DeepSoul: George Clinton - "Atomic Dog"

One of funk's most original artists foresaw hip hop's reign with this 1982 single.
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Who else but master funkster George Clinton could write the memorable lyrics "Why must I be like that/ Why George Clintonmust I chase the cat/ Nothin' but the dog in me"? 1982 marked a big year for Clinton, who returned to the charts in a big way with the single "Atomic Dog." It topped the R&B charts, received club play, and its album Computer Games cracked the Billboard Top 200. Interestingly, "Atomic Dog" also signaled the beginning of a new phase in Clinton's long career.

Mixing funk with psychedelia, Clinton formed the two bands Parliament and Funkadelic in 1969, with both groups scoring several hits throughout the 1970s. Their songs, including "Flashlight," "One Nation Under A Groove," "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)," "Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow," and "Chocolate City," fused 60s politics and culture with 70s funk and soul. This combination created a sound that no one else has replicated, and various band members forged their own successful careers, such as ex-James Brown stalwarts Bootsy Collins and Maceo Parker.

By 1980, Clinton had reached a crossroads. The Parliament/Funkadelic hit machine had dwindled, and Clinton found himself without a label. Reemerging as a solo artist, he kicked off his Capitol Records tenure with 1982's Computer Games. From the album title to the tracks' electronic sounds, the disc capitalizes on the newfound fascination with computer technology. Longtime fans need not be alarmed, however--Clinton brought along some of his trusted colleagues for this ride, including Collins and horn player Fred Wesley. According to AllMusic, Clinton and his band were deep into recording sessions at Detroit studios when he began improvising lyrics over a jam session. Singing "about an unusual dog against a track that was going in reverse," Clinton then recruited musicians David Spradley, Garry Shider, and David Lee Chong to arrange the song, and "Atomic Dog" was born.

What makes "Atomic Dog" so special? The hard-hitting groove demands attention, followed by Clinton's eccentric vocals. The lyrics are pure fun, debuting now-familiar phrases like "Bow-wow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yea," the title phrase, and "do the dogcatcher." While its electronic, video game sounds place the track in the 1980s, he nods to his soul roots by singing "just walkin' the dog," a sly reference to Rufus Thomas' Stax hit. Clinton raps about every type of dog, from "countin' dogs, funky dogs" to "nasty dogs." When he sings the line "futuristic bow-wow," he perfectly sums up his distinctive career. Clinton has always been ahead of his time in sound and theme, and this fusion of soul and electronica foreshadows the hip hop movement that would later dominate the charts.

Indeed, this fusion explains why so many rap and hip hop artists have sampled "Atomic Dog" over the years. The site WhoSampled lists a staggering 13 pages of songs that utilized to the song in some way, perhaps most famously Snoop Dogg's 1993 breakthrough single "Who Am I (What's My Name)?" Those born after 1982 may think that the "Snoop Doggy Dogg" line, along with the "bow wow wow" refrain, was written by the rapper. But "Atomic Dog," along with Computer Games, still sounds fresh 30 years later. To quote the great Clinton, "you can't fake the funk."