With his debut “solo” album Computer games, published on Nov. 5, 1982, George Clinton resumed his career.
The man known as Dr. Funkenstein had already been through a few creative permutations: doo-wop Parliaments out of New Jersey, staff writer for Motown, leader of the pioneering bands Parliament and Funkadelic, and the mastermind behind a funk empire that included spin-offs such as Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Brides of Funkenstein, Parlet, Horny Horns, Quazar, Mytteri and Sweat Band. By his own estimation, Clinton-related acts released nearly 40 albums during the ’70s.
“At the time, it was hard to see the whole cheese board,” Clinton wrote in her 2014 memoir Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? With the band leader admittedly “fucked up on crack”, the cheese had started to harden a bit. The drug use had led to debt and relationships with brands such as Warner Bros. and Casablanca was strained. Then in 1980, Clinton “suspended operations” for Parliament and Funkadelic and signed a four-album solo deal with Capitol Records, for whom he had written and recorded a hit for the group Xavier called “Work That Sucker to Death”.
Computer games was the first project under the new groove, and operationally it was not terribly different from anything else on the Parlament-Funkadelic axis. Recording on The Disc Ltd. and the United Sound Systems studios in Detroit, Clinton used the same cast, including principals such as Bootsy CollinsWalter “Junie” Morrison (who co-wrote three of the Computer games‘ seven issues), Garry Shider (co-writer on two), Eddie Hazel, Gary Bernie Worrell, Dennis Chambers, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Brides of Funkenstein and more.
Listen to George Clinton’s ‘Man’s Best Friend / Loopzilla’
“It was the usual madness,” Larry Fratangelo, percussionist since the 1978s One Nation Under a Groove, tells UCR. “You’d go in and play something with no idea where it was going to end up a lot of the time, which I always enjoyed. There was always a lot of studio time booked and you could just go in and play whatever you felt and then you’d they figure out where it fits.”
Fratangelo adds that these sessions still felt like business as usual, even with Parliament and Funkadelic on standby. “I’m not sure how it really reacted in the camp,” he says of Clinton’s solo deal. “There wasn’t really that much communication about what the feelings were in the band. I know they weren’t necessarily happy about it, but if George was still using them for work, I think they kind of adjusted, because what else can you do?”
IN Brothers Be…, Clinton recalled that at the time he was working with two different production groups: Morrison on one side and Shider and David Spradley on the other. The material on the former, he believed, was “an extension” of Funkadelic’s 1981 finale The Electric Spanking of War BabiesThough Computer games‘ sprawling title track “was a door to the future, even if it was an unhinged door.” The Motown hit-quoting “Loopzilla,” which began life as the ending to another (then unreleased) song called “Pumpin’ It Up,” cast a definite eye on mash-up and sampling culture.
“I had two different styles that I could go to depending on the material,” Clinton wrote, though he added that “I wasn’t necessarily out to make albums that had a single tone.” Computer games consequently, the spectrum runs from the smooth and melodic “One Fun at a Time” to the rocky, nursery rhyme-like “Pot Sharing Tots”.
And then there was Computer games‘ signature track, “Atomic Dog”, which peaked Billboard‘s Hot Black Singles chart following its release in December 1982, becoming a sampling bar for hip-hop artists and an often-cited influence on techno artists, including the Belleville Three (Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May), who came from Detroit suburbs. Clinton wrote that Shider and Spradley began the song without him, and when he entered, “the lyrics were a free-associative flow of puns and phrases,” culminating in the “Bow-wow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yeah” refrain . (Snoop Dogg famously sampled the hook a decade later on his debut single “Who Am I? [What’s My Name?]”)
Listen to George Clinton’s ‘Atomic Dog’
“It was the most arresting thing I had done since the glory days of Parliament,” Clinton wrote. “Atomic Dog” was originally the B-side of “Loopzilla”, but DJs and other artists helped make it a hit single. “The success of ‘Atomic Dog’ rattled me a little,” Clinton admitted. “I liked knowing I could succeed, but the spotlight was a bit blinding. I didn’t want to screw things up.”
Computer games was a promising start to Clinton’s solo deal, peaking at No. 3 on Billboard‘s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 40 on the Billboard 200 — his best showing since late ’70s Parliament and Funkadelic efforts such as Uncle Jam wants you, Motor Booty Affair and Glory hall stoopid, and better than all subsequent releases. Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic nevertheless got their due when 16 of the collective’s members stepped in Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and they received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.
Funkadelic and Parliament Albums Ranked
We’re counting down the albums released by George Clinton’s two rotating groups.