Not long ago,I learned that Parliament’s iconic 1977 album Funkentetelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome is turning 39 today. This album was extremely important in the P-Funk lexicon. It introduced some key concepts within such as the placebo syndrome. This reduced down to saying if you faked the funk,your nose would grow. It also introduced the character of Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk,the physical embodiment of George Clinton’s statement on the debut Funkadelic album seven years prior to this that “I was cool,but I had no groove”. Parliaments mid/late 70’s albums each extended on the theatrical structure of Clinton’s musical concept. This one perhaps in at least two very significant ways.
When I first heard the album about twenty years ago,I wasn’t particularly impressed. The presence of slower ballad numbers such as “Wizard Of Finance” and the (as I know understand it funkier) “Placebo Syndrome” didn’t endear me much to this album as it’s most powerful songs seemed to be on the Tear The Roof Off compilation Parliament had out at the time. When I finally picked up the album on CD several years ago,there’d been years of experience with P-Funk experience in terms of albums to fully appreciate what this was. It contained the massively influential “Flashlight” of course. But probably the one song here that really advances it’s entire concept is the title song.
“Funkentelechy” has two distinct sections within ten minutes. The first one is built around the two constants that both sections have in common. One is a big drum beat that comes down heavy on the one and the close harmony African highlife style horn charts. It also has faster,more JB style horns and Junie Morrison playing what my friend Henrique referred to as a chromatic walkdown on piano. Bootsy’s duck face bass,which pops in and out of the mix with the low rhythm guitar on the first part, becomes consistently integral on the second half of the song. This half is more downbeat melodically and is based more on the harmonic horns and close vocal choruses. And this is where the song fades out on.
In a similar manner to the title song for the Mothership Connection,this song seems like two different musical themes put together. Though in this case,this is done more melodically than rhythmically as the one remains constant. Thematically it’s a commercial for funk as a musical/social ethic. Clinton introduces lyrical parodies on American commercial slogans such as “how do you spell relief?” and ‘fasten your safety belt”. Most importantly though he points out that “funk is not domestically produced”-perhaps pointing to the genre (and this songs) African origins in rhythm. Both instrumentally and lyrically,this song goes really far in explaining why funk was no longer a bad word.