It seems to be one of those unwritten rules that compilation albums can never be part of any top 10(0)(0) list. Nonsense of course, but there are some who like to get mad about these things. Having said that: Greatest Hits by Sly And The Family Stone is one of the very best albums of all time. With Stand!, There’s A Riot Goin’ On and Fresh the group is responsible for no less than four classic funk/soul/R&B records.
Sly And The Family Stone
Sly And The Family Stone was founded in November 1966. Because his brother Freddie already played guitar, Sly Stone (real name Sylvester Stewart) taught himself keyboards and organ. Bass player Larry Graham quickly entered the line-up. Sly Stone had a clear image in mind: peace, brotherly love and anti-racism. The group itself represented that as it was a combination of male and female and black and white.
It didn’t take long for the group to be discovered and signed to Epic Records (a subsidiary of CBS). In October 1967 the debut album, A Whole New Thing, was released, which wasn’t successful. At the request of label boss Clive Davis the group recorded somewhat more accessible music for the subsequent album which was released in April 1968. Dance To The Music was preceded by the single containing the innovative title song, which provided the group with their first ever hit. The song would inspire many soul groups and ‘psychedelic soul’ became a craze.
In September 1968 the group released the album Life, which was less commercial than its predecessor resulting in lower sales as well. Nonetheless, it’s a groundbreaking album, which would turn in up in many hip-hop productions twenty years later. In May 1969 the group’s first masterpiece was released, Stand!, an impressive collection of songs, among which many all-time classics like Stand!, Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey, I Want To Take You Higher and Everyday People (the group’s first number 1 hit).
Sly And The Family Stone had arrived. Artistically as well as commercially the group was in the center of attention. It was only logical the band was invited to play at the Woodstock festival. In the night of August 17th, 1969, the group played an exciting set, which was quickly considered to be one of the highlights of the festival.
That very same month a new single was released, Hot Fun In The Summertime, once again a huge hit. In December it was followed by the revolutionary and influential single Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) with its B-side Everybody Is A Star. After that it turned quiet, too quiet…
Problems had arisen. The movie Woodstock made the group more popular than ever before, but it had its flipside. Tensions built, in particular between Graham and the Stone/Stewart brothers, the record company demanded new material and the Black Panthers demanded change in the group’s line-up. The white musicians Errico and Martini and the group’s manager had to be replaced with black equivalents.
And drugs entered the scene: cocaine and PCP. As a result, making music was not a priority, let alone writing new songs. For Sly Stone 1970 was all about drugs, he failed to show up at over a third of the concerts and came across as confused and aloof during television performances. He became paranoid and ordered his body guards to trust no-one, including the group’s band members.
To meet the demand of the music loving audience and to keep the group in the spotlights Epic Records re-released debut album A Whole New Thing and compiled a collection of Sly And The Family Stone’s most popular songs, which was released on November 21st, 1970, under the name Greatest Hits.
Greatest Hits is a collection of all singles by Sly And The Family Stone, stemming from the albums Dance To The Music, Life and Stand!, supplemented with both singles released in 1969, which had never been released on an album.
The compilation of the album comes across as thoughtless, placing the songs at random on the album, making it almost impossible to follow the group’s development. But, then again, maybe that’s part of the reason it all works so well.
The album clearly shows how eclectic the group really was, no song resembles another and the album bursts with optimism, energy, ideals and pure joy. And, the songs have all been recorded and released within the space of less than 2 years time. An incredible wealth.
From the funky opener I Want To Take You Higher, which sent the Woodstock visitors into a frenzy, via the moving Everybody Is A Star and Stand!, which contains one of the most funky and exciting pieces of music ever recorded in the musical coda from 02:17 minutes, the record continues on with a few great album pieces, like You Can Make It If You Try, clearly showing Sly Stone positive world view, and the driving Dance To The Music.
And then it’s off to Everyday People, a beautiful genius song containing the well-known Sly Stone phrase “different strokes for different folks”, immediately followed by Hot Fun In The Summertime, a personal favorite, with its moving melody and glorious harmony singing. After the rather funky and swinging Sing A Simple Song the album is closed off with Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), a true classic in (funk)music. Bass player Graham slaps his electric bass (what he called “thumpin’ and pluckin'”), adding even more percussive value to the song. The text between brackets is to be read as “For lettin’ me be myself again”. In the last verse a number of Sly And The Family Stone titles are mentioned. A beautiful ending to an impressive album!
