Sly & The Family Stone Play “Family Affair”

Family Affair single Sly & The Family StoneListen to this track by first graduating class members of the funk-soul school of hit singles Sly & The Family Stone. It’s “Family Affair”, the last number one hit they’d enjoy, and one included on their seminal There’s A Riot Going On album released in 1971.

By this time, the soulful togetherness that their material exemplified so well by the end of the idealistic 1960s had given way to darker, more claustrophobic themes that were perhaps more appropriate to the cultural landscape of the early ’70s. The war in Vietnam was raging with no end in sight, Kent State students had been gunned down by the National Guard, and Altamont had made the hippy dream of Woodstock into something of a zero net gain.

This shift in tone on this record also had a lot to do perhaps with leader Sly Stone’s descent into hard drugs, and his tendency to isolate himself from his band members in all kinds of other ways, too. This track was created largely without them, with Sly and his sister Rose taking on vocal duties, and with Sly playing everything else himself but for the Fender Rhodes (Billy Preston), and electric guitar (Bobby Womack). As for the drums, this song was the result of the earliest use of a drum machine on a mainstream hit. Technically then, this isn’t really a band effort in the strictest sense. But, neither was the rest of the album.

Nevertheless, it was a hit even if it would also be their peak. Despite some notable material afterward (“If You Want Me To Stay”, “Que Sera Sera”), it was all downhill from here for Sly & The Family Stone as a band. Maybe it’s appropriate that this was their last number one single, seeing how relevant the subject matter is to who Sly Stone was as a writer, and as an individual as a part of a group at the time.  Read more

Sly & the Family Stone Sing ‘Que Sera Sera’

slyfamstone-freshListen to this track by pioneering funkateers Sly & the Family Stone with their 1973 take on a song made famous by Doris Day of all people, “Que Sera Sera”, as taken from their album Fresh.  At this point in the band’s career, it was the beginning of the end of their classic period.  But, what an ending!

When I first heard this, I thought it would be a kind of throwaway track, not to be taken too seriously.  But, in the end I think it’s really effective.  Rose Stone’s vocal delivery is perfect, a little on the sad side which reflects the undercurrent of the lyrics.   And Sly’s arrangement, and his own vocal asides, make it into something of a bluesy lament.  This tune would be the last of the Family Stone’s songs to feature bass guitar übermench Larry Graham, who had a pretty major falling out with Sly and would later form his own band, Graham Central Station.  His work alone on this track should make anyone who cares about bass playing to take notice.  Graham would later work with Prince, who owed a thing or two to the Family Stone himself.

This song is a marvel, even without Sly’s hazy, slow-jam gospel groove.  Speaking of happy songs that aren’t really happy, surely this is the granddaddy of them all.  A child asks her mother what the future may hold, hoping for happiness and fulfillment.  Instead of offering her child the hope that things will work out, she tells her child effectively that the future is a tyrant that doesn’t let anyone in on its plans, and we’ve no right to expect anything we hope for.  And the most cynical mum in the world award goes to…

That this was a signature tune for perky poster girl Doris Day who sang it in the remake of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, and was in fact the theme of The Doris Day TV show, is even more incredible.  The show’s ;ast season roughly corresponded to the release of this record, starting its run in 1968 (around the same time as Sly & the Family Stone rose to fame) and ended in 1973.   Maybe Sly was a fan, since it would be the only cover version to appear on any of his records.  Anything’s possible – whatever was, was.

For more information about past and present incarnations of Sly & the Family Stone, check out the official Sly & the Family Stone website.