U is for Unique: Sly & the Family Stone

Sly-family-stone(The second, and final, letter for which I couldn’t find a musical family group.)

Sylvester Stewart was a record producer and DJ in the San Francisco Bay Area; I have a very early Billy Preston produced by him. He changed his name to Sly Stone, and started a band, as did his brother Freddie. The groups merged in 1967 to become Sly & the Family Stone, with sister Vaetta as one of the background singers. The band was unique, in part, because it was racially mixed at a point when that just wasn’t done. Their songs, especially by their third album, Life, was infused with themes about unity and integration.

Sly’s music was so good that it would be sampled years later. At about 40 seconds into that great Fatboy Slim video featuring Christopher Walken, I hear echoes of Sly’s Into My Own Thing [LISTEN to both]. It was clear that the psychedelic soul of Motown, especially by the Temptations producer Norman Whitfield, came from the group’s sound, notably Larry Graham’s bass playing, and the shared lead vocals; George Clinton & Parliament/Funkadelic and many others would also be influenced.

Yet, except for the title song from the second album, Dance to the Music [LISTEN] (#8 US in 1968), the band was not having much commercial success, despite the addition of sister Rose on that second album.

Things changed with the fourth album, Stand!, which made my list of Top 25 favorite albums of the decade 1961-1970 [LISTEN TO ALL]:
I Want to Take You Higher, #60 US in 1969, #38 in 1970 when it was re-released after their legendary Woodstock appearance that I loved watching on the film
Sing a Simple Song, a B-side that got to #89 US on its own
Everyday People, #1 US for four weeks in 1969
You Can Make It If You Try
and the title track, #22 US in 1969

But the album I would have rather have put on the list, had it been permitted, was their greatest hits album, which featured these songs not found on other albums:
Hot Fun in the Summertime, #2 US in 1969 (“ooo, Lawd”)
Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin, #1 US in 1970 [this is a remake]
Everybody is a Star, its B-side

Unfortunately, members of the band, and especially Sly, got caught up in heavy drug use.

The last Sly album I bought, until considerably later, was the druggy There’s A Riot Going On, with two Top 40 singles in the US, Family Affair, #1 for three weeks in 1971, and Runnin’ Away, #23 US in 1972.

The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, with George Clinton as the presenter.

The Family Stone is still playing together in 2014, alas without Sly.


ABC Wednesday – Round 14

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