Sly and the Family Stone
Synopsis of Pop Music
"It's a family affair..."
The late 1960’s was an ambitious time for pop music as many bands combined rock and roll with other styles of music to create unique sounds that had never been heard before. A crucial leader of this experimentation was Sly and the Family Stone. This group blended pop hooks, rock energy, r&b rhythms and an exotic tinge of psychedelia to create a string of unforgettable hits that are still popular today. In the process, they changed the face of popular music by helping to usher in the era of ‘funk.’
Sly and the Family Stone was the brainchild of deejay Sylvester ‘Sly’ Stone. The music-obsessed Stone sang gospel as a child and played in local bands as a teen in California. He later became a deejay, but continued to perform and also produce for other artists. Most notably, he produced the hit “C’Mon and Swim” for Bobby Freeman. However, Sly came into his own as a musician when he and his brother Freddie combined the best members of two bands to form Sly and The Family Stone. This multiracial unit became a hit in San Francisco with their swirling blend of psychedelic rock and r&b.
By the end of their first year together, Sly and the Family Stone had a record contract. The next year, they scored their first hit with “Dance To The Music.” This frenetic tune smoothly blended a muscular r&b groove with a pop-friendly smoothness. More importantly, it overflowed with hooks: exuberant horns, a stomping bassline and chorus vocals chanting ‘bum-bum-bum-bum.’ This song went Top-10 on both the pop and r&b charts and a similarly-titled album also did well. They followed this success in 1968 with a new album called Life and the single “Everyday People,” a horn-driven #1 hit that paid tribute to diversity.
However, it was Stand that made superstars out of Sly and the Family Stone. On this album, the group perfected their ever-churning mixture of rock, psychedelia and soul into a singular style that would soon be known to listeners around the world as ‘funk.’ The album’s title track, a soulfully-sung and stirring celebration of individuality, also became a hit single. They group began to tour the U.S. and made their name as a live act with an electrifying performance at the Woodstock Festival. This performance was immortalized in the Woodstock film and became one of its top highlights for many a viewer.
Sly and the Family Stone continued to dominate the pop charts into 1970 with a string of hit singles. The piano-driven “Hot Fun In The Summertime” mixed sweet orchestrations with gospel vocals to become a #2 hit. This song was followed by the #1 smash “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf (Agin).” It was a stomping dance tune driven by a slippery and infectiously grooving bassline. The song’s B-side, the soulful and sweetly-harmonized “Everybody Is A Star,” also hit #1 and made the single a double-sided hit. All three of these hits were compiled in early 1970 on Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits album.
There would not be a new Sly and the Family Stone album until 1971, but when it arrived, it was unforgettable. There’s A Riot Goin’ On both redefined Sly and The Family Stone as a band and played an important role in reshaping the style and the content of r&b music. This album shied away from the group’s previously sunny sound for a moodier, stripped-down groove that fit its lyrics about personal and social problems. Even with the experimentation, the album also proved that Sly Stone still had his hit-making touch: the gently-grooving “Family Affair” became a #1 hit and stayed on top for five weeks.
Sly and the Family Stone returned in 1973 with Fresh, an album that returned the group to a lighter, playful sound. The mellow but bouncy “If You Want Me To Stay” blended a percolating bass riff with catchy horns to create a crossover hit on the pop and r&b charts. The next year, the group released Small Talk. It featured a kinetic funk track called “Loose Booty” that has become a favorite in recent years thanks to the fact that it was sampled by the Beastie Boys on their classic Paul’s Boutique album.
After Small Talk, Sly and the Family Stone disbanded. Sly Stone pursued solo work for a few years but later reunited the group to produce 1979’s Back On The Right Track. After that album, the group disbanded once more and Sly Stone went on to work with performers like Funkadelic and Jesse Johnson. In 1993, Sly and the Family Stone were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. Since that time, Stone has stayed out of the public eye but rumor has it that he is recording material for a comeback album.
In any event, Sly and the Family Stone have made music that remains an important part of popular culture. Songs like “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf (Agin)” and “Hot Fun In The Summertime” dominate oldies radio and are frequently sampled by hip-hop artists who appreciate their treasure-trove of grooves. Also, the group’s music is often covered and frequently used in ad campaigns. For instance, “Everyday People” became a hit cover for Arrested Development and was also used in a series of Toyota ads. All in all, Sly and the Family Stone made music that will remain relevant long into the future.
Artist Release History1967 - Whole New Thing
1968 - Dance to the Music
1968 - M'Lady
1968 - Life
1969 - Stand!
1970 - Greatest Hits
1971 - There's a Riot Goin' On
1973 - Fresh
1974 - Small Talk
1975 - High on You
1976 - Heard You Missed Me, Well I'm Back
1979 - Back on the Right Track
1981 - Anthology
1983 - Ain't But the One Way
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsAnthology (Columbia)
Band MembersSylvester 'Sly' Stone lead vocals, keyboards, guitar
Freddie Stone guitar
Cynthia Robinson trumpet
Jerry Martini saxophone
Rosemary Stone piano, vocals
Larry Graham bass
Greg Errico drums