40 Years Ago: Parliament Swim in Funk on ‘Motor Booty Affair’
“I am Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk. I can’t swim. I never could swim. I never will swim.”
By the time Parliament’s Motor Booty Affair album was released on Nov. 20, 1978, fans likely were familiar with the villainous character Sir Nose. He famously utters those words in a chipmunk-like voice on “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop),” the LP’s No. 1 single on the R&B charts.
The basis for Sir Nose was introduced to Parliament-Funkadelic (P-Funk)’s Afrofuturism mythology — presented in lyrics, liner notes, artwork and stage shows — in 1977 on "The Pinocchio Theory" by Bootsy's Rubber Band.
That same year, P-Funk founder George Clinton put the character, decked out in his signature fedora and over-sized nose, on the cover of Parliament’s Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome. He even got his own song, "Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk.” “He's supposed to represent that guy or that person that doesn't feel like dancing,” former P-Funk guitarist Michael Hampton — aka Kidd Funkadelic — tells UCR. “They’re too cool to dance.”
In the Motor Booty Affair era, swimming is equivalent to dancing. Designed by Overton Loyd, the album cover depicts a giant yellow bird threatening to scoop Sir Nose up and drop him into Parliament’s underwater city -- a sexy, funky Atlantis. Loyd created a vision for the aquatic paradise through a pop-up illustration inside the gatefold album cover. The artist’s sheet of cardboard cutout characters mentioned in the music — Mr. Wiggles, Giggles & Squirm, etc. — was also included. And animated versions were shown on TV commercials for the album.
Watch a Commercial for Parliament's 'Motor Booty Affair'
But the characters really came alive through the music, a strong collection of horn-soaked, soulful jams that set Parliament apart from their rock-oriented sister band, Funkadelic. The infectious opener, “Mr. Wiggles,” introduces the world-building over a walking bass line, famously played live by the late Cordell “Boogie” Mosson, and a static guitar line by Hampton. “It seems like I was playing rhythm forever,” Hampton laughs now.
“I got a string on my thang / Rhythm in my thang / I can do my thang underwater,” the background vocalists — aka the “Choral Reef (Er, Bubbly Vocalizations)” — sing.
“Mr. Wiggles” is followed by the cleverly named "Rumpofsteelskin,” depicting a character who “don't rust and bend.” Despite the striking, chromatic lines, impressive bass work and catchy outro —"Livin' and jivin' and diggin' the skin he's in”— the single peaked at only No. 72 on the R&B chart.
Track three, “(You’re a Fish and I’m a) Water Sign,” stands out as the album’s only ballad, but the detailed interplay of rich bass, vocal arrangements and horn lines make it a true gem.
Closing out the first — and strongest — half of the album is “Aqua Boogie,” a singular dance track with smart arrangements and flourishes, including a signature bird noise, ascending chromatic line, Sir Nose’s sped-up voice-over and the energizing impact of the chorus and groove dropping in and out. “I get chills thinking about it,” Hampton says. “It’s timeless.”'
Listen to Parliament's 'Aqua Boogie'
Translating the Motor Booty Affair material to the stage allowed for over-the-top costumes like Octopus hats, worm-like tails and a diving helmet with built-in hair rollers worn by Mosson.
“They had some really nice outfits,” Hampton notes. “Not everybody was really on board with wearing some of them. "They had some kind of buns that Velcroed on,” Hampton adds, laughing, and then cut the topic short as if to avoid sharing too many explicit details.
Watch Parliament Perform 'Mr. Wiggles' Live in 1979
Reaching gold certification, Motor Booty Affair came out during a period of mainstream success for P-Funk. Several months before its release, “Flash Light” had become the collective’s first No. 1 R&B single. “One Nation Under a Groove” also reached the top spot on the chart that year.
The arrival of music director and multi-instrumentalist Walter “Junie” Morrison (who's credited under the pseudonym J.S. Theracon on Motor Booty) also contributed to P-Funk’s achievements. And the album added to the legacy of Clinton’s art as commentary on the black experience in the U.S.
“The bold Afrofuturist blending of blackness and science-fiction that is presented in George Clinton’s albums, art, and even live concerts … represent and attempt to destabilize fixed concepts of black identity and historical origin and re-frame them both as transcendent,” scholar Adilifu Nama writes in his book Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film. “The mythology of Atlantis as a lost city located below the surface of public visibility is an appropriate and ingenious metaphor for characterizing the state of the urban black ghetto in America. … The statement ‘We got ta raise Atlantis to the top’ [on the album’s “Deep”] signifies a desire for black upward social mobility.”
For Hampton, the Motor Booty era was another opportunity to sharpen his skills as a musician. “I was more concerned with trying to stay in tune and be ready for whenever I had to play, that I kind of shut everything else out,” he says. “Everything seemed to be muffled, like we were underwater for real.”
Overall, Hampton calls his tenure with P-Funk “fascinating.” “It was like joining the circus or carnival,” he says. “It was an experience that probably shaped me in a lot of different ways.”
And what became of Sir Nose? As George Clinton told Consequence of Sound, the funk-less nuisance resurfaced with the release of Parliament’s 2018 album. “When you see Medicaid Fraud Dogg," he explained, "you’ll see Sir Nose is still out here fuckin’ up and Dr. Funkenstein is out here inoculating people with the funk.”