9 October 2016

Lunar Funk - Mr. Penguin (Parts One and Two)



Label: Bell
Year of Release: 1972

"My name... is Mr. Penguin - you do your thang/ and I'll do my thang/ ha ha ha ha ha ha..."

I stumbled upon this record purely by chance in the soul and disco section of a second hand record store, and bought it on the strength of the band's name and the song title alone. "This," I thought, "is either going to be abysmal or great. And whichever it is, I bet I can at least write about it".

And guess what? "Mr. Penguin" is fantastic and truly absurd, though a lot of funk purists have been rather critical of this in some places online. Driven by fantastic jazzy electric organ riffs and a persuasive funk-disco beat, it tops the whole thing off with absurd, almost threatening spoken interruptions from the chap who identifies himself as "Mr. Penguin". He's deadpan, his laughter is somewhat hollow, and he couldn't give a fig what we think of him. It's the kind of record you'd place firm money was in Prince's collection somewhere at Paisley Park; it seems utterly at home with the man's love of funky riffs and also borderline psychedelic absurdity. So too can I imagine this finding favour with sixties mod types and Acid Jazz heads far more than it's likely to please the discerning, "serious" funk crowd. 

The track was also apparently put together in something of a hurry by the musicians Leroy Emmanuel, Mose Davis, Demo Cates and Andrew Gibson. Complaining to their employers that they had no money coming in for Christmas 1972, they were rushed into the studio to cut a couple of tracks which all concerned hoped would reverse the situation. One of the tracks, "Crawl Y'All", was issued under the band name Bad Smoke on Chess Records, then there was this little number for Bell, a single the label were apparently desperate to own and coughed up handsomely for. It became something of a dancefloor hit in the aftermath and was heavily played at a couple of regional American stations, and Radio Luxembourg in Europe, but it's become largely forgotten since.

Blues & Soul magazine published a review of this record in 1972 which stated "Rumour has it that it is completely electrical, and there are, in fact, no musicians involved". Lord alone knows where this rumour stemmed from - a mischievous record label employee, I'm sure - but it's obviously total balderdash. It does, however, bring to mind some of the more ridiculous lines from Chris Morris's "Club Night" guides on the Bluejam radio show. "He uses guns, by the way, and there's no floor in the club at all". 



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