The Essential Sly & The Family Stone

Sly & The Family Stone

Epic/Legacy, 2002

http://www.slystonemusic.com

REVIEW BY: Michael Ehret

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/08/2008

What makes this collection so good are the tracks from Sly & The Family Stone’s most fertile period, 1967-1969. Tracks culled largely from only three albums: Dance To The Music (1967), Life (1968), and Stand! (1969).

Most of these were compiled long ago on the group’s 1970 Greatest Hits. Songs that are burned forever into the national consciousness, such as “Dance To The Music,” “Fun,” “Life,” “Stand!,” “I Want To Take You Higher,” “Everyday People,” “Hot Fun In The Summertime,” “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” and “Everybody Is A Star.” And for most people that earlier collection is probably adequate.

These songs, and others from these albums, were unflaggingly optimistic, party time celebrations.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But what makes this two-disc set live up to its name as the essential collection, are the other songs from later albums, primarily There’s A Riot Goin’ On (1971) and Fresh (1973). The more Sly descended into drugs, and the more the promise of the Love and Peace generation was not realized, the darker and more introspective the music became.

Sly had lost his commercial edge by this time, with the exception of the classic “Family Affair,” “If You Want Me To Stay,” and a couple of other minor successes, but musically he was still producing interesting stuff. 

In “Family Affair,” for instance, you can hear the drugs in Sly’s cracked, dry, broke-down voice: “One child grows up to be somebody that just loves to learn. And another child grows up to be somebody you just love to burn. Mom loves the both of them, you see it’s in the blood.”

The “hits” may have stopped, but the music remained. This collection contains eight songs from There’s A Riot Goin’ On and six songs from Fresh, as well as a few others from later projects. But what compiler made the decision to leave off Sly’s cover of Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera,” (from Fresh) a fascinating, frightening, version of the song with all hints of Day and her eternal optimism exorcised.

Some of these later day songs are downright painful to listen to, including a ponderously long, slow, tripped-out version of “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” called “Thank You For Talkin’ To Me, Africa,” that sounds for all the world like someone turned on the recorder during a bong session. And yet it is hypnotic precisely because of the song it echoes.

Others, such as “In Time” from Fresh clearly opened the door for later acts, such as Prince (circa Sign O’ The Times) and almost anything by Lenny Kravitz.

If all you have is that earlier hits disc, it’s still worth picking this up for the cuts you probably don’t know. But if you want the full picture, this collection is what you want -- whether you know it or not.

Rating: A

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© 2008 Michael Ehret 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 Epic/Legacy, and is used for informational purposes only.