Thankful n' Thoughtfull: The Sly Stone Dedicated Chronological Listening Thread

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As discussed here: what dedicated listening thread should we do next (the poll). Since Sylvester Stewart's output is actually fairly self-contained this should take just a few months, going at a clip of a track a day. We'll start at the beginning and then trail off somewhere towards the end... I have compiled a list restricted primarily to things he played and/or sang on (productions/writing credits would have complicated things).

Away we go!

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 15:32 (three years ago) link

oh cool, definitely don't know the early or post riot stuff

Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Tuesday, 31 March 2020 15:34 (three years ago) link

1. The Stewart Four - On the Battlefield (1952)

Apparently that's 8yo Sly singing, backed by siblings Freddie, Rose and Vaetta and their mother Lorreta on piano. Crazy how he's already got that raspy grain in his voice. Pretty standard family-style gospel fare for the time. I'd never heard this one before.

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 15:38 (three years ago) link

someone better versed than me in the gospel of the era could maybe provide some context - all I know is, like, the Soul Stirrers and Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 15:38 (three years ago) link

Oh cool, I should be able to sync up with this. Switched up my deep plunge into 1990 pop albums (was not doing it for me) and now I'm going through every late-'60s r&b album I have, so Sly is on the docket.

Unparalleled Elegance (Old Lunch), Tuesday, 31 March 2020 15:40 (three years ago) link

yeah not super notable other than as you mention, he definitely sounds like "Sly" even at that age

Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Tuesday, 31 March 2020 15:49 (three years ago) link

I assume he started sneaking cigarettes at the age of four, just to put some scratchiness in his tone

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 16:09 (three years ago) link

just like a baaby

ooga booga-ing for the bourgeoisie (voodoo chili), Tuesday, 31 March 2020 17:51 (three years ago) link

Didn't know we were doing this, but I'm on board!

Maria Edgelord (cryptosicko), Tuesday, 31 March 2020 18:14 (three years ago) link

feel like a lot of Sly's themes are appropriate for the moment - family, isolation, claustrophobia, paranoia, mania etc.

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 18:30 (three years ago) link

This is quite literally juvenilia, but it is kind of amazing that we have it at all.

Maria Edgelord (cryptosicko), Tuesday, 31 March 2020 18:35 (three years ago) link

xpost Yeah, and didn't he record a good deal of There's a Riot Going On while lying in bed? Resonant.

Unparalleled Elegance (Old Lunch), Tuesday, 31 March 2020 18:38 (three years ago) link

Apparently that's 8yo Sly singing, backed by siblings Freddie, Rose and Vaetta and their mother Lorreta on piano.

Hmmmmm, about that - if Sylvester is 8, Freddie is 5, Rose is 7 and Vaetta is... 2!

Bridge Over Thorley Waters (Tom D.), Tuesday, 31 March 2020 18:48 (three years ago) link

don't look at me, that's just what it said on the youtube credits

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 18:56 (three years ago) link

2. The Stewart Four - Walking in Jesus' Name (1952)

The b-side to yesterday's track. A little bit of boogie woogie thrown in with the gospel, Sly's young voice already sounding remarkably lived in and expressive. Not sure who's playing all those guitar breaks, if that is in fact Freddie that's really impressive for a 5-6 year old. Hearing these early family gospel cuts made me think of how little gospel and the church figure into Sly's ouevre in general - he doesn't have a "Jesus Children of America" or "Have a Talk With God" in his catalog, for example (Stevie is kinda an interesting study in contrasts with Sly)

Οὖτις, Wednesday, 1 April 2020 14:24 (two years ago) link

these really are juvenilia in the sense that they don't signal too much of where he was headed - unlike the juvenilia of Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson, which were genuine pop hits and played a big part in establishing their identities as artists.

Οὖτις, Wednesday, 1 April 2020 17:10 (two years ago) link

Give him a break, he is only 8!

Bridge Over Thorley Waters (Tom D.), Wednesday, 1 April 2020 17:15 (two years ago) link


bookmarked, looking forward to this

sleeve, Wednesday, 1 April 2020 17:33 (two years ago) link


I wasn't doing shit except eating Bugles and watching Happy Days reruns

Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 1 April 2020 17:44 (two years ago) link

I like this one a lot better, gives his voice, which as Shakes said is remarkably distinctive even at that age, more room to shine

Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 1 April 2020 17:46 (two years ago) link

I like this one better too. Livelier arrangement and more distinctive vocals from young Sly.

Maria Edgelord (cryptosicko), Wednesday, 1 April 2020 19:17 (two years ago) link

I'm gonna live a Christian life
God knows I'm not ashamed

coco vide (pomenitul), Wednesday, 1 April 2020 19:27 (two years ago) link

this is getting ahead of ourselves, but when digging up that youtube the next video that got queued up was Sly on Letterman in 1983 doing If You Want Me To Stay and oof that was quite a transition

Οὖτις, Wednesday, 1 April 2020 19:30 (two years ago) link


really dig both these tracks. interesting enough even if they don’t necessarily have a lot to reveal about what was to come.

but yeah, what a voice !

budo jeru, Wednesday, 1 April 2020 22:16 (two years ago) link

3. The Biscaynes - Uncle Sam Needs You (1961)

Apart from the bizarre lyric, which I haven't quite managed to parse yet, this reminds me of the kind of stuff Johnny Otis was cutting at the time. Definitely not gospel, more in that space where doo wop, rock n roll and R&B overlap. Not sure what the level of Sly's involvement with this was, apart from the couple of solo vocal lines he gets in the breaks.

