· © RED CLAY SawaSawa 2021 · All rights reserved · Licensed & regulated by UCC.
· The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Red Clay Ltd.
The story of how George Clinton made Atomic Dog, one of the greatest funk songs of all time, is fascinating.
It goes like this: Clinton was leader of Parliament and a number of other psychedelic funk bands and working on his [x] album. He was, at that time, at a low point in his career, and very much hooked on crack cocaine. It was draining his bank account (as crack does) and also making him paranoid (as crack does).
On a bitter winter day, Clinton arrives at the studio to find his band in the recording booth and a drum beat playing.
They were doing what they were supposed to be doing. But Clinton, being high on crack and paranoid, thinks they are trying to record without him.
He kicks them all out of the booth, takes over the mic and orders the engineer to play back the song so that HE can record.
This was back in 198(something), in the days of analog, so the engineer had to rewind the tape to the beginning in order to play it.
As he rewinds it, Clinton (being high on crack and paranoid) mistakenly thinks that that the sound of the tape rewinding is in fact the song.
“This is garbage!” he thinks, but he’s not going to lose face in front of his bandmates, especially when he just caught them trying to record without him.
So he begins singing what would later call: nonsense.
Why must I feel like that,
Why must I chase the cat,
Nothing but the dog in me.
The engineer thinks Clinton is doing this on purpose. He presses record.
Clinton thinks his engineer is f**king with him. He ploughs on.
His bandmates think whatever is happening is genius.
That backwards rewind sound and Clinton’s nonsense rambling eventually became Atomic Dog – a song that is not only a funk classic, but one that also became the backbone of g-funk and hip-hop, inspiring an entire new generation of artists and creating fans like me in faraway East Africa.
I think about that story a lot. Especially when we are working on an animation project that is just not clicking.
Creativity is such a strange beast. It’s not linear, nor can it be bottled, nor does it care about your need to make money to pay the rent. It comes and goes as it pleases, it hits you from areas you don’t expect and at times you don’t expect.
It’s hard to explain, difficult to quantity and almost impossible to systemize.
It’s a weird science.
Every studio at that time had to rewind tapes. It was something musicians that was done multiple times a session all over the world.
But not every musician thought of using that rewind sound in a song.
(Of course, millions of other factors were involved in that song becoming a hit, and we should not brush aside the influence of narcotics in Clinton’s “process”.)
But George Clinton’s Atomic Dog gives us these three rules to help us navigate this weird science:
- Be open to everything. Cause you just never know.
- Do the work. Even when it feels like what you’re doing is nonsense.
- Get lucky.
Two of those are in our control.
The third, only time can tell.