Funkadelic – Reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of “America Eats Its Young” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Funkadelic – Reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of “America Eats Its Young”

The Album First Came Out on May 22, 1972

May 23, 2022 By Austin Saalman
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Funkadelic’s first album not to be recorded in its hometown of Detroit, America Eats Its Young serves as a dramatic departure from its timeless predecessor Maggot Brain. On its fourth studio outing, the group eschewed the murky guitar rock and proto-heavy metal influences of its previous output in favor of a far more polished sound and wider scope of influence. This is not to say that Funkadelic abandoned its penchant for morbid antics on America Eats Its Young, as the group’s bizarre sense of humor and freak power political agenda are still highlighted—from the album’s radical artwork to the group’s further use of controversial quasi-satanic cult The Process Church of the Final Judgement’s religious literature in its liner notes. Still, the record proved divisive among listeners, many of whom were critical of the album’s length (it is a double LP) and its perceived lack of musical and lyrical direction. Though there does appear to be an overflow of content on the record, America Eats Its Young is never boring and serves as a significant turning point for the Parliament-Funkadelic collective, marking its merger with House Guests (a short-lived funk outfit which included future P-Funk regulars Bootsy and Catfish Collins) and expansion into fresh subgenres, such as jazz fusion and glossier funk rock, while also revealing bandleader George Clinton’s baroque tendencies through its heavy use of string arrangements. Even through the album’s druggy, schizoaffective haze, it remains apparent that America Eats Its Young was handled with care by Clinton, its lyrics, however “programmatic,” penned with clear sociopolitical intent and often realized with some satisfaction.

Opening track “You Hit the Nail on the Head” explodes into a complex cloud of sleek funkadelia, serving as a prototype of the meticulous sound for which the group would become known. The track’s lyrics, while brief and fragmentary, introduce some of Clinton’s primary concerns, upon which the album’s remainder expands. The subsequent “If You Don’t Like the Effects, Don’t Produce the Cause” continues in this vein, its lyrics addressing the American political establishment and its constituents, offering, “If you say you don’t like where you’re at/You can make a change/If you accept the blame,” before noting much of the populace’s tendencies toward hypocrisy and activism-as-fashion: “You picket this and protest that, and eat yourself fat.” Progressive soul ballad “Everybody Is Going to Make It This Time” provides a course of action, proclaiming, “We got to learn from the mistakes that were made in the past/We got to clean so that we can use our minds/‘Cause in order to get it together, we got to get our heads together.” Recorded in London with input from Cream drummer Ginger Baker, of whom Clinton is an admirer, the track is an intriguing artifact of pop cultural history, its sincere longing and heartache maintaining its status as a vastly underrated Funkadelic gem.

Psychedelic funk jam “A Joyful Process” is another standout, the group coming together to produce its tight, yet eccentric sound, while “Loose Booty” dabbles in the devious playfulness found on future releases Standing on the Verge of Getting It On and Let’s Take It to the Stage. Elsewhere, Bootsy Collins takes the helm on the brassy “Philmore,” introducing audiences to his extraordinary songwriting skills and accounting for a portion of the album’s appeal. “I Call My Baby Pussycat,” initially recorded with Parliament and released on 1970’s Osmium, is offered a slower tempo reimagining, this version afforded a much smoother flow, while “That Was My Girl,” first recorded by P-Funk’s ’50s and ’60s incarnation The Parliaments, is updated for the subsequent decade, notably complemented by keyboardist Bernie Worrell’s trippy melodica. Key inclusions “Biological Speculation” and the album’s title track represent the best of transitional Funkadelic, the latter being a culmination of the album’s sentimentality. Something of a spiritual funk rock convergence of Ennio Morricone’s The Black Belly of the Tarantula and Asei Kobayashi & Mickie Yoshino’s House scores, “America Eats Its Young” is a genuinely beautiful cut, saturated in the same frightful anti-psychedelia as Maggot Brain and Free Your Mind…and Your Ass Will Follow. Carried upon the wings of a wailing electric guitar, its notes are accentuated by reverberated muffles of anguish and pleasure—here, the sounds of aching sorrow and sublime sexuality intertwine. Featuring steel and string guitar arrangements by Motown’s David Van De Pitte, the track, as crass as its nightmarish lyrics may be, possesses a certain transgressive eloquence, posing the ultimate question of who, exactly, would “sacrifice the great grandsons and daughters/Of her jealous mother/By sucking their brain/Until their ability to think was amputated/By pimping their instincts until they were fat, horny, and strung-out.”

While far inferior to the following year’s Cosmic Slop—Funkadelic’s finest album— is, despite its flaws, a worthwhile release, setting the stage for musical greatness to come. Parliament-Funkadelic remains one of modern music’s most significant acts, having produced some of the greatest recordings of the ’70s, before expanding its reach and influence well into the present day. The primordial ooze of mutilated American culture from which Parliament-Funkadelic emerged has grown stickier, its burnt flesh stench wafting far above the hardscrabble streets and patchwork rooftops of a declining society. The warped poignance found on the group’s records remains in vogue, permeating the national dialogue and warning of imminent destruction, while simultaneously refusing to take itself too seriously—an art form in and of itself.

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