"I've got a few reasons why I've got to maintain stability. I've got into wanting people to hear my music. I've got something I want people to hear because I know they'll like it. They've gotta like it!" - Sly Stone
I Hate To Leave Her is again a great piece of bassy, soulful trippy, hippy funk, if there was such a thing. As with all the band’s recordings, the brass section is essential to the sound, and sounds great on every track. These current remasterings are absolutely fantastic too. Crystal clear, big, bassy and punchy. Bad Risk is a magnificent slab of proto-psychedelic soul, the like of which The Temptations would out out between 1968-72. Check out those drums, bass and guitar. This was quite adventurous, ground-breaking material. Soon, many bands would be playing soul like this. That Kind Of Person is soulful, jazzy and a seriously quality song. Who else was producing innovative soul like this in 1967? Prince must have listened to this, without a doubt. Dog is another upbeat song about “dogs having their day”, with a great Sly vocal over yet another wonderful, addictive bass line.
Ride The Rhythm has a spectacularly funky, bass-driven intro and develops into a masterpiece of jazz funk. Superb big, rumbling bass. Color Me True provides a prototype for the wonderful “psychedelic soul” tracks that The Temptations were soon to release. Sly and his band did it first. Wah-wah guitar and bass all over it. Check out that great guitar on Are You Ready, and then those horns again. Man, this is a great album. To think it was only 1968. Sly was considerably ahead of the game. Don't Burn Baby has a rhythmic conga-guitar intro and the track mutates into a frenetic, almost Rolling Stones-ish number backed by some Latin-Influenced guitar and some wild 60s organ, man. Sly’s vocals show the first signs of the madcap delivery he utilised on occasions. A mini masterpiece of several styles crammed into one.
** With regard to the extras, I am sure Paul McCartney used the organ riff-high pitched “oohh” backing vocals from Soul Clappin' on Mumbo from his Wild Life album and there is a deep saxophone bit on the slow burning funk of We Love All that David Bowie used on one of his “Heroes” instrumentals.
Fun is another upbeat number that explores one of the band’s main recurring themes of unity and integration (another is partying and the groupie scene). This album is noticeable for its more rough and ready, straight up, musical approach. Very little use of studio effects. As on their debut album, they are almost playing “live”. Into My Own Thing is a slowed down Dance To The Music type groove, in that the musicians are credited, Cynthia And Jerry, the horn players again, and the drummer. There is where the similarities end. It is much slower song, with some killer funky guitar.
** The extras are not as essential as on some of the other albums. Seven More Days is a bit of a shapeless throwaway, to be honest. Pressure is ok, but not worthy of a place on the album. Sorrow is an impressive instrumental though.
Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey is a cornerstone of the album, a slowed-down, insistent groove full of funky guitar and the repetition of the two lines - “Don’t call me nigger,, whitey. Don’t call me whitey, nigger”, which highlights the utter playground-level inanity of racial abuse. (Something that would be highlighted later in Everyday People with its deliberately infantile chorus). This song, though, in its simplicity sums up the pointlessness of it all and serves wonderfully as a two-line protest song. The band are in full funk-rock groove by now, the finished product. I Want To Take You Higher is another copper-bottomed funky, wah-wah drenched Sly classic. Check out that trumpet solo at the end., then the bass part. The band had truly nailed their sound now. Somebody's Watching You has more of a lighter, more catchy, sweet soul vibe to it, in comparison to the intensity of the previous three tracks. Again, the sound quality on these tracks is just superb. Sing A Simple Song is a return to earthy funk, the type of which Parliament would produce in the 70s and 80s.
There certainly was some fog in the studio. Multiple recordings of the same track. Gone was the refreshing “play it straight” live feel of the earlier albums. An obsessive-compulsive Sly recorded and re-recorded songs until the tapes eroded. He also promised several sexual conquests a place singing backing vocals on the album, hence the many female voices piling up. Instead of the optimistic, rock-laced soul that had characterised the band’s 1960s output, There's a Riot Goin' On was urban blues, filled with dark instrumentation, filtered drum machine tracks, and plaintive vocals representing the hopelessness Sly and many other people were feeling in the early 1970s. The album is characterised by a significant amount of tape hiss – the result of Sly's afore-mentioned extensive re-recording and overdubbing during production.
In the midst of all this, a remarkably catchy, soulful hit single appeared in Family Affair, whose perfection sits slightly at odds with the rest of the album’s extended funk outs and multi-layered madness. The opener, Luv 'n' Haight, is relatively tuneful too, but still pretty heavy and layered. Africa Talks To You ("The Asphalt Jungle") is one such drawn-out semi-jam, but sort of appealing it is too, but a world away from all that horn-driven beauty of Dance To The Music and Everyday People and those wonderful first four albums, this was dense, intense and introspective. In a way, the joy had gone out of the band, sniffed up its collective nose. Brave And Strong continues in the same vein. Funky as hell, but a muddy mess, sound wise.
You Caught Me Smilin' has a soulful groove, but again, the production spoils it, and while Spaced Cowboy is impossibly funky in places, the tape hiss is awful and the less said about Sly’s yodelling vocal the better! Runnin' Away was, surprisingly, another acceptable, tuneful choice for a single, but Thank You For Talking' To Me Africa was another extended funker, a slower arrangement of the previous years’ single Thank You Falettin’ Me Be Mice Elf Again.
The extras are all instrumentals and pretty inessential, to be honest. Nowhere near the standard of the instrumentals from the previous four albums’ extras. Overall, however, the album is a difficult listen. I much prefer the previous four abums, by far, whatever critics say. It is sort of fashionable to praise this as being Sly’s masterwork. Come off it. Check out the next album for evidence.
This album, from 1973, was where Sly Stone really got it together as a funk artist. The sloppiness and general undisciplined mess of the previous album was replaced by an infinitely better quality sound and all-round cohesiveness. This was funk of the highest quality, with a slight poppiness to it that made it far more accessible than the previous work. The sound quality hits you between the eyes (and ears) as the booming bass and funky guitar pounds and slaps out of your speakers. You know what I mean by “slap”, don’t you? That pure funky guitar sound. There’s plenty of that here. It is one of the great funk albums - unique, quirky, but earthy enough to appeal to funk traditionalists. It was a shame that it was Stone’s last great piece of work. I would actually go so far as to say it was his finest album, actually. It is a pity it has slipped under the radar somewhat, critically.
Thankful 'n' Thoughtful is a grinding, slow pace, earthy funker, with a brooding, late-night, menacing atmosphere and some excellent horn parts. Check out the funky, bad-ass drumming too. Skin I'm In has another absolutely delicious bass backbeat and a fine, grittily soulful vocal. I know I am repeating myself, but that bass line is to do for - so big, so rubbery. the same superlatives can be applied to the cookin' funk of I Don't Know (Satisfaction). Material like this influenced many a funk band for years to come. Keep On Dancin' name-checks Dance To The Music in its first line, but from then on it is pure bubblin', slow boilin' funk.
As I said earlier, I rate this as Sly's best album.
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