Here is ample proof that Funkadelic were as good at forging earworm pop as they were melting faces.
Figuring out who played what on any given P-Funk album is often a fool’s errand. Credits always seemed to include everyone who ever passed through George Clinton’s orbit, and one could never tell who played on what track, if they even appeared at all. Yet one fact remains universally accepted by members and fans: Eddie Hazel, who had drifted in and out of the group after some kind of confrontation with Clinton after Maggot Brain, not only returned for the entirety of Standing on the Verge of Getting It On, but was the record’s guiding force. Funkadelic records are all exquisite murks of influences and conflicting sonics, but Hazel’s input here results in arguably the clearest, most focused of the band’s works, a shrine to the electric guitar every bit as dazzling, and frequently more consistent, than even Hazel’s last standout showcase with the group.
“Red Hot Mama” begins with a preamble of Clinton’s classic cosmic slop narration, the freeform, electronically altered speech getting lost in its own weirdness. Then, the track truly kicks off with Hazel’s splintering riff that quickly spirals off into fills and extrapolations as responsibilities for holding down the melody fall onto Bernie Worrell’s keys. Cymbal-heavy percussion and lurching bass lay out a wash of noise to undergird the track, which seems to split into 12 different directions while maintaining its focused forward momentum. Hazel spends more than half of the song effectively soloing, but despite his flashy, punchily mixed pyrotechnics, he manages to dart around the core theme, oddly bolstering the riff rather than abandoning it.
The rest of the album broadly follows this formula, with Hazel or rhythm guitarist Gary Shider setting the pace before Hazel dumps battery acid all over everything. “Alice in My Fantasies” is a live jam pressed into diamond-hard density as Hazel roars over the mix while Worrell adds psychedelic swirls under the wall of sound to give the 150-second track the feeling of being caught in a wind tunnel. “Sexy Ways” falls back on more traditional funk, shoving bass to the fore and cocooning it in tambourine and congas as the guitars add chicken-scratch support until Hazel peels off soaring fills that float up in the background, adding a faint metallic tone to the otherwise straightforward dance tune that gradually tilts the song off its axis and plunges it into something just outside of genre classification.
When the band slows down, they draw out their curious blend of funk and proto-metal into psych-dub territory. “I’ll Stay” is a ballad in mood and tempo, but compositionally it’s pure brain-frying space rock. Hazel draws out the aching tones of his phrasing, dialing back the distortion but still bending his notes just enough to give his guitar a keening texture that breaks the song from its more grounded, romantically yearning lyrics into a more celestial form of searching. Closer “Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts” sounds like “Maggot Brain” as intercepted as a radio transmission in deep space. The middle section breakdown of “Maggot Brain” in particular sounds like an inspiration here as Hazel’s guitar dips into an abyss with ringing chords that ping and echo. Yet where Hazel’s earlier showcase rode crests and ebbs toward an emotional catharsis, here he sounds like an astronaut drifted too far off course, sending a distress signal that blurts out into the void with no response. A second guitar line eventually chimes in, but it stomps chords that seem less a reaction than a passing voice ignoring the other line. Even when Ray Davis’ gurgled bass vocals enter the fray, there is no sense of unity, his cosmic monologue that of some distant god musing aloud.
That this portentous, mournful epic follows the surf guitar and vulgar lark of “Jimmy’s Got a Little Bit of Bitch in Him” testifies to the band’s freewheeling sense of exhibition and genre-defying songwriting. Yet for all the band’s avant-garde leanings, they could still craft murderously effective songs. For evidence, look no further than the title track. Opening with a plunging riff and vocal line, “Standing on the Verge of Getting It On” immediately lays down one of the band’s funkiest grooves, which Hazel circles like a gnat. The staccato phrasing and fat-bottomed bass makes for Funkadelic’s most danceable track until “One Nation Under a Groove” effectively erased the boundaries separating Clinton’s rock outfit from Parliament. Funkadelic’s legacy is built on its freakout jamming, but here is ample proof that they were as good at forging earworm pop as they were melting faces.