Οὖτις, Thursday, 2 April 2020 15:05 (two years ago) link

also looks like this was a mixed-race group...? and none of the other Stewart family members involved?

Οὖτις, Thursday, 2 April 2020 17:30 (two years ago) link

This is where I admit, with some embarrassment, that I had no idea about any of Sly's pre-Family Stone career.

Maria Edgelord (cryptosicko), Thursday, 2 April 2020 17:42 (two years ago) link

It didn't exactly set the heather on fire tbf.

Bridge Over Thorley Waters (Tom D.), Thursday, 2 April 2020 18:07 (two years ago) link

yeah this is all pretty obscure, he was on the margins until "Swim" and the Beau Brummels

Οὖτις, Thursday, 2 April 2020 18:24 (two years ago) link

I don't even know about any of that!

sleeve, Thursday, 2 April 2020 18:25 (two years ago) link

I just recently read mystery train and learned all this too

brimstead, Thursday, 2 April 2020 18:28 (two years ago) link

I remember a story about him producing a rock band and them being so inept he ended up playing all the instruments himself on their record.

Bridge Over Thorley Waters (Tom D.), Thursday, 2 April 2020 18:31 (two years ago) link

^^Supposedly The Great Society (featuring Grace Slick).

"...And the Gods Socially Distanced" (C. Grisso/McCain), Thursday, 2 April 2020 18:48 (two years ago) link

I thought it might be them!

Bridge Over Thorley Waters (Tom D.), Thursday, 2 April 2020 18:50 (two years ago) link

Is there a released recording of that

Οὖτις, Thursday, 2 April 2020 18:55 (two years ago) link

Cuz I dont have it in the queu

Οὖτις, Thursday, 2 April 2020 18:55 (two years ago) link

Aside from like the Little Sister and 6ix singles, I know basically nothing about Sly's extra-Family affairs. So this thread is welcome for numerous reasons.

Unparalleled Elegance (Old Lunch), Thursday, 2 April 2020 18:58 (two years ago) link

from Wikipedia:

While signed to Autumn Records, the band worked with the label's staff producer Sylvester Stewart (better known as Sly Stone), who at the time was still in the process of forming Sly and the Family Stone. Purportedly, Stewart eventually walked out as the band's producer after it took The Great Society over 50 takes to record a version of the song "Free Advice" that was suitable for release.

lines up with this

But I don't want to drop $300 to find out what it sounds like

justice 4 CCR (Sparkle Motion), Thursday, 2 April 2020 19:19 (two years ago) link

If Wikipedia's to be believed there should be 48 more of these.

justice 4 CCR (Sparkle Motion), Thursday, 2 April 2020 19:23 (two years ago) link

such a terrible band

Οὖτις, Thursday, 2 April 2020 19:32 (two years ago) link

oddly, a few months ago I pulled out the first Sly & the Family album, the one with no hits, and listened to it for the first time…I was startled upon hearing one song that it is the basis of a huge huge huge hip-hop hit that everyone reading these words knows…I look forward to when Shakes gets to it in a week or whenever…I think that it's clear that the Dance to the Music album has the tremendous title track and a bunch of engaging filler that was cut pretty fast to satiate Clive Davis…Life and obviously Stand but also the first one are far more solid…

veronica moser, Thursday, 2 April 2020 19:39 (two years ago) link

I know that's what people say about the "Dance to the Music" album but I don't agree fwiw.

Bridge Over Thorley Waters (Tom D.), Thursday, 2 April 2020 19:52 (two years ago) link

Some background on the Viscaynes tracks:

Jerry Martini: The Viscaynes were a Vallejo singing group that was very hip and very unique because it was an integrated band. They had a Filipino. Sly was the Afro. There were girls and boys and different colors...He [Sly] had a hell of a time back then because when he was in the Viscaynes, he was hammering one of the girls in the band, the most beautiful girl, and they had to keep it a secret. He had all this talent and was so far beyond this racial bullshit that was going on back then that it had to affect his psyche a little bit. It was just bullshit... they had to sneak around. When I met him, he was hanging out with Joe Piazza. I played with Joe Piazza and the Continentals. We started doing side gigs together. We were the backup band and we also did Sly's first record, "Yellow Moon", backed with "Uncle Sam Needs You Boy". It didn't get off the ground. Sly sang lead on both sides. He sang high on one side and low on the other side. He had incredible range. It was just a single, but it got him the attention of Bob Mitchell and Tom Donahue, who hired him to work at Autumn Records.

Οὖτις, Thursday, 2 April 2020 19:55 (two years ago) link

Sounds like they probably spent more on the bus fares to the studio than the actual recording - if it was recorded in a studio, the vocals sound like they were recorded in a bathroom.

Bridge Over Thorley Waters (Tom D.), Thursday, 2 April 2020 20:28 (two years ago) link

not sure what quality studios were available in the Sacramento/Vallejo corridor at the time, probably not a lot if any

Οὖτις, Thursday, 2 April 2020 20:49 (two years ago) link

4. The Viscaynes (or Biscaynes?) - Yellow Moon (1961)

Οὖτις, Friday, 3 April 2020 15:29 (two years ago) link

this feels like pretty straight doo-wop, his voice in fine form. Interesting how different all these tracks are, stylistically.

Οὖτις, Friday, 3 April 2020 15:33 (two years ago) link

A lot of the details around these early singles - date of release, titles, names of artists, etc. - seem pretty fluid and hard to untangle.

