Sly and the Family Stone
(Epic / Legacy)
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2007, Volume 14, #5
Written by John Metzger
Fri May 11, 2007, 05:45 AM CDT
For an all-too-brief period between 1968 and 1973, Sly Stone could do no wrong. His evolution had been rapid, and over the course of his initial trilogy of albums — A Whole New Thing, Dance to the Music, and Life — he experimentally and ingeniously bent pop, soul, and rock conventions to create his own distinctive style. On each outing, Stone hinted at the greatness that he soon would achieve, and his belief in the power of music to save mankind’s soul and heal a nation’s racial and gender divides was present in the exuberant optimism of his lyrics as well as within the very makeup of his band. Driven by his disappointment over the commercial and artistic failure of Life, Stone led his outfit back into the studio in late 1968 to begin crafting Stand!, which became the first monumental effort of his career. Without it, Miles Davis might never have delved quite so deeply into jazz-fusion, and both Parliament-Funkadelic and Prince would have been left without a major source of inspiration.
Stand! began in an almost unassuming fashion. Initially, its title track was nothing more than a shimmering ’60s-style pop song, but comprehending the manner in which it was shaped allows it to become a reflection of the album itself. Shortly after recording the composition, Stone took the acetate to a dance club where he played it for the assembled crowd. When he saw their reaction, he knew it wasn’t finished, and he appended a 45-second coda to the piece, which lent the tune an explosive, funky edge that set the tone for the rest of the affair. Stone had found his groove.
The most intriguing aspect about Stand!, however, is that for a transitional effort — and that’s precisely what it was — it also was a stunning album. On the one hand, it was the culmination of everything that Stone had been trying to accomplish. Right from the start, he had approached his music from a unique perspective, but on Stand!, he found an effective method of conveying what he wanted to say. Highlighted by the radiant spirituality of I Want to Take You Higher, the irresistible innocence of Everyday People, the uncomplicated street-gang gospel of Sing a Simple Song, and the positive outlook of You Can Make It If You Try — as well as the deliriously groovy bonus cuts Soul Clappin’ II and My Brain (Zig-Zag) that are appended to the recent reissue — his songs not only were blissfully moving, but they also were bursting at the seams with hope. The arrangements were playful and fun; they were designed to make people of all races and genders get up and dance together.
Nevertheless, Stand! also was a prelude to the darkness that would fuel the disillusioned commentaries that later filled There’s a Riot Goin’ On. Though Stone still believed that music could bring the country together, he also was well aware of the tensions that had erupted on America’s streets. By positioning Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey between the title track and I Want to Take You Higher, Stone was sending a clear message that he hoped would be heard. With its low, buzzing horns and swirling guitars — a template from which John Lennon borrowed considerably for his Vietnam protest tune I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier — Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey was unlike anything Stone had ever crafted. It directly addressed the issues at hand by tossing the title phrase and its converse back and forth in an ominously foreboding fashion. Likewise, on the extended jam Sex Machine — which concluded with an ode to the Chambers Brothers’ Time Has Come Today — Stone placed his microphone inside his mouth to create an eerie effect, while Somebody’s Watching You exuded an aura of paranoia. For certain, the storm clouds were gathering on the horizon, but they had not yet engulfed Stone’s music. On Stand!, the spirit of peace, love, and harmony still managed to prevail.
Of Further Interest...
Stand! is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box