This one’s for the hardcore P-Funk heads.
On July 1, 1967, “(I Wanna) Testify” by the Parliaments debuted on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. It spent 15 weeks there, rising to No. 3. It also crossed over to the pop chart, peaking at No. 20.
From that one record, all future fame and glory for George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic grew. “Testify” proved that George could write and produce a hit single. It made the Parliaments an in-demand touring act. Within a couple of years, George would have album deals with two different Detroit labels.
Pretty soon, he’d be buying a spaceship.
The irony, for me as a fan, is that I never liked “Testify.” Oh, the chorus is kind of catchy, I suppose. But I never understood how this one became the breakout hit, while the Parliaments’ other pre-funk 45s (such as this one) wallowed in obscurity.
Well, “Testify” must have something going for it, because a lot of talented singers have remade it over the years. I’m streaming a bunch of those remakes on my Vox audio stash. But let’s start with the original:
1. “(I Wanna) Testify” – The Parliaments (1967)
The thing I enjoy most about this song is the first three words: Friends, inquisitive friends... That’s a neat lyric. The rest of it? Umm... whatever.
2. “Testify (I Wonna)” – Johnnie Taylor (1969)
Johnnie Taylor got grittier with it, and took the song back to No. 4 on the R&B chart. This version also squeezed its way onto the Top 40.
3. “Testify” – Ronnie Wood (1992)
Here’s how the Rolling Stones might’ve done it. This was recorded live at Electric Ladyland Studios in New York, in the middle of Ron Wood’s 1992 solo tour. Ronnie shares the lead vocals with Bernard Fowler. This version is available on Wood’s 2000 CD “Live & Eclectic.”
4. “(I Wanna) Testify” – Little Willie G. (2000)
Willie Garcia was the lead singer of Thee Midniters, a ’60s Latin-rock band that was a big deal in Southern California. This track was produced by David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. It’s from the CD “Make Up for Lost Time.”
5. “I Wanna Testify”– Noel Paul Stookey (1980)
Stookey is the “Paul” of Peter, Paul & Mary. This version appeared on his 1980 LP “Band & Body Works.” I like how he changes up the chords or the key or whatever it is he’s doing.
6. “I Wanna Testify” – The Ace of Cups (c. 1968)
Here’s a weird one. The Ace of Cups was an all-female rock band in the Bay Area that never released any records. But because these women were in the thick of the hippie scene, someone released a CD of their demo tapes and garage recordings as some sort of cultural artifact. (The 2003 CD is titled “It’s Bad for You But Buy It!”)
Lead singer Denise Kaufman – known as “Mary Microgram” when she rolled with Ken Kesey’s acid-dropping Merry Pranksters – gives a rough but enthusiastic reading of George Clinton’s lyric.
Most of the above tracks are available for download from iTunes and/or eMusic.