Οὖτις, Friday, 3 April 2020 16:32 (two years ago) link

41. Bobby Freeman - Cross My Heart (non-album single, 1965)
The b-side to ""The Duck"" single. This one is pretty different from Bobby's hits, opening with a callback to Sly's occasional attempts at latin rhythms like the cha-cha. Lyrically there's an ironic statement of purpose about his staying power (not to mention a callback to "Little Old Heartbreaker"), but Bobby's time in the limelight was basically over after this. While the song builds nicely and is competently delivered, it lacks a dynamic hook or riff, unfortunately.

One Child, Tuesday, 7 March 2023 16:23 (three weeks ago) link

So happy to know about Sly Stone's early aquatic dance-based career.

change display name (Jordan), Tuesday, 7 March 2023 16:28 (three weeks ago) link

42. Sylvester Stewart - Temptation Walk (Pts 1 & 2) (non-album single, 1965)
Sly's last release under his own name for Autumn Records, this time a stop-start arrangement built around a bongo break, a droning organ, and even some distortion creeping into the electric guitar. The drums, interestingly, have no swing to them at all - they pound away in a very straight, driving 4/4 rhythm, with a walking bassline and the other instruments providing the color and movement. No lyrics per se beyond the shouted refrain, which (harbinger of things to come) is a call-and-response between male and female voices.

One Child, Wednesday, 8 March 2023 15:57 (three weeks ago) link

Definitely starting to sound very Family Stone!

change display name (Jordan), Wednesday, 8 March 2023 16:05 (three weeks ago) link

43. Mojo Men - She's My Baby (non-album single, 1965)
That ripping fuzz bass riff is clearly the highlight of the band's final Autumn Records single, and it kicks this little white R&B nugget into high gear when the gang vocals, harmonica and tambourine are firing away on the refrains. Otherwise things don't get too wild, this is compact, serviceable garage rock. Sly would keep this fuzz bass sound in his arsenal for the next several years. This song didn't even chart, the band's biggest success didn't arrive until the following year with a cover of a Steven Stills song ("Sit Down, I Think I Love You") on Atco.

One Child, Thursday, 9 March 2023 15:39 (three weeks ago) link

44. Mojo Men - Fire in My Heart (non-album single, 1965)
At first this b-side seems to be more in the vein of the Beau Brummels with that chiming guitar part, but the minor key chords, the droning farfisa and wordless backing vocal take this in a slightly stranger direction, more discordant and spooky, especially on the instrumental section in the middle where they're basically doing a modal, two-chord drone. A bit more interesting and unique than their other productions with Sly.

One Child, Thursday, 9 March 2023 15:39 (three weeks ago) link

45. Sly Stone - Rock Dirge (Pts 1&2) (non-album single, 1965)
This is not actually the first release under the name "Sly Stone". It was issued in 1970 on some label called "Woodcock" as a cash-in on the band's post-Woodstock popularity, but actually recorded much earlier (circa 1965) prior to languishing in the vaults. The title is a total misnomer as the song is neither a dirge nor does it rock - instead it leads off with a surprisingly dusty and funky drumbreak, well ahead of the curve of the rhythms of the time. What follows is a fairly straightforward organ, drum and acoustic guitar workout, with lots of breakdowns and dropouts, making it sound like it was likely assembled from multiple rough takes in the studio.

One Child, Thursday, 9 March 2023 22:04 (three weeks ago) link


phat360's avatar
phat360 Apr 16, 2008
This is an early and very good compilation of psychedelic soul from the eccentric Sly Stone.
I picked this record up in a charity shop the other day for £1 and judging by the album cover I believed that it was going to be a live album from a show in SanFrancisco. To my great surprise and relief it wasnt.
Some really good mind bending soul with the up tight Sly twist.
If you like your break beats head straight for Rock Dirge as this is one monster of a beat!
This beat is easy to loop and is a real pounder of a beat that hasnt really been sampled too heavily.
I think it may have been sampled by the hardcore rave breakbeat heros of mine Genaside II but i'll have to check.
A break beat for the ones who know.

obsidian crocogolem (sleeve), Thursday, 9 March 2023 22:21 (three weeks ago) link

46. Great Society - Someone to Love (non-album single, 1966)
When Autumn Records folded in 1966 (most of the recording contracts were sold to Warner Bros, the records and catalog going to Vault Records), they were struggling to outbid bigger labels for potentially successful signees like the Warlocks (aka the Grateful Dead), the Charlatans and the Great Society. But before all that went down, Sly was on-hand to produce the Great Society's initial single for Autumn's subsidiary North Beach. Darby Slick: "Sly started coming over to some rehearsals and started having ideas how we should change this and that. We flatly refused to anything he suggested because we knew where it was at. Getting in the studio was a real nightmare for him and not that much fun for us, because we wouldn' accept any of his ideas there either... I'm sure he thought of us as very unprofessional, unpolished, maybe not even real musicians. And we thought of him as this controlling guy who wanted to make everything be a certain way." Sly reportedly was pissed that it took them 53 takes and this is all they got. Can't blame him, the band sucked.

One Child, Friday, 10 March 2023 14:08 (three weeks ago) link

47. Great Society - Free Advice (non-album single, 1966)
More awful warbling from Grace Slick, a flatly delivered vocal from David Miner and a backing track that is simultaneously both too boneheaded and yet not boneheaded enough. It's hard not to think of the Velvets, who would have imbued this material with perhaps sloppier musicianship but also more menace and unpredictability. As it is it just grinds on mindlessly, never developing or building up to anything.

