 1970 interview how it felt to be the best guitar player in the world, he with a laugh replied, “You should go ask Rory Gallagher”.

Many less fortunate guitarists, however, came to prominence in the years after Jimi’s untimely death at the age of 27 – players in all genres from psychedelic to funk were still in awe and picking apart his style. Only few have risen to that level of mastery. Eddie Hazel, who was at this time playing for George Clinton’s Funkadelic, is an absolute contender. His famous shredding on the title track of 1971’s Maggot Brain may very well be the best guitar solo Jimi Hendrix never played.

Eddie Hazel may have been the guitar hero responsible for that unforgettable ten-minute solo, but Clinton invoked him to such a degree. In a recording session laced with LSD (which was often the norm at a Funkadelic session, or any room with George Clinton inside of it) Clinton reportedly told Hazel to “play like your mama just died,” before the classic take was taken. “Mother nature is pregnant for the third time,” sounds the reverberated, delayed sound of Clinton’s voice, the very first sound on the album, “for y’all have knocked her up.”

While the title track is the album’s most devastatingly beautiful (or tragic) piece, the album quickly veers left and dives into to the psychedelic soul of the classic “Can You Get to That”. “I once had a life or rather life had me/I was one among many, or at least I seemed to be”, sings a soulful group of girls under Clinton’s strange brew of acoustic-funk and primal screening. From there we get to more crazy riffing from Hazel on “Hit It and Quit It” and “You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks”

Side two is when things really get weird. “Super Stupid” opens with a red-hot wail from Hazel, followed by his description of a terrible drug experience. “Oh, stupid with your ups and downs/Your maggot brain, your grins and frowns/Super stupid you’re here today/You’ve lost the fight and the winner is fear“, sings Hazel over the drugged-induced fury the band makes behind him. Lightening the mood with a few more hits of the good-good, Clinton steps up to the mic next with one of his greatest songs, the freewheeling, syncopated “Back In Our Minds”.

The album’s closer, the lyric-less “Wars of Armageddon”, is basically the band’s answer to the Hendrix classic “Machine Gun”. The band goes full out here creating their own musical interpretation of the Vietnam War and the turbulence of the early 70’s. With all sorts of reverb, Funkadelic create a dark jungle of sound on this piece. Ear splitting cowbell and shrill howling make this song sound like a native tribe witnessing the end of the world. Even in the year 2017, nearly fifty years after this landmark recording, nothing sounds quite like Maggot Brain, and it remains a highlight in Clinton and P-Funk’s legendary discography.

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