One of the most wildly innovative and technically dazzling musicians in pop music history, Parliament-Funkadelic’s Bernie Worrell was like “Jimi Hendrix on the keyboards,” according to one-time bandmate Bootsy Collins, and that’s not a hyperbolic estimation. A classical-music child prodigy who attended the New England Conservatory of Music and Juilliard, Worrell’s journey to the funk began by hanging around George Clinton’s Newark, New Jersey barbershop. By his early 20s, he was a full-fledged P-Funkateer, and soon became de facto musical director, organizing and orchestrating the anarchic collective’s sprawling jams and riffs into iconic compositions and performances.
Worrell died of cancer on Friday at the age 72. Here are 10 essential songs from Worrell’s catalog that show how the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer created the funky lingua franca that dragged us through the cosmic slop and invited us to flee reality on the mothership.