How we made Funkadelic's One Nation Under a Groove

‘A woman came up on stage butt-naked and started blowing smoke rings out of her private parts’

George Clinton, songwriter, producer

We’d played a gig in Washington DC and afterwards two young girls, LaTanya and Darlene, came up to the car and told us it was was the best concert they’d ever seen. They said: “It was like one nation under a groove.” As soon as I heard that, I knew it had to become a song.

Initially, all I had was a hook – “One nation under a groove, gettin’ down just for the funk of it.” In the studio, once we got a rhythm together, I pretty much ad-libbed the rest. I wanted the silky feel of the Dionne Warwick records with Burt Bacharach – a smooth groove, but funky.

We’d just been touring with a giant stage prop of a spaceship we called the mothership, but wherever I tried to store it, people turned the place into a disco! So eventually I had to take the whole thing into the studio. Junie Morrison [keyboards] had just joined us from the Ohio Players and we’d got lots of new equipment, so we were in the zone.

Funkadelic: One Nation Under a Groove

The line “So high you can’t get over it, so low you can’t get under it” was used by the Temptations in Psychedelic Shack, but it actually goes back much earlier, to gospel. I also took a catchphrase used by the Mantan Moreland chauffeur character in the Charlie Chan movies, when he was ready to run from the ghost: “Feet, don’t fail me now!” And the line “Dance your way out of your constrictions” is about people’s hangups: you can deal with them by being grumpy or with a smile.

At the time, I had three bands – Parliament, Funkadelic and Bootsy’s Rubber Band – that were all basically the same people. That gave us a better chance of survival. One Nation could have been a Parliament record, but Funkadelic needed a hit. The guitar solo made it more Funkadelic.

I credited Darlene and Tanya on the One Nation Under a Groove album cover. For me, the song was about bringing humanity together, because the real problems are gonna come when we’re dealing with other planets and we have to worry about aliens coming to eat us or fuck us with five dicks.

Michael ‘Kid Funkadelic’ Hampton, guitarist

When I was 17, I played the entire 10-minute Maggot Brain solo at a Funkadelic aftershow party. Two weeks later, I got a call saying Eddie Hazel [guitarist] had left, so could I come down. I had to tell my paper-round boss that I was going on tour with Funkadelic. I stayed for 45 years. It was everything I’d dreamed about: being on stage with Bernie Worrell [keyboards], Bootsy Collins [bass] and everybody else. George coming out of a coffin. It was part-carnival, part-Broadway, part-circus.

‘Garry Shider would turn a towel into a nappy and become Diaper Man’ … Funkadelic.
‘Garry Shider would turn a towel into a nappy and become Diaper Man’ … Funkadelic. Photograph: GAB Archive/Redferns

The Funkadelic dressing room was crazy – guys in the shower practising the trumpet, all these costumes. On tour, the vibe was always: “Dress up in whatever you want and go and play.” George would turn a hotel sheet into a costume. Garry Shider [guitar/vocals] turned a towel into a nappy and became Diaper Man. I chose a monk’s outfit with a cape.

The freedom extended to the music. We were mixing funk, rock, soul and psychedelia. One Nation Under a Groove was already well under way by the time I was called in to overdub my parts. The studio was like a party. George was behind the console and would give me the melody and I could play whatever I felt. I had one of the first guitar synthesisers, and was trying to get it to harmonise with my guitar. I hadn’t really mastered it, so kept the solo simple.

I always took One Nation Under a Groove to mean that some of the world’s problems are too big to change, so we might as well just groove. We’d play it until we felt like stopping – it could last half an hour. One night, as the spaceship started taking off, the drum kit got tangled up, so went up in the air with it. Another night, a woman got on stage butt-naked and was blowing smoke rings out of her private parts. I was a young kid, five feet away with my guitar, thinking, “How do I follow that?”


Interviews by Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The O'Jays: how we made Love Train
‘Donald Trump used it in his campaign – join a Trump train. Our lawyers sent him a cease and desist letter’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

01, Nov, 2016 @9:00 AM

Article image
How we made Sister Sledge’s We Are Family
‘The boss of our label had paper dolls made of us. We were like … nah’

Interviews by Alexis Petridis

12, Apr, 2016 @6:00 AM

Article image
Bootsy Collins: 'We're all funky, just not all of us know it'
The P-Funk bassist was a street kid in the 60s, got his break with James Brown, then spent much of the 70s taking LSD. He talks about drugs, racism, police brutality – and the healing power of music

Ammar Kalia

15, Jun, 2020 @1:39 PM

Article image
How we made Booker T and the MGs' Green Onions
‘It was originally called Funky Onions – but to laced-up, deep-south America, that sounded like a cuss word, so we had to retitle it’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

11, Mar, 2019 @4:23 PM

Article image
How the Isley Brothers made Harvest for the World
‘Jimi Hendrix played in the band and lived at our house. He’d watch cartoons with us with his guitar strapped on, and we’d ask him questions as he practised’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

06, Jul, 2020 @3:02 PM

Article image
‘My mum made outfits for us to wear on Top of the Pops’: how the Real Thing made You to Me Are Everything
‘I took a white label record to my local hangout in Liverpool. The DJ put it on and the floor filled up. We knew then we were on the button’

Interviews by Sarfraz Manzoor

08, Aug, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
How we made the Jackson 5's I Want You Back
‘Michael and I were such pranksters. We’d put itching powder on men’s bald spot – or a bucket of water over a door to give someone a soaking’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

09, Oct, 2017 @4:18 PM

Article image
Groove Armada: how we made At the River
It was the chill-out classic that beguiled the 90s – and it all started in a 50p bargain bin in Ambleside

Interviews by Dave Simpson

20, Nov, 2018 @6:00 AM

Article image
People opened up because I'm the Beavis and Butt-head guy': Mike Judge on his new funk direction
The writer-director’s comedies – from Office Space to Silicon Valley – always sum up the spirit of their times. So why has he made an LSD-soaked cartoon about George Clinton and Bootsy Collins?

Hadley Freeman

15, Apr, 2020 @1:13 PM

Article image
How we made Motown
Berry Gordy: ‘I didn’t like Stevie Wonder’s singing – but I loved his harmonica-playing’

Interviews by Dorian Lynskey

22, Mar, 2016 @8:00 AM