Prince and George Clinton Team Up for ‘We Can Funk': 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
It’s not uncommon for an artist to take a song that didn’t make the cut on a previous album and return to it years later. Prince did it in 1990 with “We Can Funk” and, in doing so, got the opportunity to work with one of his greatest influences, George Clinton of Parliament–Funkadelic.
“We Can Funk” began life as “We Can F—,” a song that was recorded towards the end of the Purple Rain sessions, although it remained officially unreleased until the June 2017 expanded edition of that blockbuster record. Prince Vault says that the 10-minute track was recorded on Dec. 31, 1983, with overdubs and mixing the next day. Keyboardist Lisa Coleman credited her brother David for bringing an oud, a Middle Eastern instrument similar to a lute or mandolin, to the studio and playing the exotic riff that plays underneath the synths and pops in and out of the mix.
“Prince was really taken with David at the time,” she told the Star Tribune. “My brother was very schooled in Arabic and Middle Eastern music. Prince was piqued by someone who knew part of a language he wasn’t familiar with. David’s groove brought out Prince’s favorite thing — funky. He thought Middle Eastern music was very sexy. He married a belly dancer [Mayte Garcia] after that.”
Even though it (and the similarly unambiguous “Wonderful Ass“) was left off Purple Rain, there was something in David’s oud riff that remained intriguing to Prince. Six years later, as he worked on the soundtrack to Graffiti Bridge, he pulled it out again and got what he wanted. He made some modifications, including replacing the profane word throughout. cutting it in half, adding a hook (“Jump them and funk them / Pump them and funk them / We can funk“) and a chorus (“I’m testing positive for the funk / I’ll gladly pee in anybody’s cup / And when your cup overflow / I’m testing positive and I’ll pee some more“).
Given that the new recording was no less salacious than its predecessor, the change was possibly done as a nod to Clinton. And while the lyrics to either won’t earn any awards for depth, “We Can Funk” wins out largely due to Clinton’s influence. Although his contribution is restricted to sharing lead vocals with Prince, the song bears more than a few hallmarks of P-Funk, notably the group singing and the bounce in the bass.
Clinton told Billboard that he first met Prince at a concert around 1977, but they didn’t work together until the late ’80s, when Prince signed Clinton to his Paisley Park label. Their senses of humor clicked in a way that possibly explains the urination reference in “We Can Funk.”
“Once I left Capitol after ‘Atomic Dog’ and all that, I needed a label,” Clinton told Yahoo Music. “I just called him and said, ‘I got a track I peed on and I’m gonna send to you; you pee on it and send it back!’ And that’s the way it went. I signed up to the label, and the first album was [1989’s] The Cinderella Theory. He didn’t work too much on that one, but for the second one, I told him, ‘Don’t be so nice.’ He was always trying to be respectful [and not change the music too much]. I said, ‘No, put some of that s— on there.’ So he played a lot on my  Hey, Man, Smell My Finger album.”
Prince also cast Clinton in the film Graffiti Bridge, which was a sequel to Purple Rain. It lacked both the commercial and critical appeal of its predecessor, and marked the end of Prince’s film career. But Clinton had a different opinion of the movie than nearly everyone else who saw it.
“Graffiti Bridge was the best,” he said. “He had fun doing that s—. Him and Morris Day was funny with each other in real life — just the way they act in the movie, that’s pretty much like how they were anyway. [The Time’s guitarist] Jesse [Johnson] was even funnier. They was crackin’ with each other about who’s the shortest; they’re tiny, and they cracked on each other all the time about that. It was a fun family, all of them.”
But even though the two were close friends, there was one aspect of life where the famously fried Clinton had very contrasting opinions with Prince .
“He didn’t do no drugs,” Clinton said. “No. He was always cool. He didn’t do that s—.”
Prince Year by Year: 1977-2016 Photographs