One Child, Friday, 10 March 2023 14:09 (three weeks ago) link

Yes, this is a terrible single, and supposedly Sly left the studio before it was "completed". Imagine how bad the previous takes must have been that these were regarded as releasable masters!

Halfway there but for you, Friday, 10 March 2023 15:24 (three weeks ago) link

...even or especially by 1966 standards.

Halfway there but for you, Friday, 10 March 2023 15:24 (three weeks ago) link

Huh, I had no idea Sly produced the original Someone to Love.

enochroot, Friday, 10 March 2023 15:28 (three weeks ago) link

I listened to The Autumn Records Story, which contains eight of the songs discussed above, and can't really add anything to the excellent summaries already offered, except "Dance With Me" is even more rhythmically perverse than described!
The record also includes "Anything", the Vejtables b-side, which is an interesting haunted and moody minor-key but peppy tune, with a strange percussive instrument high in the mix. I'd actually call it better than any of the other selections on the record (doubtless due to rights issues, the only Beau Brummels songs on the compilation are two demo/outtakes).

Halfway there but for you, Monday, 13 March 2023 02:47 (two weeks ago) link

"Anything" was (smartly) the Vejtables track included on Rhino's S.F. Nuggets box.

48. Billy Preston - Advice (The Wildest Organ in Town!, 1966)
1966 turned out to be very much a transitional year for Sly - Autumn Records folded, he took his radio show from KSOL to the more straight-laced KDIA, and he put together a band called Sly and the Stoners (not to be confused with his brother Freddie's competing band, the Stone Souls). All of the future Family Stone members were in each others' orbits at this point, either playing with or competing against each other. In the meantime, he gets an arranger gig with fellow R&B child prodigy Billy Preston, who's already had a wildly successful career backing Mahalia Jackson, Nat Cole, Little Richard and Sam Cooke (oh, and he also knows the Beatles). Jack Douglas was in the producer's chair. Sly is credited as arranger for this entire album, but the tracks that most likely feature his actual instrumental contributions seem the most relevant here.

And this first track is especially interesting because it predates the version that would appear a year later on the Sly & Family Stone's debut album. Evidence of Sly's composing and arranging skills, the song is pretty much fully formed already - it's got the staccato riffs, the lyrics, and a soon-to-be-very familiar vocal refrain that he would return to again and again. For some reason there's also a harmonica-led "Louie Louie" breakdown in the middle. Throughout, Billy does what he does best, punctuating the tune with a flurry of embellishments, runs and fills on the Hammond.

One Child, Monday, 13 March 2023 13:21 (two weeks ago) link

49. Billy Preston - It's Got to Happen (The Wildest Organ in Town!, 1966)
Understandably indulging in a proverbial organ workout, bolstered by some percussion shenanigans between the bongos (panned hard left in the stereo field for some reason) and the drums. The song opens at a breakneck pace and never really lets up, leaping between some simple chords banged out on the piano and Billy's more melodic and dynamic organ fills. As a showcase for Billy's inventive phrasing and improvisational skills against a high-energy dance rhythm it works great, in many ways not that far off from Blue Note's contemporaneous stable of "rare groove" organists (Jimmy Smith, Lonnie Smith, Ruben Wilson, etc.)

One Child, Monday, 13 March 2023 16:46 (two weeks ago) link

Billy apparently returns in a few years to play on a later Sly album.

Halfway there but for you, Monday, 13 March 2023 17:23 (two weeks ago) link

50. Billy Preston - Free Funk (The Wildest Organ in Town!, 1966)
A different kind of "funk" - the blue, depressed kind. Billy is a showy player, and Sly wisely keeps the arrangements understated and simple so that nothing distracts from showcasing the organ. Billy's playing is (as usual) really wonderful, running through all kinds of figures and turnarounds but always with a keen ear for melody and expressiveness, accentuated here and there by the reverb cranking up. Sly essentially getting out of the way and just giving Billy the proper backdrop.

One Child, Tuesday, 14 March 2023 13:55 (two weeks ago) link

51. Billy Preston - Can't She Tell (non-album single, 1966)
Produced by David Axelrod. Possibly an outtake from "The Wildest Organ in Town" sessions (which had production credited to Steve Douglass) given that it has Sly's credit on it and was cut in '66, but the overall sound is pretty different, and it was issued as a non-album 7" single. Sly's touch is definitely evident in the bass and drum parts, can't tell if that's him singing harmony on the choruses or not. Odd to hear Billy playing piano instead of organ. While his playing drives the arrangement he doesn't indulge in any of his usual fireworks - it seems like this was constructed more towards the goal of getting a hit pop song, with the emphasis being on the vocal and the instrumental interplay. The driving Motown backbeat, clanging electric guitar, and thumping ascending bass riffs are all hallmarks of Sly's early signature sound.

One Child, Tuesday, 14 March 2023 13:56 (two weeks ago) link

52. Sly & the Family Stone - Underdog (A Whole New Thing, 1967)
The core group in place (minus Rose, who was around but would not officially be in the band until the next record), Sly's palette is now exceptionally broad - while he's unquestionably the leader the ensemble nature of the arrangements and performances have clearly pushed Sly into new territory, and this doesn't bear much resemblance to anything else he's cut so far. Drums and bass rumbling underneath, the opening cut on their first album leads off with the horn section doing a weird minor key interpolation of "Frere Jacques" before Sly calls out "hey, dig!" and the rhythm section locks into a James Brown-ish ""washing machine groove"" (as Fred Wesley used to call it), punctuated by a cappella gospel "yeah yeah"s. Sly's vocal dashes back and forth from a sung-spoken lead, brief snatches of harmonizing, and ad-libbed shouts. The drums dropping in and out give the song a constantly shifting feel, manic and propulsive during the verses, contrasted with the horns alternately jabbing out counter-melodies and then marking time in the choruses.

