Sly & The Family Stone's Greatest Hits Gathers All 10 Sides That Made Pop And R&B Charts From 1968-70
Sly & The Family Stone - the first hitmaking interracial, mixed-gender rock and soul band - recorded and released their first album 40 years ago in 1967, A Whole New Thing. It introduced the 7-piece group lineup that would remain intact through 1972, with Sly's brother Fred on guitar and sister Rosie on piano, Cynthia Robinson on trumpet, saxophonist Jerry Martini, bassist Larry Graham, and drummer Gregg Errico. At the center of it all was Sylvester Stewart, born in Texas and raised in San Francisco. A former disc jockey and record producer, his vision would place him in the pantheon of African-American artists who moved the music forward and broke down the barriers: James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Aretha, Jimi Hendrix - and Sly & the Family Stone.
The debut album didn't find a wide market, but the next LP in early 1968, Dance To The Music, containing the title tune Top 10 pop and R&B crossover smash, made the world tentatively light up and take notice. The album rose to # 11 on the R&B side, but only reached # 142 at pop. Sly took a u-turn with his next LP in late 1968, Life, which barely cracked the Top 200 (at # 195) when its double-A sided single "M'Lady" b/w "Life" fizzed at # 93.
In one of the several paradoxes that bedevil the Sly Stone saga, the same month that Life was released, a new single was also released, "Everyday People." Inexplicably, the song was not included on the Life album, but was saved for the next LP, Stand!, some five months later. Nevertheless, "Everyday People" was a readymade hit for its time and place. "The band plays the euphoric anthem for equality," writes Aidin Vaziri of the San Francisco Chronicle in his new liner notes to Greatest Hits, "seemingly without touching the earth." The song made a steady climb to #1 pop and # 1 R&B in February 1969, and by the time the new Stand! album was released in April, another hit was ready to pop, the double-A sided "Stand!" b/w "I Want To Take You Higher."
Stand! rose to a healthy #3 R&B and #13 pop, and decades later was ranked # 118 on Rolling Stone magazine's Top 500 Albums list. Sly Stone was propelled into a rarified strata of worldly wise musicians that included Bob Dylan, Smokey Robinson, Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, and precious few others.
But then, instead of spinning off another LP track, Sly had something fresh up his sleeve, a summer song to end all summer songs. "Hot Fun In The Summertime" hit the charts a week before the Woodstock Music & Art Fair in August, where Sly & The Family Stone went onstage at 1:30 a.m. Sunday. Their brief 8-song set, ironically, did not include "Hot Fun In The Summertime" but did include an orgasmic medley of "Dance to the Music/I Want to Take You Higher" that was one of the high points of the original 3-LP Woodstock album, while "I Want to Take You Higher" was preserved on the original Oscar-winning film.
"Then nothing," writes Vaziri. "Silence." For nearly two years - the rest of '69, all of '70, and most of '71 ("an eternity back then"), Sly marooned himself in studios on the West Coast, creating his next LP. Meanwhile, the band's popularity was skyrocketing higher than ever. In January 1970, another new non-album single broke on the charts, "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" (b/w the non-album "Everybody Is A Star"), which streaked to # 1 pop and # 1 R&B in February. At the end of its 3-month chart run, Epic re-released "I Want to Take You Higher" which successfully cracked the Top 40 this time around.
With no new studio album shaping up for Sly in the crucial year-end tonnage, the creation of Greatest Hits quickly took on a life of its own that fall. The track choices were virtually pre-ordained - every one of Sly & The Family Stone's ten sides that made the pop and R&B charts were on the menu, plus "Fun" (from Life) and "You Can Make It If You Try" (from Stand!), one of the Woodstock favorites. Greatest Hits was a runaway Christmas best-seller, hit #1 R&B and #2 pop, has sold in excess of 5-times RIAA platinum to date, and is listed at #60 on the Rolling Stone 500.
