This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
Cream Of The Crate Reviews 1 to 50 were vinyl album reviews. The following fifty reviews (51 - 100) were originally marked as CD Reviews 1 - 50 and this numbering has been kept to keep consistency with the published CD reviews.
This is number thirty six in the series of retro-reviews of Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called, “Cream of The Crate (CD’s)”, and they represent CD albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
This single CD is a perennial favourite of many of us who made it (relatively) unscathed through the 60’s into the 1970’s.
It’s Sly and the Family Stone and the Cd is “Stand“. The vinyl LP was released in 1969 and was the fourth that group of releases. The Cd was released in 1992 on the Epic label, Sony (471419 2). It has has eight tracks.
Now let’s not kid ourselves. if you want serious quality playing, if you want complex arrangements then go listen to a Frank Zappa album.
In fact Frank Zappa was hitting his “straps” about the same time as Sly and the Family Stone. Frank, through the Mothers of Invention was challenging the audiences to develop an appreciation of the complexity of melody, harmony and arrangement.
Sly and the Family Stone were likewise challenging their audiences, but not in this manner. They challenged their audiences to have fun!
In doing so they seemed to go out of their way to keep the music simple, in fact they even included a track called “Sing A Simple Song” on this album.
This album in my mind is the best the group, and, it stayed in the charts for 100 weeks!
Sly Stone (real name Sylvester Stewart) and the group may have been around since 1967, but they really became popular thanks to their appearance in 1969 Woodstock Music festival, the year this album was released.
It really is almost impossible to think of Woodstock and not of the magic appearance of Sly and the Family Stone and their performance of “I want To take You Higher” (also on this album).
The Cd has eight tracks.
||Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey|| 5:59
||I Want To Take You Higher|| 5:24
||Somebody’s Watching You|| 3:21
||Sing A Simple Song|| 3:57
||Everyday People|| 2:22
|| Sex Machine
||You Can Make It If You Try||3:43|
The fact of the matter is, I don’t believe that there is a dud track on this album. As long as you remember this is an album that screams “fun”, then it is most enjoyable.
It’s probably no longer on the top of the list as a “party album” today, it most certainly was back in the 1970’s.
The opening track has the same name as the album title, or is it vice versa?
Stand is a declaration! It’s an example of an artist addressing social problems through their music
In the end you’ll still be you
One that’s done all the things you set out to do
There’s a cross for you to bear
Things to go through if you’re going anywhere
For the things you know are right
It’s the truth that the truth makes them so uptight
All the things you want are real
You have you to complete and there is no deal
Stand!. stand!, ooh!
Stand!. stand!, ooh!
You’ve been sitting much too long
There’s a permanent crease in your right and wrong
There’s a midget standing tall
And a giant beside him about to fall
Stand!. stand!, ooh!
Stand!. stand!, ooh!
They will try to make you crawl
And they know what you’re saying makes sense and all
Don’t you know that you are free
Well at least in your mind if you want to be
No matter how you might be ground down, no matter how the lies may fly in the face of the truth, no matter how long you have been “under the thumb’ – Stand!
It is sung with passion! It is not just mouthing the words and the pulse of the music supports the declaration made the singer.
Yes, Sly and the Family Stone were a ‘good time band”, but they still took the responsibility of declaring the message of the black person in the USA, seriously.
Track # 2 – Don’t call Me Nigger, Whitey.
This track falls into exactly the same category of being a song of “declaration” as Stand is.
While the message isn’t all that unique, the main difference is Sly and the Family Stone didn’t just sing about it, they were living every day. they were a diverse group of individuals drawn together the power of music.
The song is more than an indignant call to arms.
There is a verse in the song (sung with great passion Sly’s sister Rose Stone) – “Well I went down across the country, and I heard the voices ring / People talking softly to each other, and not a word could change a thing”.
This suggests that there aren’t any easy answers. And reversing the order of the epithets, the song makes clear that an eye of an eye leaves everyone blind.
In Sly’s world, it’s a communication problem that’s is there, in the people’s screams —and, in the things they mutter under their breath.
The use of the wah wah pedal on the guitar fitted the sound of the times. What I mean is that not only was there an overt message in the song, the audiences wanted music that would also take them to places that the substances they were ingesting, drove them to.
The guitar almost speaks lyrics, while the brass and drums cement a dominant statement that really stands out against the “stoned” sound of the guitar and voices.
One of the themes of the music of Sly and the Family Stone was to have the music take the audience higher, and then higher still as exemplified in track # 3 – I want To Take You Higher(see the video clip).
However, the track Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey, is no slouch when it came to doing that either.
Don’t call me nigger whitey
Don’t call me whitey nigger!
Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey
Track # 5 is Sing A Simple Song.
This track so reflects my contention that keeping the lyrics and song structure simple, was in itself a simple and effective mechanism for the group to attract a solid following and have a good time with their music.
It’s one of those tunes that just invites the audience to sing along, with plenty of yeah, yeahs – it is so simple to join in.
The playing is nothing spectacular, its solid and good, and while this might be the kiss of death for many groups to be labeled so, it is in fact the strength of Sly and the group.
Keep it simple, make it easy to follow and dance to, have fun (I mean to say, five of them contribute – its a group effort even with the lyrics), and, make everyone feel good.
I don’t have a problem with that as a philosophy, and if you do, then this isn’t the music for you!
[Cynthia:] Sing a simple song
[Rose:] Yeah, yeah, yeah, [etc.]
[Freddie:] I’m talkin’ talkin’ talkin’ talkin’ talkin’ in my sleep
[Larry:] I’m walkin’ walkin’ walkin’ walkin’ walkin’ in the street
[Sly:] Time is passin’ I grow older Things are happening fast
All I have to hold onto is a simple song at last
Let me hear you say
[All:] Yeah, yeah, yeah, [etc.]
[Cynthia:] Sing a simple song
Try a little do re me fa so la ti do
[Rose:] Yeah, yeah, yeah, etc.
[Freddie:] I’m livin’ livin’ livin’ life with all its ups and downs
[Larry:] I’m givin’ givin’ givin’ love and smilin’ at the frowns
[Sly:] You’re in trouble when you find it’s hard for you to smile
A simple song might make it better for a little while
Let me hear you say
[All:] Yeah, yeah. yeah, [etc.]
[Freddie:] I’m talkin’ talkin’ talkin’ talkin’
[Larry:] I’m walkin’ walkin’ walkin’ walkin
[Freddie:] I’m livin’ livin’ livin’ love
[Larry:] I’m livin’ lovin’ know about lovin’
[Sly:] Everybody sing together
[All:] Yeah, yeah. yeah. [etc.]
Sing A Simple Song
The final track I will discuss is the longest, and in terms of their musicianship, the best. Track # 7 – Sex Machine.
This runs for almost 14 minutes. It could be seen (or heard) as a jam – if it is, so what?
It’s a great jam and allows all the musicians to have their head and showcase their playing. Once again the wah wah on the guitar is dominant, but so it the pace of the track.
Starting “adagio”, with a fuzz base and simple snare, before the wah wah kicks in and then the music creeps and creeps ahead over the 14 minutes until it almost becomes a frenzy.
Then toward the end of the piece the sax hits one long note that is taken up the organ before the drummer takes over and picks the pace up, and then, s-l-o-w-l-y brings the tempo back down to a ridiculous one beat per two seconds.
Then, there is amusement expressed band who declare – “We blew your mind out!“
Well done guys!
In a period when music was starting to become introspective, and many groups started developing out the 30 minute plus solos, and endless noodling, Sly and the Family Stone were saying through their music, “bugger this, let’s have fun!”
And, they did and thank the music gods for it.
However, there is no beating around the bush, as good as Sly Stone was, he may have been even better if he hadn’t taken to “riding the white horse”.
There were too many lost years, too many lost opportunities. Yet, the group was appropriately recognised when Sly and the Family Stone were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
A Sly & the Family Stone tribute took place at the 2006 Grammy Awards on February 8, 2006, at which Sly gave his first live musical performance since 1987. Sly, and the original Family Stone lineup (minus Larry Graham) performed briefly during a tribute to the band.
Sly has made infrequent performances up until recent times, some have been great, others not so good.
On December 6, 2009 Sly signed a new recording contract with the LA based Cleopatra Records and on August 16, 2011.
As a result, I’m Back! Family & Friends was released, the first Sly Stone album since 1982’s Ain’t But the One Way.
The album features re-recorded versions of Sly & the Family Stone’s greatest hits with guest appearances from Jeff Beck, Ray Manzarek, Bootsy Collins, Ann Wilson, Carmine Appice and Johnny Winter, as well as featuring three previously unreleased songs.
This album that I am retro-reviewing, takes us back to his best years, the time when a performance Sly and the Family Stone was about as good as it got.
This Cd doesn’t contain all his best work any means, but I repeat, there is not a dud track on it, and it is most definitely a Cd that will stay on my shelf.
The vinyl album is available for between $35.00 and $65.00 and the Cd for around $15.00. What are you waiting for?
There are a few noteworthy live clips of the group available on Youtube. Here are three including two tracks from this album.
Dance To The Music
I Want To Take You Higher
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
Click to open the following CD reviews:
#21. 2nu – Ponderous