As with pretty much all of Sly's songs from here on out the lyrics are in the present tense - a wry mixture of pep talk, social comment, and hipster patter molded into a statement of purpose. The band's overall presentation is worth further consideration, because it was very deliberate - "Underdog", like many of the band's songs, is about *the band* and their lifestyle, presented as an aspirational ideal, a multi-ethnic, gender-balanced, self-aware unit that is in opposition to the current social fabric. This is pretty unusual for the time; Sly isn't (generally) writing narratives or poetic metaphors for the band to sing, he's writing self-mythologizing, declamatory expressions of their identity. While this was a time-honored approach for blues musicians and early r'n'r guys like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, by the mid-60s R&B and rock acts generally weren't doing this. James Brown would certainly get there shortly, but compared to the Motown and Stax acts or Sam Cooke or other predecessors, this is strikingly different.

One Child, Wednesday, 15 March 2023 13:14 (two weeks ago) link

53. Sly & the Family Stone - If This Room Could Talk (A Whole New Thing, 1967)
Again opening with a deceptively clean, catchy horn line that then abruptly shifts into a head turning rhythm, this time one that emphasizes the last upbeat of the phrase, rather than the downbeat. The sound is relatively spare and tight, but also exuberant, with Sly taking the lead over a simple two chord plagal cadence pattern, and Freddie, Cynthia and Larry's backing harmonies occasionally peaking through. At the bridge Sly's organ lays down droning chords as they switch to a more standard motown beat, Sly hollering and ad-libbing over the top. By the end Sly, with Errico's drums popping along underneath, introduces a vocal style he and the group would return to again and again - ridiculously rhythmic and percussive scat-singing. (An aside: never seen this suggested anywhere, but this seems like a clear antecedent to Michael Jackson's "bow-chicka-mmh-ahh" signature vocal interjections; Sly did it a lot, and certainly the Jackson 5 was taking notes on him and the band in general). The lyrics are lightweight lover-I-didn't-mean-to-do-you-wrong nonsense but it doesn't matter, the appeal here is in the bizarrely energetic Frankenstein arrangement; the embryonic ensemble is the star.

One Child, Wednesday, 15 March 2023 14:43 (two weeks ago) link

Sly turns 80 today!

"Underdog" has a much more bitter, incisive lyric dealing (I guess) with racism than you would expect if you only knew his '68 and '69 songs of togetherness and celebration, the harshness of 1971 was already latent.

Halfway there but for you, Wednesday, 15 March 2023 14:58 (two weeks ago) link

if one child posts at the rate he appears to be inclined to, in three days there's gonna be a treat for anyone who was paying attention to or fondly regards popular music in 1991, but who may not be the biggest crate digger. Like me! I have a promo of the Whole New Thing record, sent to me alongside all the better known peak era Sly records, that were each reissued in —what was it? 2002? 2003? I didn't listen to it until 2020, and man, this whole record is super exciting, cuz precisely because of its obscurity, no hits at all, its absolutely fresh and much much better than the record that followed. It's pretty obvious that Dance to the Music is comprised of THAT song alongside a shit ton of filler, as they had to cut it really fast after "Dance…" hit and Clive Davis wanted more material. Anyone who cares about Sly but only knows those bangin' fuckin' hits or canonical hits needs to hit this thread…

veronica moser, Wednesday, 15 March 2023 17:38 (two weeks ago) link

These are two of the best songs on the album (even though "Underdog" is perhaps slightly too long), I'm saying that but I haven't actually listened to this album in a long time so I might change my mind on that.

Maggot Bairn (Tom D.), Wednesday, 15 March 2023 18:49 (two weeks ago) link

I have a promo of the Whole New Thing record, sent to me alongside all the better known peak era Sly records, that were each reissued in —what was it? 2002? 2003?

The first CD reissue of A Whole New Thing was in 1994 or ‘95. I remember buying it and feeling a little apprehensive, as the only reviews I’d read were lukewarm. But I was pretty blown away, and it’s among my favorites of his…or anyone’s.

Montgomery Burns' Jazz (Tarfumes The Escape Goat), Wednesday, 15 March 2023 19:08 (two weeks ago) link

Sly turns 80 today!

Just noticed that. Somewhat miraculously still with us.

Maggot Bairn (Tom D.), Thursday, 16 March 2023 12:34 (two weeks ago) link

54. Sly & the Family Stone - Run Run Run (A Whole New Thing, 1967)
Larry Graham's impact on the band's overall sound, R&B/funk, and bass playing in general cannot be overstated, and you can hear it clearly in the opening bars here, with his fleet-fingered thumping propelling the song forward. A brief bass-and-melodica fanfare blossoms into some weird, frantic folk-rock/Motown hybrid that shifts gears so many times it's head-spinning. Byrds-ian electric guitar breaks, a chiming xylophone, droning organ, bass and drums maintaining a furious rhythm, before an abrupt left-turn to an arpeggiated horn part, followed by the addition of a worldess vocal and a simple bass drum pulse. Then it whips back to the verse, shouted vocals, more xylophone, more instrumental verses. The band overall is very self-aware about the audacity of what they're doing both on a musical and socio-political level, and the lyrics reflect a theme (initially broached on "Underdog") they would turn to again and again: us vs. them, the freaks vs. the squares, the hippie day-glo utopia vs. the button-down establishment. No doubt this is the kind of song that turned an initially small coterie of white hippies' heads as well black musos like Miles Davis.