Greatest Hits also bought Sly the time he needed to complete his next LP, There's A Riot Goin' On, released a full year later in November 1971. It was a landmark #1 album - their highest-charting album - with a # 1 pop and # 1 R&B hit single that was well worth waiting for, "Family Affair." The momentum carried over to the next LP, Fresh (1973), with "If You Want Me To Stay," recorded with new members Rusty Allen on bass and drummer Andy Newmark. Small Talk (1974) was heralded by the bittersweet "Time For Livin'."
Despite the onset of the disco movement, Sly rallied with a solo album, High On You (1975) which generated the top 5 R&B hit, "I Get High On You." Sly's finale came the following year, Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I'm Back (December 1976). All of these post-Greatest Hits developments are touched upon in the 36-song double-CD collection, The Essential Sly & The Family Stone, released in 2002, one of the earliest entries in the prestigious Essential series, in fact, the first time an Epic group was inducted into the series.
Sly's periodic resurfacings in the 1980s - with George Clinton's P-Funk crew, Bobby Womack, Time's Jesse Johnson, The Motels' Martha Davis, and others, including a 1990 cameo ("King Of Groove") on Earth, Wind & Fire's Heritage album - kept his legend alive. With the coming of hip-hop, sampling, and the Black Rock Coalition - not to mention the rise of Prince, Rick James, Public Enemy, Living Colour, Fishbone, The Family Stand, Arrested Development (who covered "Everyday People"), and countless others - the musical contributions of Sly & the Family Stone were handed down from one generation to the next.
Sly & The Family Stone were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993, and Sly accepted the R&B Foundation Pioneer Award in 2002. The eternal appeal of Sly & The Family Stone's music was reconfirmed most recently on Different Strokes By Different Folks. The all-star tribute-cum-remix project was released on the Starbucks Hear Music label in 2005, and on Epic/Legacy in February 2006, in an expanded edition with two bonus tracks. That same month, an all-star tribute performance at which Sly performed, took place at the annual Grammy Awards broadcast.
One year later in February 2007, Different Strokes' re-grooved version of "Family Affair," featuring John Legend and Joss Stone with Van Hunt, won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals. It set the stage for the Epic/Legacy box set release in March. For the first (and last!) time, newly remastered expanded editions were issued of all seven original studio albums - with multiple (four to seven) bonus tracks on each CD (a total of 33 bonus tracks, 21 of them previously unreleased) and brand new liner notes written by some of today's top music journalists. The seven albums were manufactured in a strict limited edition run of custom digipaks - and will not be re-manufactured when the run sells out.
In his new liner notes to Dance To The Music in the box set, 'Iron Man' Greg Tate refers to "Prophet Sly's seminal formulas for the next forty years of Great Black Pop - meaty, big and bouncy slabs of musical science that would be applied by everybody from psychedelic Temptations producer Norman Whitfield and Isaac Hayes to Philadelphia International, Earth, Wind & Fire, P-Funk, Miles Davis, Prince, Steely Dan, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Pharcyde, OutKast and The Roots." Sly & The Family Stone will be taking us higher for years to come.
Greatest Hits By Sly & The Family Stone (originally issued November 21, 1970)
1. I Want To Take You Higher
2. Everybody Is A Star
6. You Can Make It If You Try
7. Dance To The Music
8. Everyday People
9. Hot Fun In The Summertime
11. Sing A Simple Song
12. Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)
"… here's a way to put some Sly & The Family Stone back into your life. Because this Greatest Hits collection is particularly well rounded. It has 'I Want To Take You Higher'; 'Everyday People'; 'Everybody Is A Star'; and several other best of his best tunes. It even has 'Hot Fun In The Summertime,' which got a lot of us through the summer of 1969." - from the original LP liner notes by Morgan Ames
"Other artists have pondered these songs through the years. They have been covered by a diverse roster that includes the likes of Aretha Franklin, The Jackson Five, Diana Ross, The Four Tops, Tina Turner, The Beach Boys, Duran Duran, Pearl Jam, Belle & Sebastian, Dave Matthews and Gwen Stefani. The list goes on and grows more varied." - from the new LP liner notes by Aidin Vaziri
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Listen to Sly & The Family Stone's "Everyday People" [Single Version]:
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