The 1970 album came with ‘liner notes’ by Morgan Ames:
Tuesday was a restless night. My television is set up for remote control and I punched the channel-selector button mercilessly, jumping from commercial to commercial, with an occasional thirty-second segment of a show. Everything was particularly dumb that night. Johnny Carson was picking his practiced way through the arid and rock-strewn mind of a young starlet. The late show movie was an Italian version of “The Cisco Kid” with delayed-effect dubbing supplied by Mother Murky’s Home For The Halting. Ralph Williams smiled himself into the ground with bull about the greatest automotive bargain of Your Whole Life. Other commercials were all of the dirty laundry and stained sink variety, featuring Madge, the non-liberated space brain of old-line advertising fame. Tuesday was a restless night.
Suddenly I hit a talk show and there was Sly Stone. He was being outrageous. I would expect no less from him – though I expected far less from Tuesday. Sly has always been outrageous. And he has always known how to get the music that’s inside his head Out Here, where we can enjoy it. Thank you, Sly, for saving Tuesday. He didn’t do much, sitting there in some flamboyant set of clothes, strands of suede and streaks of flamingo orange. I have the feeling he was preoccupied with some new idea for a song. “What?” he’d say when the host tried to include him in vapid discussion. “Oh yeah, I sure do agree with that, like you say.” Sly was as bored as I was. I had to love him. He’s as infectious, self-styled, and direct as his music is.
His music. Your music, too. By the way, did you leave your record collection with your brother in Duluth when you hit the road?
Was it stolen by someone who was supposed to be your friend?
Did you loan out the good ones and then lose track of them?
Or are your favorites just worn out?
Check one or more of the above with firm black lines (do not fold or mutilate). If yes, to any of the above, then 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 tunes. It even has Hot Fun In The Summertime, which got a lot of us through the summer of 1969.
Musically, there is one thing that Sly doesn’t know how to do: stand still. He moves, he grows, changes, expands, dances, preaches, pleads, laughs, and invites us all to be there. In other words, Sly & The Family Stone just keep on truckin’. The pure fine thing is that they have so much to truck about. This album will lighten your day and tonight you’ll have something to do besides watch the Dumb Parade on TV.
Pop Music Editor, High Fidelity
From day one, the album was a huge success. In fact, it would be the best selling Sly And The Family Stone album. The album was praised artistically as “among the greatest rock and roll LPs of all time”. The combination of soul, funk and rock worked perfectly.
As a little boy I was fascinated by the picture on the cover of Greatest Hits. It was printed onto a compilation album my father owned. The album contained Family Affair, which I loved intensely. Such a particular song, especially at that time, when the music I heard was predominantly white. Around the time Prince entered my life, and particularly after I started working at the Amsterdam record store Concerto, Sly Stone entered my music collection as well. On December 7th, 1987, I bought Greatest Hits, which had recently been released on cd. More Sly Stone would follow, but Greatest Hits would remain a favorite. The compilation is addictive, funky, cheery and varied and sounds surprisingly topical. In 1978 Funkadelic asked the question Who Says A Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?! on their classic album One Nation Under A Groove. Ten years earlier Sly Stone had already answered it by just doing it.
Sly And The Family Stone is an essential link in the history of music and in the development of funk. And, Greatest Hits not only comes highly recommended, it is indeed one of the very best albums of all time!
The album is not available on streaming services (anymore). At the bottom of this article the album is presented as an A Pop Life play list. Follow and listen, listen, listen is the motto.
All songs written by Sly Stone (Sylvester Stewart).
- I Want To Take You Higher ^
- Everybody Is A Star
- Stand! ^
- Life #
- Fun #
- You Can Make It If You Try ^
- Dance To The Music *
- Everyday People ^
- Hot Fun In The Summertime
- M’Lady #
- Sing A Simple Song ^
- Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)
* stems from Dance To The Music (1968)
# stems from Life (1968)
^ stems from Stand! (1969)
- Greg Errico – drums
- Larry Graham – bass, vocals
- Jerry Martini – saxophone
- Cynthia Robinson – trumpet, ad-libs
- Freddie Stone – guitar, vocals
- Rosie Stone – piano, keyboards, vocals
- Sly Stone – vocals, piano, organ, keyboards, harmonica, guitar
With the help of Little Sister (Vet Stone, Mary McCreary, Elva Mouton) – background vocals
Album production by Sly Stone for Stone Flower Productions.
