Just As Sly As He Ever Was
By Mike Marrone
This year marks the 40th anniversary of what has long been referred to as "The Summer of Love," the magical year 1967, of Sgt. Pepper and wearing flowers in your hair. As such, it's also the 40th anniversary of the release of A Whole New Thing, the first album by San Francisco's Sly & The Family Stone. In honor of that milestone, Epic/Legacy has lovingly remastered and repackaged the seven albums the group recorded for the label from 1967 to 1974.
Sylvester Stewart had already made a name for himself by the time he enlisted his brother Freddy, sister Rose, and cousin Larry Graham and formed one of the first (and certainly most successful) multiracial rock groups, with drummer Greg Errico, Jerry Martini on sax, and Cynthia Robinson on trumpet. He changed his name to Sly Stone in 1963 when he became a San Francisco R&B disc jockey who mixed in the rock of bands like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles with rhythm and blues. From 1963 to 1966, he also produced artists such as The Beau Brummels and The Mojo Men for the Bay Area's Autumn Records label, which was started by progressive radio pioneer "Big Daddy" Tom Donohue. Young Sly even produced Grace Slick's original version of Somebody to Love with The Great Society, her band before Jefferson Airplane.
Sly Stone went on to create a body of work and a completely new sound that has stood the test of time. We all know the hits—Dance to the Music, I Want to Take You Higher—and can name them in seconds when we hear them start to play. But digging into the albums, even all these years later, yields nugget after golden nugget. The influence of his work on popular music to this day cannot be overstated.
Each of the discs is expanded with bonus tracks and will be released on Apr. 10 in a limited-edition, numbered run, both individually and collectively. There are 21 previously unreleased tracks in all, including instrumental outtakes, mono single versions, and B-sides.
A FEW SELECTED HIGHLIGHTS:
A Whole New Thing (originally released in November, 1967) Listen to Trip to Your Heart for a hint of things to come.
Dance to the Music (April, 1968)
The mono single version of the title track is included, as well as a previously unreleased cover of Otis Redding's I Can't Turn You Loose.
Life (November, 1968)
This album, with my personal favorite, Jane Is a Groupee, is the hidden jewel in the catalog.
Stand! (April, 1969)
The big breakthrough album, most fans will pick this one up first. Five bonus tracks are added, including the original mono single mixes of the title track and I Want To Take You Higher.
There's a Riot Goin' On (November, 1971)
This is a timeless masterpiece essential to any well-rounded collection. A new version of Family Affair (by John Legend and Joss Stone with Van Hunt) won a Grammy this year for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. You won't find that remake here, but you will get the original, as well as four bonus tracks, including the mono single mix of Runnin' Away.
Fresh (June, 1973)
My gem is Babies Makin' Babies, and an alternate version is included among the five bonus tracks.
Small Talk (July, 1974)
This final album was a solid effort. Loose Booty, Time for Livin', and the title track are here, in addition to four bonus tracks.
Mike Marrone is program director of XM Satellite Radio's The Loft, a channel that focuses on an eclectic mix of singer-songwriters from the 1960s to today.