If you want to hear some of the 1970’s top—albeit underrated—players drop any inhibitions and just rip, Hardcore Jollies is your album.
Hardcore Jollies is not a normal P-Funk album. While the musical skeleton here is still funk, the end result is better fit alongside the then-booming jazz fusion scene. Rampant guitar solos, rhythmically complex drumming and Bernie Worrell’s bonkers keyboard sounds give the album its definitively loose style that often resembles a Frank Zappa live jam or James Blood Ulmer’s ’80s jazz-funk sound. The opening track, a remake of “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain,” starts of in a typical Funkadelic manner with its group vocal chants and repetitive groove, though the six-minute track’s second half is this album’s first instance of its untethered approach to performance.
Any semblance of the pop-oriented group found on the previous few albums falls away, leaving only the rambling rhythm section and a free-flowing, manic Eddie Hazel. Drummer Buddy Miles, who only appears on this track, follows Hazel’s screaming guitar perfectly with his big, crashing gestures and aggressive kit approach. P-Funk regular Jerome Brailey drums on the rest of the album, and his tighter, more controlled playing helps bring the funk edge back. Still, “Comin’ Round the Mountain,” as it’s titled here, is an interesting detour. It’s a glimpse into an alternate universe where P-Funk never moved past their chaotic early days, forgoing the succinct hit writing of the mid ’70s in favor of expansive psychedelia.
That the opening tack is the most overtly disassembled is not a suggestion that the next seven tracks are at all coherent. “Smokey,” rather than employ any set structure, deconstructs one groove over its runtime. The full band sound that opens the track eventually melts into one of the most careful jams that Funkadelic had embarked on so far. Rarely is one musician shining over another, with each vocalist sparsely interjecting ad-libs against an instrumental backdrop that sounds afraid to take up too much space. An opposing presentation of Funkadelic as rock gods is cemented on the instrumental title track, a stadium-ready jam that showcases—of all things—double kick drums and an onslaught of indulgent, mind-bending guitar solos.
There are two shorter, more poppy tracks here, “If You Got Funk, You Got Style” and “Soul Mate.” These cuts feature greater harmonic complexity and stickier hooks, sounding like they’re reaching for more a memorable, chart-friendly sound. “Soul Mate,” especially, is sensual and sweet, utilizing a multi-part structure that highlights the band’s ability to shift between rigidity and complete fluidity—the staccato delivery of “I just want to kiss you on your / Desire baby” is perfectly in the pocket. Despite the earworm nature of these tracks, the abrupt fade-outs at the end of each suggest that these three-minute numbers could easily have been stretched out to the surrounding track’s six minutes or beyond. Whether due to an attempt to chart or the result of vinyl time constraints, it’s a missed opportunity.
The live recording of “Cosmic Slop,” the title track from the 1973 album, outdoes the original studio version by miles. A strict sense of group time is missing in the best way possible, with the music sounding as if Brailey’s drums are rushing ahead in an attempt to drag the sluggish bassline along with him. This tension gives the track a constant anxiety that keeps your heart racing throughout the track’s entire runtime. The final few minutes are a complete funk eruption, with multiple high-register guitars atop a massive synth and drum gallop driving the recording to its conclusion. “You Scared the Lovin’ Outta Me” is the most low-key cut here, delivering a ballad about heartbreak in an honest, impassioned manner. The constant trade-offs between the track’s sinister guitar riff and the major-key verses are wickedly slick, and you can easily imagine an 18-year-old Prince relishing in the shrieked vocals in the track’s final leg.
The final track, “Adolescent Funk,” fully delves into fusion territory by featuring some skillfully wandering keyboard lines and brisk guitar licks that reassert the jam-oriented nature of this album.Hardcore Jollies spawned no hits, sold and charted comparatively poorly and unfortunately, is currently unavailable on streaming services, all accumulating in its alienation from the P-Funk catalog. Unless you’re willing to pay for MP3s or seek out a physical copy, a YouTube playlist of varying audio quality and mixing levels is your go-to choice. While it might not often come up in conversations about the best P-Funk releases, this is certainly one of the top picks for fanatics of musicianship. If you want to hear some of the 1970’s top—albeit underrated—players drop any inhibitions and just rip, Hardcore Jollies is your album.