One Child, Thursday, 16 March 2023 13:28 (two weeks ago) link

55. Sly & the Family Stone - Turn Me Loose (A Whole New Thing, 1967)
Channeling some of the more manic strains of James Brown's R&B blowouts, this one comes charging out of the gate with horns, guitars, bass, gospel organ and drums galloping along in what at times could almost pass for a hyped up ska song. All the players get off crazy breaks, particularly Errico and Freddy. Vocals are a similarly hyped up call-and-response series of exhortations. And then it's all over in under 2 minutes. Seems designed to serve as a live set opener to rile up the crowd.

One Child, Friday, 17 March 2023 13:32 (two weeks ago) link

56. Sly & the Family Stone - Let Me Hear It From You (A Whole New Thing, 1967)
Larry's first showcase, reportedly recorded late at night when his voice was at its most relaxed and supple, also unfortunately feels like the album's first misstep. Worth noting that right from their first rehearsal when Larry suggested having a vote to determine who would be the frontman/bandleader (everyone else laughed off this suggestion, as it was clear Sly was in charge), Larry was not entirely comfortable taking a backseat to Sly. As crucial as he was to the band's sound and dynamic, he could not accept that he was just not the songwriter or performer that Sly was.

Led off with a blaring organ and drum fanfare, the song then downshifts into a languid, lovesick ballad, almost minimalist in its construction compared to the rest of the tracks. Sly and Larry's playing throughout is lovely and dynamic, and can't really fault his emotive vocal, but the song itself is just kind of boring, something of a straight Otis Redding/Stax pastiche, without any of the idiosyncrasies or cross-genre experimentation that they draw on elsewhere.

One Child, Monday, 20 March 2023 14:20 (one week ago) link

yell if this is a derail too far but i started looking up the timeline of electric slap bass -- as in who was brown's bassist in 1967 (bernard odum), who first played thumb-slap with brown ("sweet" charles sherrell in 68, followed by bootsy, who was actually with brown for less than a year) , and so on…

anyway i found this curious section in larry graham's wikipedia

Born in Beaumont, Texas[2] to successful musicians, Graham played bass in the funk band Sly and the Family Stone from 1967 to 1972.[1] It is said that he pioneered the art of slap-pop playing on the electric bass, in part to provide percussive and rhythmic elements in addition to the notes of the bass line when his mother decided to no longer have a drummer in her band, while Graham also admits in a BBC documentary on funk music that he is unsure if it was done on economical grounds;[5]

why is graham's mother suddenly mentioned but not named? economic grounds in what sense? turns out (from his own site) that pre-sly he played first organ then electric bass in his mother's band (the dell graham trio) in california and when she slimmed it down to a duo he apparently developed his slapping style to compensate for the slimmed-out drummer

mark s, Monday, 20 March 2023 16:34 (one week ago) link

When my mother (Dell Graham) and I started working together I was playing guitar and so it was guitar, my drummer from my band, and piano. And we worked like that for a little while, but then we went into this one club where they had the organ and I started playing the bass pedals and the guitar at the same time. So we had bottom. But when the organ broke down, we missed the bottom. I went down and rented a bass, temporarily, until the organ could be repaired. I was not planning on being a bass player. As it turned out, the organ could not be repaired - there was no parts available or whatever.

My mother at that point had traveled all over the world - she sounded almost identical to Dinah Washington when she sang, and she played almost identical to Erroll Garner. So that was the combination. She did standards, jazz, blues, pop, country, whatever.

When we started working at Relax with Yvonne's on Haight and Ashbury... I had developed this style. We didn't have a drummer now, so I would thump the strings to make up for not having a bass drum, and pluck the strings because I didn't have that snare drum backbeat. And I developed this style, but I didn't think I was developing anything new. It was just out of necessity. Just trying to do the gig right, make it sound good and feel good. After a while of doing this, that's just the way I play. I never thought about playing the overhand style, the way bass players were playing then, because I wasn't gonna be a bass player. So even though musicians would look at me like "that's a weird way of playing you are playing there," it didn't matter, because it was just not my instrument. I didn't care what anybody thinks, says, or nothing. At the same time, I'm not listening to bass players to be influenced by them, because I'm not a bass player. I'm a guitar player. In my mind this is just a temporary gig.

And bass players in those days - playing lead guitar and singing was kind of out front, where bass players were more in the background, which is cool if that's where you want to play. But that was never in my thinking, I was out front singing, playing lead guitar and stuff. I think it was because of all that focus on the guitar, wen it came to bass, there was noting to interfere with creating this style that later on became different. When Sly head this - by that time, I had developed it a lot - he asked me to join his band. Now I was going to be combining that style with drums. That in itself, looking back, was really something different. And he being the person he was, he was able to see that this is something that would be a contribution to the band. - Larry Graham, "Sly and the Family Stone: An Oral History" (Joel Selvin, 1998)

One Child, Monday, 20 March 2023 17:04 (one week ago) link

Here we begin to encounter some of the problems I have with this album. For all the unusual and clever arrangements and instrumentation I just don't think the songwriting is that great.

