Flash Light by Parliament is a classic P-Funk jam built around keyboard player Bernie Worrell’s once heard, never forgotten bassline. This legendary monster of a descending bass hook was a technological revelation as well as a musical one. Worrell linked an array of Minimoog synthesizers together in a way that had never previously been done in order to achieve the gloriously deep and rasping tone that underpins the song.
On its release, Flash Light became Parliament’s biggest hit to date and an instant classic. The song’s staggeringly effective meander down to the bottom end of the keyboard spawned a myriad of copycats. Artists began to want a keyboard sound like Bernie Worrell’s more than a conventional bass guitar line. “Bass players started getting mad, they started losing sessions”, remembered P-Funk legend and funk pioneer Bootsy Collins.
There’s a narrative to Flash Light too. It’s steeped in P-Funk’s trippy, Afrofuturistic, extended mythology. It appeared as the closing track on Parliament’s 1977 album Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome and most of that LP is concerned with the tragic tale of Sir Nose d’Voidoffunk (track two on the album) – a living personification of negativity characterised by his refusal to dance. Basically, his nemesis, Starchild shoots him with the Bop Gun (track one) to cure him of his terrible affliction, having charged it up with the Flash Light (track six). Hence:
Most of all he needs the funk
Shine the spotlight on him
Help him find the funk
Oh funk me!
So that all makes sense, yeah?
Sadly, Bernie Worrell died a couple of years ago, aged 72. He leaves behind quite a legacy. As well as being a key member of Parliament and Funkadelic for decades, he also collaborated separately with George Clinton, Mos Def and Talking Heads among many others. He was a prolific solo artist in his own right too. But really, if the only thing he’d left behind was the bassline for Flash Light it would still have been a laudable life’s work.