#343: Greatest Hits, Sly & the Family Stone
I haven’t been having a great week. In fact, the day I listened to this record, I was pretty upset. Like, little-girl-tears upset. I only bring it up because if you are ever really upset, this is the album I recommend you put on.
It’s crazy that this Greatest Hits record is so feelgood, considering that Sly and his Family Stone was pretty zonked by this time. The year this record came out, 1970, they canceled 26 of 80 concerts, and were late for the majority of the rest.
It’s no wonder they hadn’t put out any new music in a while. In fact, this record was basically released only to make up for that, and remind the public that they existed. That said, the songs were completely transformed, many with entirely new vocals and lyrics. It’s a wild compilation, proof that the whole is sometimes greater than the sum of its parts.
RS says Sly was “one of the Sixties’ most ambitious artists,” and honestly I was floored because I’d forgotten that they were a Sixties group at all. Saying that they were ahead of their time is not giving them enough credit — some of these vocals sound like they were laid down yesterday. In some cases, like the teeth-clenching “Sing A Simple Song,” the vocals sound like somebody is shouting right in your ear. This was a group that toned themselves down for the single “Dance to the Music,” and they still freaked everybody out.
But for all its technical and musical achievements, the real accomplishment of this record is how damn happy it is. Opener “I Want To Take You Higher” is positively euphoric, and “Everybody Is a Star” is affirming. Do you want “Fun” or “Hot Fun in the Summertime”? Sly’s got a bit of both. And “You Can Make It If You Try” is maybe my new motivational anthem, because I’m gonna muh-muh-muh-muh-muh-muh-muh-make it.
The highlight is the closer, which we’ve already gotten a taste of at the end of “Thank You For Talking to Me Africa” on There’s A Riot Goin’ On: “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” I think all the misspellings just attest to how joyful the song is. How can I, too, be Mice Elf? Joke’s on me. We are all Mice Elves.
Despite the utter joy, there’s a levity here, too: a willingness to tackle hatred and bigotry with upbeat compassion, in a way that other Sixties bands weren’t. “Stand!” leaves just as big a mark here as it did on the album of the same name, particularly with the added chorus line. “Everyday People” is humble and has nursery-rhyme lyrics (and is one of the first instances of the phrase Scooby-dooby-doo!), but it cuts right down to the heart of the matter: We gotta live together.
It sucks to be little-girl-tears upset, but it happens. That’s life. It’ll happen to you, and it’ll happen to me again. (Maybe a few more times.) I used to love putting on sad music when I was sad. Now I know what to put on instead.
Wild Card Song: “M’Lady”! A phrase that chills my bones when I hear it in person, but makes me want to dance when Sly does it.
Favorite Lyric: From “Life.” You don’t have to die before you live.