Sly and the Family Stone

album cover

Taking Things Higher, Whether You Go or Not

Stand! is the crystallizing moment for Sly and the Family Stone. On the three records before it, former Bay Area radio DJ Sly Stone and his band aimed for, and often reached, a kinky confluence of rock and funk and vaudeville camp that was downright addictive—and totally unlike anything else happening at the time. This album seized that musical scheme for different ends—to spread the psychedelic idealism (some would say utopianism) that was bubbling through the counterculture.

Recognizing he couldn't simply talk in the abstract about inclusion, Stone developed music that breathed that way, with tightly wound grooves, and tag-team vocal exchanges between men and women, black people and white people, music snobs and street punks. The band urged listeners to believe in themselves ("Stand!") and wasn't the least corny about it. It envisioned a world where being compassionate, being "Everyday People," was more important than skin color or bank balance. Its sharp commentaries on race spoke out against intolerance no matter where it came from—the caustic hiss "Don't call me Nigger, Whitey" is followed immediately by its inverse, "Don't call me Whitey, Nigger."

Released in May 1969, Stand! didn't explode until August, in the wake of the band's galvanizing performance at the Woodstock festival. (In its review, Rolling Stone compared the festival to a battle of the bands won by Sly and company, who took revelers to "their own majestically freaked-out stratosphere.") Seven of these nine slices of delirious perfection turned up on the radio (the other two are extended jams). All of it has the feeling of limitless possibility on the horizon, and the belief that brotherhood is worth fighting for. George Clinton, whose groups Parliament and Funkadelic are unthinkable without Sly, put it this way in a 2006 interview in The Washington Post: "Sly was like all the Beatles and all of Motown in one. He was the baddest thing around."

Genre: R&B
Released: 1969, Epic
Key Tracks: All of them.
Catalog Choice: Fresh; Anthology
Next Stop: Shuggie Otis: Inspiration Information
After That: N.E.R.D.: In Search of . . . .
Book Pages: 713–714

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