Wednesday, March 2, 2011

#50 Sly And The Family Stone-Stand!


Artist: Sly And The Family Stone
Album: Stand!
Label: Epic
Year: 1969

In hindsight, Stand! is a pretty tragic album. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson talks about the rising tide and how it fell...and it kinda feels like this album was made right before that moment: right before Altamont crushed the 1960s, six months before Let It Bleed definitively declared that the 1960s were over, so pack it in. This album pre-dated Woodstock, and that sense that the world was going our (us leftist's) way was possible. But we know how history turned out, and we know the direction this band took after this. So let's ignore the social context of the album (in places) and focus on its musical context. In 1968, "Everyday People" gave the group not only their best song, but a template to build this magnificent album off of.
Sly and the Family built their career as truly one of the first groups to combine the sounds of rock and roll and R&B (as similar as their roots may be...). Other bands like The Chambers Brothers weren't that dissimilar, but it was clear by 1968's Life, Sly and the Family Stone were doing things head and shoulders above their peers. Sly took a lot of artistic control with Stand! and produced it as well. But while The Chambers Brothers really leaned towards rock/pop music, Motown was geared towards a white audience, and Otis Redding stood-out for more reasons than just talent at white music festivals, Sly and The Family Stone were the most integrated into white society. Hits on the pop charts and white band members were a part of the formula, and the band always maintained a sound that was more black than white music. We have the first multi-racial pop act that really write their own songs and are their own band at the height of their popularity, and Stand! is a testament to amazing songs.
With the exception of two jams, one on each side of the record, this album is chock full of pop hits. The aforementioned "Everyday People" is one of the finest songs of all-time. A celebration of peace and harmony, the songs is to the point, gorgeous, and catchy as all hell. While it's a masterpiece that few have equaled, other songs on the album work great. The title track is a peaceful call-to-arms, almost a micro-, individualistic look at standing up for what you believe in. "Sing A Simple Song" and "I Want To Take You Higher" are great songs that lack on the direct lyrics front, but have a strong impact with R&B vocal roots. The Family Stone even allude to paranoia with "Somebody's Watching You." The two jams, "Sex Machine" and "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" have their social influence (well, mainly the latter), but they effectively point to the band's roots, and balance out the pop flavor of the rest of the album.
As I mentioned and hindsight has shown, the high didn't last forever. While two great singles in 1970 continued in the vein of Stand! ("Hot Fun In The Summertime" and "Thank You ((Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin))"), their first album of the 1970s would be a dark affair, and their finest hour. The 1970s marked the end of the dream, and Sly would slowly become a serious recluse. But Stand! remains one of the finest album of the 1960s, and a pop album for the ages, even if it was naive at points.

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