Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sly and the Family Stone – Dance to the Music

This 1967 sophomore effort by the Family Stone may not be as completely consistent as some of their later works, but this is still an extremely strong album showing their unique and eclectic mix of funk, pop, rock, psychedelia and many, many other wonderful musical styles.

The sheer exuberance of the title track alone would be enough to solidify Sly’s r’n’r legacy even if he had never recorded the many incredible tracks that came after this. There is no way to sit still or to not have a smile on your face while you listen to this masterpiece of high energy funk. Infectious and supremely fun, this was a perfect summer hit and appears here in its original album version and the hit single take, as well.

“Higher” is the template for the future smash “I Want to Take You Higher” and is gloriously gospel influenced though it is still lacking the special magic of the later tune. As a possible homage to both Frank Zappa and Santana, Sly writes his own “I Ain’t Got Nobody (For Real)”. Throughout the record there is an immense amalgamation of influences, which is logical considering that the band grew out of the San Francisco scene, with bands as diverse as the aforementioned Santana, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane dominating the city. Not to mention the fact that Sly had already produced hit singles for such pop bands as the Beau Brummels and the Mojo Men.

“Dance to the Medley” will be known to anyone who ever saw the Woodstock movie, as the “Music Lover” segment was featured to great effect in Sly’s spectacular sequence in that flick.

The rest of the tunes show the band’s versatility and originality in fashioning Sly’s songs into creative and danceable stories that just about everyone in the nation (and the world) could relate to. I can't say enough good about the players here, from the guitar that easily moves from funk to acid rock, to the magnificent rhythm section to the cool horn accents.There are many clever self-referencing pieces throughout the record, but it almost makes this a concept record, in a weird way.

The bonus tracks are stellar, from the “Dance to the Music” steals in “Soul Clappin’” to the sublime “We Love All” (which I had never heard before and yet is certainly one of their best tracks ever) to their very different, and amazing, almost frenetic doo-wop/scat version of Redding’s “ I Can’t Turn You Loose”.

The uninitiated should probably start with the fabulous greatest hits 2 CD set that I raved about before, but this is an excellent record, through and through.