After Greatest Hits
In the year 1970 Sly Stone didn’t do too many thing besides using drugs, followed by endless sessions for the next album. In November 1971 the new single Family Affair was released, two weeks later followed by masterpiece There’s a Riot Goin’ On. The contradiction between the festive Greatest Hits and the new album couldn’t have been bigger. The effects of Sly Stone’s addiction, his growing sense that all was not well in the US and that his ideals may have been too overreaching, were all part of the new music, which sounded dark and hopeless. The instrumentation was minimalistic and the lyrics were depressing. The fresh production had vanished, as was the group effort. By and large, Sly Stone had played the album all by himself.
The atmosphere within the band had already made drummer Errico leave, in 1972 he was followed by bass player Graham. In the meantime Sly Stone’s cocaine habit intensified even more. Despite all problems, 1973 saw the release of the magnificent Fresh, another classic. In 1974 Small Talk was released, a disappointing album that sold badly. In 1975 the group was all over, the public was done with the music, but maybe even more with Sly Stone’s antics, who oftentimes didn’t show up for shows and even when he bothered to come, he was only half there or disappeared mid-show.
In 1975 and 1976 Sly Stone released two albums, High On You and Heard You Missed Me, Well I’m Back, followed by his release from his contract with Epic Records in 1977.
After signing with Warner Brothers he made the album Back On The Right Track in 1979 and went on tour with George Clinton and Funkadelic. A new album, which Sly Stone had started, was finished by producer Stewart Levine (1982’s Ain’t But The One Way). Following a couple of drug arrest Sly Stone disappeared from the public eye.
In 1993 Sly And The Family Stone were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, bringing together all the former band members, except Sly Stone. But right before the band took the stage for their performance, all of a sudden Sly Stone appeared. He was gone as soon as he had come.
During the 2006 Grammy Awards the original line-up of Sly And The Family Stone played on stage. It was not a success as Sly Stone quickly left the stage. In 2007 a tour was organized bringing the group to many festivals, among them the Dutch North Sea Jazz Festival. The tour was a total failure. Most of the time the band started way too late, making the public leave the venue before the show had even started. Sly disappeared midway through the shows, to never return. There were some decent shows, but most were a disgrace.
In September 2011 the sad news broke that Sly Stone was homeless, living out of a car and was allowed to shower in the home of a retired couple.
Finally, in 2015, after a 5 year long lawsuit, Sly Stone’s luck seemed to change as it was announced he would receive over $ 5 million in back payments. However, the decision was overturned when the courts learned that Sly Stone had previously sold 50% of his interest in his music.
In the meantime Sly And The Family Stone’s music was compiled and released on no less than 15 compilations. New music (as in previously unreleased) was rare, mostly centered around the 2007 cd re-release campaign.
In 2011 Sly Stone released a new album, I’m Back! Family & Friends, which consisted of re-worked old songs and three ‘new’ songs. The album tanked terribly.
Luckily, two interesting albums were released as well. The Woodstock Experience in 2009, containing the complete recordings of the group’s performance at the Woodstock festival in 1969. In 2015 Live At The Fillmore East was released, containing the recordings of the four shows the group played on October 4th and 5th, 1968. Both albums showed the group at its pinnacle and provided a glimpse of the brilliance of the band and its music.
See the Greatest Hits play list on the right.
It’s a sad story, Sly Stone’s life. Drugs, paranoia, bad decisions, the wrong people and a destructive character broke the genius. It’s unfortunate, but true. On the other hand, let us be grateful for all that we do have. Four masterpieces by an extraordinary musician, whose influence can be felt even today. Sly Stone was the first to bring black and white musicians together and made them popular. His mix of funk, soul and rock was unique, his message was (knowing what we know now) naive perhaps, yet it was sincere.
What do you think of Sly And The Family Stone, and Greatest Hits in particular? Let me know!
All article content: apoplife.nl / en.apoplife.nl, except:
Sly And The Family Stone 1970 image: youtube.com
Sly And The Family Stone – Hot Fun In The Summertime & Thank You Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) singles image: dutchcharts.nl
Sly Stone – Woodstock Festival 1969 image: societyofrock.com
Sly And The Family Stone – Greatest Hits image: cede.com
Sly And The Family Stone – Greatest Hits – Back cover (cd re-release booklet) & Sly And The Family Stone – Greatest Hits – Quadrophonic images: discogs.com
Sly And The Family Stone – Greatest Hits – Gold record image: gottahaverockandroll.com
Sly And The Family Stone – Greatest Hits – Ad image: picclick.com
Overige images: spotify.com