978 - Sly &The Family Stone 'There's A Riot Goin' On' (1971)

My Rating: 2.91 out of 5
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die:
Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums:
The Mojo Collection:

Chart Peak (UK/US): 31/1

Favourite Tracks: Family Affair, You Caught Me Smilin', Runnin' Away
Least-Favourite Track: Spaced Cowboy

Over the years everyone harped on about Sly & The Family Stone so much that I was put off listening to them. It always seemed to be the ultra-trendy people; they'd regurgitate everything they'd read from the critics, smugly explaining to me about Sly's innovative & original approach as if they'd just thought of it themselves. And I suspected that they only thought he was cool because he took lots of drugs. (Don't forget these were the same morons who would pay more for a pair of jeans with designer rips & spots of paint than I paid for my car).

Anyway I digress... so I finally listened to this record & my initial impression was 'what a mess'. The album opens with Luv N' Haight & the recording is hissy, lead vocals are mumbled & distorted, bass guitar & horns are out of tune and the song sprawls along like some directionless demo-jam session. But as the album progresses, it all starts making more & more sense. Yes it's raw & unrefined, but it's also inventive & groundbreaking stuff with drum machines, psychedelic filtered vocals (often recorded when he was lying in bed according to this wikipedia feature) and tons of tape edits & overdubs. There's no doubting it's the twisted funk prototype for bands like Funkadelic & Parliament. And I must admit that the critics largely got it right - this may be the sound of Sly slow-falling into a drugs abyss, but it works because it also mirrors our own nagging feelings of aimlessness & disintegration. The lyrics aren't the great social statement that they'd have you believe though (there aren't enough of them for a start) & it doesn't always hit the spot (e.g., the ill-advised yodelling on Space Cowboy), but it still bears all the hallmarks of a classic album.

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