Rock and Roll has seen various musical rivalries in its almost 70 year existence. Music lovers have always been pushed to take sides. In the 1960s, you were either a Beatles fan or a Rolling Stones fan. In the 1980s, you were team Michael Jackson or team Prince.
In the 1970s, as Funk music became the new standard in Black popular music, a fierce rivalry developed between two R&B/Funk titans: Parliament-Funkadelic and Earth, Wind, and Fire. A rivalry born out of a pivotal gig in the nation’s capital.
P-Funk and EWF shared the bill at a performance at the DC Armory in 1972. EWF was the only opening act. EWF leader Maurice White and lead vocalist Phillip Bailey both reference this event in their respective autobiographies. Both acknowledge that P-Funk emerged triumphant to the degree that EWF went back into the studio afterward to tighten their own musical chops. The band as a whole made a promise to themselves that they would never let another band blow them out of the water the way that P-Funk did ever again.
That event would inadvertently lead to a friendly competition that would ultimately produce some of the boldest R&B, Soul, and Funk from both bands. In particular, the period between 1975 and 1978 would see both bands producing their most genre-defining work.
“THAT’S THE WAY OF THE WORLD” VS. “MOTHERSHIP CONNECTION”
EWF blasted onto the national music scene with an album that many forget was the soundtrack to a movie starring Harvey Keitel. It becomes their first and only studio release to top the album charts in April 1975. They almost have the Funk game sewn up until Parliament releases Mothership Connection in December. It goes on to be regarded as the definitive Funk album of the entire decade. Like That’s The Way.…the Mothership album goes platinum.
“GRATITUDE” VS. “PARLIAMENT LIVE: P-FUNK EARTH TOUR”
While released almost two years apart, both albums are quickly consumed by the R&B/Funk-loving public. Gratitude benefits from more radio exposure than Parliament Live.
“SPIRIT” VS. “THE CLONES OF DR. FUNKENSTEIN”
Both albums showcase bands that no longer need to prove they’re bad. They both know they’re bad. Their individual brands of greatness bring the competition to a fever pitch.
“ALL IN ALL” VS “FUNKENTELECHY VS. THE PLACEBO SYNDROME”
The competition comes to a head when EWF releases what is probably their most well-crafted release, All In All. It’s impeccable and meticulous in every way. How was the U.S. Funk Mob going to respond? By dropping Funkentelechy in November of the same year, an album that contained only six tracks that take the entire Funk genre into bold new territory. Flash Light goes on to yield massive influence over Funk, and then later new wave and Rap music.
The next album released by EWF was a greatest hits album. A move you don’t make when you’re trying to vie for musical supremacy. P-Funk took full advantage by releasing what many consider to be their “Man on the Moon” moment: One Nation Under A Groove.
Photo: Earth Wind and Fire, 1982 (Chris Hakkens, CC-BY-SA, via Wikimedia Commons)