Posts Tagged ‘Sly Stone’

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I have had a sheltered view on Sly Stone; despite many heartfelt claims by some  of whom I greatly respect that this gifted Texan kickstarted the grand congregating of soul, funk and psychedelia during the late Sixties. Yeah whatever, I thought. Well, replace soul with alt country, and that’s exactly what they told me about Phish and I still don’t get what the fuss is all about. I have heard a few songs like I Want To Take You Higher, Underdog and Everyday People and yeah it was funky and delightful in a hyper-kinetic Bobby Byrd sort of way, but nothing that could hold a candle to the great things that have been written as tribute to Sly Stone and his merry band– The Family Stone.

sly & the family stone

Of course, everything changed after I heard their 1971 menacing beast of an album – There’s A Riot Going On – last week. I mean, for the love of everything that is funky fresh and soul buttery, this was sprinkled with some of the freshest sounds that the early Seventies could muster up. You’ve got the basic inspiration for all your Red Hot Chilli Peppers, D’Angelo, and Brand New Heavies, as well as those wonderfully rich and multi-layered harmonies that Family Stone band cook up on There’s A Riot Going On. Sly Stone brings the darkness with his restrained, organic and world-weary vocals and equally depraved social commentary. The surprise might have worn off, but the pain he let loose on the canvas still sounds as intense as it once did.

Before I start raving about the album, I’ll get this out of the way….I personally think that Just Like A Baby and Runnin’ Away should have been in one of their earlier albums, they seem too contrived to fit into the scheme of things. A repetitive, stuttering riff carries both these tracks into territories that would later be defiled by the likes of Musiq Soulchild and Craig David.

On the flip side, Thank You For Talking To Me About Africa shines like the funky m*****fucker (yes, even I have moral standards) that Sly wants it to. It sidesteps any pretentions one might make about a seven minute-plus funk opus and launches into a bass-heavy rhythm section with Sly warbling, “flamin’ eyes of people fear, burnin’ into you, many men are missin’ much, hatin’ what they do” somewhere over the rainbow. Africa Talks to You (The Asphalt Jungle) is about a minute longer and more qualified to get a crowd going, be it protestors at a rally or soul-aficionados at a George Clinton concert.

Time, freakishly enough, is reminiscent of the song (of a similar name) written by Mick Jagger. Difference being while Jagger confidently reassures himself that time is on his side, Sly takes us into the insecure mess that has become his psyche (by the Seventies) and says stuff like, “if you don’t mind please, why give slack to a deserter, it’s about time”. The music could have easily passed for a Motown single, and I mean that in a good way.

Other highlights include the gorgeous and delicate Family Affair in which he gives us a vocal performance that is both suffocating and mellow. The darkness however is kept to its bare minimum in the music; matter of fact, it has lovely, piercing note that dances all over the vocals, but still when he sings, “one child grows up to be somebody that just loves to learn, and another child grows up to be somebody you’d just love to burn, it’s a family affair, oh it’s a family affair”…it gets to me. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine, I have Deepak Chopra, Dr Phil and my mom – all on speed dial.  And there’s Spaced Cowboy. Proof that not all yodeling will lead to the listener wanting to hurt himself with blunt objects.


There’s another song I want to talk about…Trip To The Heart. This one’s from their A Whole New Thing album and dam, it kicks so much of arse that presumably, funk musicians living near and around the San Francisco Bay have been experiencing chronic posterior pains for the past three decades. Maybe because none of them have created anything that even begins to scrap the surface of this incredible track. It begins innocuously enough, with eerie screams acting as a precursor for the brilliant mess of sounds to follow. You can hear so many different genres in this song that you almost feel like you overrated Radiohead’s Kid A.

Seriously, Mr Sly Stone…Thank you for talking to me about soul.


Sly & The Family Stone – Thank You For Talking To Me About Africa


Sly & The Family Stone – Family Affair

Sly & The Family Stone – Trip To Your Heart

Sly & The Family Stone – Luv And Haight

Sly Stone & Tommy Jones – Everyday People


The Essential Sly & The Family Stone Collection

There’s A Riot Goin On

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Even homophobia has no business clouding one’s mind when it comes to decriminalization of homosexuality. It doesn’t even qualify itself for a debate. It should have been the norm considering that Hindus, Jews, the Japanese, Albinos, Dyslexic people, frock-wearing chihuahuas, plump activists, Zhongwei Goats, French mimes, grumpy painters, short human resources managers, tapeworms, jazz musicians, and irritating kids have been walking around freely without being viciously judged for who they are.

A lot of people have written about this with much more conviction and passion, so you should go read their stuff. As for the rest who are sort of glad about the decriminalization, but wouldn’t really think about it in two weeks’ time unless some a bunch of idiots have something hilariously offensive to say, read on.

Soup DragonsI was thinking about what would have made for a good background score when this news broke. After a brief introspection I have decided that it would have to be I’m Free by Scottish alternative rockers The Soup Dragons. I first heard of these guys during high school when a distant uncle of mine, a Catholic priest who had more in common with Bud Spencers than any other person I have met, gifted me a random “Say What U Want: Artists for Rock the Vote” CD. Apart from featuring stunningly good, edgy pop music by The Wonder Stuff, Michelle Shocked, Phranc and Tears For Fears, the CD also introduced me to a fantastic cover of a Rolling Stones’ song (I’m Free) by The Soup Dragons. Sean Dickson’s vocals are eager more than anything else and it works wonderfully well what with the rest of the band bringing down the house with a heck of a rhythm section.

As he croons, “Cause I’m free, to do what I want, to be what I want, any old time,” you really start questioning your sanity for having believed that happiness can be sort of boring.

In hindsight I can safely say that I’m Free reaffirmed my faith in joyous music. Despite being committed to the notion that cynicism and overwhelming pain spur music to greater heights than any other permutation of emotions, I think happiness lately has been given an unfair run in music. A couple of decades ago, a thumping beat followed by soulful vocals, handclaps and gentle synthesizers would have amounted to a great soul track sung by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Brian Wilson, Ray Charles, Sly Stone or Smokey Robinson. In today’s recurring playlist, you would sooner hear these classic sounds on a Goa trance album than on anything worth giving a second listen to.

And now…ahemmmm…now for the most loathsome part of casual writing, the summary of an hour’s worth of thinking.

Lessons Learned

I’m glad that the judgment on Section 377 has been given a warm welcome

I’m Free by The Soup Dragons might make you want to dance

You should buy the Say What U Want: Artists for Rock the Vote CD (or stay sadly ignorant of The Disposable Heroes of Hypocrisy)

I didn’t have time to talk about the joyously fantastic My Nutmeg Fantasy (Mos Def & Angie Stone remix) by Macy Gray, but do listen to it

And don’t fucking judge people who don’t bother you

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