Maggot Bairn (Tom D.), Monday, 20 March 2023 18:16 (one week ago) link

Man, it never even occurred to me that “Let Me Hear It From You” wasn’t Sly on lead vocal. I can hear it now, particularly when he jumps up an octave but both have a similar tone in the baritone range.

As for the songwriting, I have always really enjoyed “Underdog” and “I Cannot Make It” since I first heard them when I was reviewing The Essential Sly Stone for Stylus. But I was actually a little surprised at how much I enjoyed the songs on A Whole New Thing as none of them were hits.

But in general I found the performances and record as a whole way more compelling and listenable than Dance To the Music, which had a lot of filler, and arguably Life (tho I may find I feel differently once we get to those albums). While the songs are not as strong from a pure writing standpoint as you get later on, and the arrangements do a lot of heavy lifting here, all the nursery rhyme brass bits and little vocal snatches, combined with some really tough rhythm section playing, do give this record a really fresh, vibrant feel on the whole.

Naive Teen Idol, Wednesday, 22 March 2023 14:47 (one week ago) link

I know people don't rate it and think it's superficial (or something) but the grooves and basslines are so much better on "Dance to the Music". But we'll get to that.

Maggot Bairn (Tom D.), Wednesday, 22 March 2023 15:11 (one week ago) link

57. Sly & the Family Stone - Advice (A Whole New Thing, 1967)
Another horn fanfare intro immediately segues into a brief but deeply funky drumbreak that would become a hip hop staple decades later. Errico is up there with Stubblefield, Starks, Modeliste and a small coterie of other drummers in developing a new rhythmic template in pop music, and this is the first instance where that really shines through. The consistent groove allows the ensemble to pack an incredible amount of detail into the arrangement in under 2 minutes, without ever losing focus or cohesion. This is especially remarkable for material that was tracked live to four-track; every couple of bars some new twist is introduced. The group vocals are loose and dynamic, alternately harmonizing and splitting apart into multiple lines, Sly, Larry and Freddy growling and whispering, ad-libbing, trading lead. Sly again pens present-tense lyrics full of the titular advice - he and his gang are exhorting people to live a certain way and follow their lead (and stop hassling them just cuz they're different, maaaan). And then there's a melodica solo fed through a tremolo effect, and a certain repeated two-note horn stab that the band would turn to again and again later in the discography.

One Child, Thursday, 23 March 2023 14:33 (one week ago) link

58. Sly & the Family Stone - I Cannot Make It (A Whole New Thing, 1967)
The band's musical ingenuity is on full display, turning a handful of riffs and a fairly simple chord pattern into an opportunity for all kinds of rhythmic change-ups, dropped beats, and unexpected turnarounds. Errico and Graham in particular spend the whole song pushing and pulling each other into unfamiliar figures that all rotate around a straight 4/4 rhythym. Great harmonies embroidering lovelorn lyrics, and there's an almost countrified set of guitar licks from Freddy in the bridges. And it concludes with a little tape manipulation trickery for an extra psychedelic touch. Perhaps the most Beatle-y track on the album.

One Child, Thursday, 23 March 2023 15:41 (one week ago) link

that all rotate around a straight 4/4 rhythym

Not always -- the bit at 0:30 goes 4/4, 7/4, 4/4.

Montgomery Burns' Jazz (Tarfumes The Escape Goat), Thursday, 23 March 2023 16:32 (one week ago) link

I was going to say you were being pedantic, but I actually think that’s a good catch. The fact that it goes 7/4 twice means that the downbeat turns back to the two and four by the time the second verse rolls around.

Killer writeup on Advice. That was not a song I fully grokked until this listen. It’s an incredible Sly miniature.

Naive Teen Idol, Thursday, 23 March 2023 17:26 (one week ago) link

"I Cannot Make It" is a definite high spot on this album. Disco hi-hats around 0:51! "Advice" is a good one too.

Maggot Bairn (Tom D.), Thursday, 23 March 2023 19:04 (one week ago) link

59. Sly & the Family Stone - Trip To Your Heart (A Whole New Thing, 1967)
Opens with perhaps one of the most abrasive moments in Sly's catalog, a cacophony of shrieks, drum rolls and guitar slides, before abruptly launching into a double-tracked, deeply funky drum break, a rising-and-falling vocal melody and a contrapuntal horn line. Sly's lead vocal rides over the top, featuring the first (?) of many thinly- and not-so-thinly veiled drug references. With the chorus the mix gets overtly "freaky" - you can hear the two drum parts split as one keeps the rhythm and the other highlights the ride cymbal following the lead vocal and skipping over the beat in triplets, while heavily reverb-ed organ swells, slide guitar and what sounds like a wavering theremin make it feel like the song is falling down the proverbial rabbit hole. The structure repeats and then the song ends as it begans, with cacophonous wailing. Four track psychedelia at its most tightly arranged, intentionally disorienting and disconcerting.

One Child, Friday, 24 March 2023 13:34 (one week ago) link

The Inspector Gadget horn riff on this one is p damn catchy.

Naive Teen Idol, Friday, 24 March 2023 14:16 (one week ago) link

60. Sly & the Family Stone - I Hate to Love Her (A Whole New Thing, 1967)
The band dials back the manic energy for a bit, shifting gears for a mid-tempo tune with a drifting horn line over suspended organ chords. They still throw in some aural left-turns (is that a melodica played through a wah-wah? Plus a rhythmic change-up in the refrain).Freddy's guitar seems mostly absent; the song is anchored primarily by the organ and the complex group vocal arrangement. The melodramatic bass vocal (Larry?) is a bit much, and the standard lovesick lyrics are not particularly notable.

