Top of the Pops: Uncle Jam Wants You

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December 13, 2016 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

uncle-jam

Leave it to George Clinton to create the greatest funk album of all time with 1979’s Uncle Jam Wants You.  When the name of the band is Funkadelic, there are certain implicit promises that are made, chief among them is that the band will provide an overdose of soul slipping, booty-shaking, get up and get down fuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnkkkkkk!  For everyone who’s ever wanted the funk, Uncle Jam delivers in spades.

It stands to reason that the greatest funk album of all time would also yield the greatest funk song of all time, and at a whooping 15-and-a-half minutes long, “(Not Just) Knee Deep” is, in fact, the greatest funk song ever recorded.  Sampled by about 50% of the hip-hop community, “Knee Deep” is a raucous and funky fresh roller coaster that provides numerous twists and turns that’ll keep your head spinning and your feet moving to the beat.  The song itself is a cacophonic encapsulation of funk music in its most concentrated form.  Within the song are the three genres that serve as pillars of funk music: soul, R&B, and psychedelic.

Clinton’s slick delivery along with the rest of the band’s unique and uncanny zaniness backing him up make “Knee Deep” a juggernaut of fun.  The multitude of guitar solos courtesy of Michael Hampton and Gary Shider elevate this song into the realm of rock, further diversifying the song and morphing it into a beautiful conglomerate celebrating the vastness of music.  Although the song is 15 minutes long, and sounds like three different songs smashed together in a proton collider, the drums and keyboard provide a backbone that sustains and unites all the different sections together into one coherent and masterful track.  How they managed to trim the song down to under four minutes on the single is beyond me, but any music fan owes it to themselves to listen to “Knee Deep” in its unabridged glory.

Despite the fact that “Knee Deep” takes up over 1/3 of the album’s run time, Uncle Jam is still rife with killer cuts that add to its greatness.  Kicking off the album is “Freak of the Week” (yes, this is an album that greatly concerns itself with dance freaks), which sets the tone for the rest of the album with its unabashed funk just dripping out of the speakers.  It’s also an insanely catchy number especially with the way Clinton just oozes out “Got to be, got to be the freak of the week”.  The first two songs combined make up half of the album, and within the first 20 minutes it becomes clear that Uncle Jam is a funk album about funk music that believes in funk music with a militant faith.

The instrumental “Field Maneuvers” is a wacky ditty that sounds like a fun romp through boot camp.  It’s kooky but restrained at the same time as the guitars wail wildly to the beat of a military cadence.  It’s light and funky as it trots along courtesy of its bouncy rhythm section.

Even the seemingly misplaced “Holly Wants to go to California” manages to work within the confines of Uncle Jam.  For anyone who’d ever bet money that George Clinton never performed a candelabra song, it’s a bet they’d lose.  Even though it’s just Clinton and a piano alongside a pre-recorded laugh track, “Holly Wants to go to California” is still a song about a freak, it’s just that her name is Holly and she wants to go to California.  She’s not as superficial as California so she just spends her time daydreaming about the gilded glamour that is California.

George Clinton is a genius.  He’s completely out of his mind, but he is a musical genius.  There’s a reason why they call him Dr. Funkenstein, as tinkers around with his experiments in an effort to give life to something new by mixing and matching pieces and parts of other genres into an exciting and unseen form.  He is the funk equivalent of Prince or David Bowie, someone who actually transcends the music that they play.  George Clinton is funk music, and both reached their zenith with Uncle Jam Wants You.

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