Thursday, August 23, 2007

No. 118: Stand!

Band: Sly & The Family Stone
Album: Stand!
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: "Stand!" could easily be an early Sly Stone greatest hits album, as mot of the songs you know from them are on this record. "Everyday People," "I Want To Take You Higher" and the title track are all classic.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Easily the best Sly record, this should be higher.
Best song: Pick it. Basically any song on the record is great.
Worst song: "Sex Machine" basically goes on too long. That's about it.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

Where would we be without Sly & The Family Stone? We probably wouldn't have Parliament, which means that West Coast rap -- one of the three or four most important musical movements of the last twenty years -- probably wouldn't have happened. Prince took a great deal from the band, so we'd probably have a considerably different Prince for the 80s.

I don't want to live in that world.


The album alternates between satire and unabashed optimism. "I Want To Take You Higher" has the distinctive guitar riff, the alternating yelps and the organ that everyone knows. The song's message of rising up because of the music is a sweet one, however silly it is. "Sing A Simple Song" is similarly optimistic, building on the same rhythmic style.

"Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" is biting satire at the level of racial discourse present in the late '60s, with basically each side screaming at one another. The message of the song is made all the most powerful by knowing that Sly & The Family Stone was biracial and bigender. "Everyday People" follows the same pattern, albeit in an actual song structure situation. As opposed to having only two lines, "Everyday People" is a full song, with the fantastic verse of "There is a blue one who can't accept the green one for living with a fat one trying to be a skinny one." Stone's admission that "I am no better and neither are you/We are the same whatever we do" is the perfect example of a great "live and let live" ideal for the late 60s.

(Bassist Larry Graham also, basically, invented slap bass on this track. It's the first recorded instance of the technique and is as much a mainstay of 70s and later funk as the genre's complex rhythms.)

"Somebody's Watching You" isn't as optimistic -- it's really just paranoid -- as the other songs on the record. It's a funky romp, but, lyrically, it's a little nutty. Like most songs about fame, the lyrics explain that success comes some level of scrutiny. While it's a tired lyrical subject, the song's arrangement is such that it's still entirely lovely and a lot of fun.

"Stand!" is a wonderful intersection of several musical styles, with gospel and soul vocals, R&B rhythms, rock guitar work and psychedelic, well, everything else. It's brilliant and as important as nearly any record put out in the late '60s.

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