Sly & The Family Stone

Sony, 1969

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


The limitless experimentation in the latter half of the 1960s remains the best four years in rock music, particularly the time between 1967 and 1970 where artists tried everything. That the music had a social conscience only enhanced its meaning, albeit dating it firmly in the decade.

There is something about this time period, 1969 in particular, where music feels fresh and vibrant, where Motown, Abbey Road, the Stooges, the Doors, Led Zeppelin and Sly and the Family Stone could co-exist on the charts. There's also a noticeable trend in how music from 1967 that hoped to change the world with a song gave way to a vision of marred utopianism, where those who wanted peace and love were becoming drug casualties or realizing putting a flower in a rifle wasn't going to have much of an impact.

This sort of jaded optimism is where Sly and the Family Stone would end up at the end of their classic original run, and hints of that show through on the brilliant Stand!. But most of the disc is full of effervescent musical blends and unification themes begun during the Summer of Love, making Stand! a dated, joyful slice of funky optimism.

The Family Stone were a truly integrated group, males and females, whites and blacks all together under Sly Stone's leadership out to have a good time, as early hit "Dance To The Music" proved. By the time the band got around to its fourth album, Stand!, all the elements of a classic 60s album were in place -- astounding musical interplay, a dizzying array of styles, lyrics that are at minimum not cringe-inducing and the aforementioned social conscience mixed with boundless experimentation. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Yet as such, Stand! cannot quite be called a true classic because of the dated elements. It's easy to listen to the bass-heavy funk of "Everyday People," which is a joy to rediscover in its natural element and not in commercials, and not get swept up in the simple anti-hate themes of "There is a yellow one that won't accept the black one / That won't accept the red one that won't accept the white one / And different strokes for different folks."

It's not as easy to listen to "Sing A Simple Song" or "Somebody's Watching You," the latter of which is one of those laughable songs used when someone is making fun of Flower Power (think of the "flower people" scene in This Is Spinal Tap). The themes are a little too simple, the music a little too precious and what momentum the disc builds up is lost.

Music lovers of any stripe will find something here, though. "Everyday People" and "Stand!" are great pieces of funk pop, "Sex Machine" is a bluesy jam that Joe Walsh later borrowed and "You Can Make It If You Try" brings in some soul and R&B elements to augment the funk. Even when the lyrics become banal and the music precocious, Stand! remains thoroughly invigorating, so optimistic and so fun that it's hard to resist.

"Don't Call Me N----r, Whitey" brings in the social conscience that Sly would explore later in There's A Riot Going On; the tune itself is a mostly-instrumental funk jam that goes on a bit long. "Stand!" is a decent opener, not classic but solid; both songs are a lead-in to "I Want To Take You Higher," an unstoppable harmonica-laden funk riff that combines at least four musical genres into one effortless, uplifting piece of music.

"Sex Machine" is a bit of a space-filler, a wordless 13-minute blues jam not worth revisiting often but fun while it lasts, while "You Can Make It If You Try" closes the disc on a solid and uplifting note. The recent reissue of the disc adds some mono singles, an interesting unreleased track in "Soul Clappin' II" and a great funk instrumental, "My Brain (Zig-Zag)," that sounds like an influence for Keith Emerson, George Clinton and Led Zeppelin's "The Crunge."

Such is the vigor of Stand!, which makes its inconsistency frustrating. It's easily one of the better discs of 1969, which is saying a lot considering the vast array of excellent music that year -- the claim is not so much in the simple lyrics but in the pure joy of making music, the belief in something better and the wholly original, intoxicating blend of funk, pop, rock, soul and shared vocals.

It may be dated, it may be inconsistent, but Stand! is rarely boring or predictable. It's hard to listen to it and not get caught up in its spirit, such is the power and joy of the message. This is what music is supposed to do -- make you think, get your foot or head tapping and make you believe in the message.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2007 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sony, and is used for informational purposes only.