WHEN Memphis soul singer Rufus Thomas had his biggest hit with 1963's "Walking the Dog," the song left a lasting impression on a 23- year-old New Jersey kid named George Clinton. Clinton, who brings his P-Funk All-Stars to the Warner Theatre on Sunday, was then the leader of a struggling soul-harmony group called the Parliaments. But Thomas's combination of a funky dance beat and over-the-top comic lyrics gave the youngster an idea of how to transform the short- haired, neatly dressed Parliaments into a wildly costumed, long- haired funk band called Parliament.
Clinton didn't record "Atomic Dog" until 1982, when he launched his solo career after many years of overseeing such acts as Parliament, Funkadelic, Bootsy's Rubber Band, Zapp and the Brides of Funkenstein. The funk scene Clinton had presided over was in recession, being replaced by upstart rappers. But the power of the canine metaphor hadn't faded, and "Atomic Dog" became a No. 1 R&B hit.
"Atomic Dog" has remained the centerpiece of Clinton's live show ever since, and he started writing more dog songs to go with it. His latest, "Dope Dogs" (Dogone/Available), is a concept album where 13 of the 14 tracks use canines as a central metaphor. Thus we get funny, funky, fun-house songs about an addicted-by-the-government "U.S. Custom Coast Guard Dope Dog," a media-brainwashed Pavlov's dog, the seductive party-dog "Fifi," a Fifi-chasing male dog and a funk- playing "Pack of Wild Dogs."
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