One Child, Friday, 24 March 2023 18:01 (one week ago) link

Vocals might be Freddie? Not much of a song, to be honest. "Trip to Your Heart" is entertaining in a Haunted House kind of way. I still think the songwriting on this album isn't that strong.

Maggot Bairn (Tom D.), Friday, 24 March 2023 18:18 (one week ago) link

I'm wondering if I'd be enjoying "Trip To Your Heart" this much if LL never sampled it. Definite synergy there.

enochroot, Wednesday, 29 March 2023 16:39 (two days ago) link

How in the world does “Mama Said Knock You Out” not give a writing credit to Sly?

Naive Teen Idol, Thursday, 30 March 2023 13:40 (yesterday) link

61. Sly & the Family Stone - Bad Risk (A Whole New Thing, 1967)
The band rolls out another groove with a combo horn and tremolo guitar line over a thumping rhythm section. Larry takes the lead on the vocal arrangement, backed by the others' occasional "oohs". The chord changes follow a fairly standard blues pattern (as do the slut-shaming lyrics) but the rhythmic change-ups and inventive arrangement constantly keep the song off-center, with tambourine accents, cold stops, a shifting horn line, and electric guitar licks constantly popping in and out. Sly in particular seems to take something of a back seat with the organ, generally staying out of the way.

One Child, Thursday, 30 March 2023 14:52 (yesterday) link

62. Sly & the Family Stone - That Kind of Person (A Whole New Thing, 1967)
Their version of a slow-burning R&B ballad. The arrangement and performance are solid if not particularly inventive - the organ swells, the horns stab, the guitar is fluid, Sly's vocal swoops and glides - but it doesn't reach the heights of similar fare from the likes of Otis Redding or Solomon Burke.

One Child, Thursday, 30 March 2023 20:54 (yesterday) link

63. Sly & the Family Stone - Dog (A Whole New Thing, 1968)
Starting and ending the album with dogs, for some reason (this band loved dogs according to numerous anecdotes, both positive and negative). Opens with another brief horn fanfare, then rolls into a funky uptempo rhythm that proceeds to twist and turn and start and stop numerous times before we even get to the first chorus and its a capella breakdown. Again, the arrangement is tightly packed with details, phrases and rhythms popping in for a couple of bars before swerving off on a different tangent (check out that brief fuzz guitar in the second verse), but all within a recognizable pop structure. Sly leads the vocals, with the others interjecting at key points, the lyrics a jumble of mixed metaphors and shopworn woman-done-me-wrong sentiments.

One Child, Friday, 31 March 2023 14:15 (seven hours ago) link

64. Sly & the Family Stone - Dance to the Music (Dance to the Music, 1968)
After building a rep in the Bay Area and recording the first album in LA, the band decamped to New York. Manager Dave Kapralik: The group was on the road playing toilets and Sly came into my office, truculent. The album had died and he wanted out of his contract, wanted out of Epic... I remember saying to Sly that the response was great from other musicians, but it is not in the pop idiom. I said that he should do a record that pop ears can relate to and in between stick in your innovative schtick. He continued to be surly and said that he was going back to San Francisco.

Jerry Martini: I remember Sly going over to CBS Records and the executives saying to us, "This is what you should listen to." They gave us some shit and Sly threw it down and looked at me and said "Okay, I'll give them something." And that is when he took off with his formula style. he hated it. He just did it to sell records... it was so unhip to us. The beats were glorified Motown beats.

It is perhaps also worth noting that by this point, Sly had already begun to surround himself and the band with thugs (Hamp ""Bubba"" Banks, in particular) and everybody involved is generally awash in cocaine and heavy-duty pharmaceuticals.

Released as a single at the tail end of 1967 (with "Let Me Hear It From You" from the previous album as the b-side), this gave the band their first hit and opened the door for things to come. The second album was subsequently rush recorded and released in April 1968 to capitalize on the single's momentum. What's inarguable is that the formula worked, and soon tons of people were applying it and profiting from it. Structurally, the formula works like this: lay out a simple dance beat, introduce a group refrain, then have each vocalist take a turn highlighting themselves and their instrument, in turn spotlighting the bass, the horns, the fuzz guitar, the organ, etc. one at a time. Thematically, the lyrics are an unabashed mix of partying exhortations and hippie sloganeering. The complex changes and arrangements of the previous album have been excised. It's not difficult to detect the cynicism in this approach but it's also hard to resist the actual end product - especially the ridiculous group scat vocal breakdowns that they were refining to perfection. The song became something of an anthem/calling card for the band, and soon they were opening shows with it and performing it on TV (there are some absolutely nuts clips out there).

One particular stylistc facet that was perhaps perfected for this single (but which first appears on "I Cannot Make It" from the previous album) is a certain bass figure - while the drums play a stiff, four-on-the-floor beat, evenly emphasizing each beat of the bar, the bass moves around in a peculiar way, emphasizing and drawing out the "and" beats (one-AND-two-AND etc.), creating a certain amount of tension in the rhythm. Not sure if Larry invented this, but once you notice it you can hear it carried through their entire catalog, and this rhythm subsequently pops up all over the place (funk, reggae, disco). The band was at the forefront of developing an entirely new rhythmic vocabulary that incorporated this push-and-pull dynamic between the bassline and the drums.

One Child, Friday, 31 March 2023 18:55 (three hours ago) link

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