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Sheet Music of the Week: Now I Lay Me Down to Funk Edition

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Now I lay me down to sleep / by L. A. Drumheller. Saint Louis: Balmer & Weber, 1882.

The children’s prayer that begins,  “Now I lay me down to sleep”  dates back to an 18th century New England primer, but its musical life has followed a surprising path over the more than two centuries since.  From heavy metal (Metallica)  to hip-hop (The Notorious B.I.G.) to indie rock (Liz Phair), the iconic words have frequently been re-purposed towards the darker tones suggested by the line,   “If I should die before I wake.”  But at least one usage takes the prayer as an invitation to dance.

George Clinton’s pioneering R&B band Parliament, whose 1975 album Mothership Connection was recently named to the National Recording Registry, released the album Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome in 1979.  The concept album is ostensibly about repression, as the forces of rhythm battle Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk, a nemesis who refuses to dance.

Mothership Connection, Parliament, 1976. Album cover courtesy of Polygram Records

At the end of an album that trades in nursery rhymes, extended jams and a couple of slow dances,  comes the album’s signature hit,  “Flashlight.”  Its opening lyrics are “Now I lay me down to sleep/Ooh I just can’t find a beat.” The children’s prayer becomes a plea for a litany of light sources: stop light, neon light, and finally “everybody’s got a little light under the sun.” A strobe light is merely implied, but this R&B masterpiece equates light with dance, a quest for enlightenment that is a descendant of the spirituals that Clinton has often referenced and directly quoted in his music. In the Muse hopes its readers have a good week that is equal parts enlightened and funky.

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