Huge then, but seemingly more of a cult taste now – for reasons that completely escape me – Sly and the Family Stone are amazing…
Sly and the Family Stone, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” – released as a single and then on Greatest Hits
Ranked 402 on the Rolling Stone list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
“Sly and the Family Stone are an American rock, funk, and soul band from San Francisco, California. Active from 1966 to 1983, the band was pivotal in the development of soul, funk, and psychedelic music. Headed by singer, songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist Sly Stone, and containing several of his family members and friends, the band was the first major American rock band to have an “integrated, multi-gender” lineup….
After moving to the Los Angeles area in fall 1969, Sly Stone and his fellow band members became heavy users of illegal drugs, primarily cocaine and PCP. As the members became increasingly focused on drug use and partying (Sly Stone carried a violin case filled with illegal drugs wherever he went), recording slowed significantly. Between summer 1969 and fall 1971, the band released only one single, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” / “Everybody Is a Star”, released in December 1969. Although “Star” was another positive song in the vein of “Everyday People,” the single’s lead side featured an angry, bitter Sly and the Family Stone, who declared in unison that they could no longer pretend to be something they were not (peaceful, loving, and happy) and disrespectfully thanked the audience “for letting me be myself again.” “Thank You” reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1970…” (via Wikipedia.)
Weird to read that description of what was going on when they wrote this song, and to see the song described as angry and bitter. It’s never been how I heard the song. It always seemed – and still seems – more positive to me. Sly and the Family Stone seemed to be all about letting their “freak flag fly” (to use the wonderful phrase from a CSNY song), and it was in that sense that I heard “thank you for letting me be myself” – as genuinely grateful for being able to let that “freak flag fly.”
There is a hint of something darker in those lyrics about “dying young,” but the truth is I’ve never really heard/understood most of the lyrics – just the iconic title phrase. And that combined with the funky groove of the song sounds much more positive than the remarks in Wikipedia suggest. Perhaps if I read the lyrics I’d see/hear something different…
Which raises an interesting question. If most people can’t hear what’s really being said in a song’s lyrics, how much do we need to consider them in thinking about a song’s meaning or its reception? I suppose the answer is that there needs to be multiple readings – one for what most people hear, one for what we get from the song’s sound and all the lyrics no matter how hard they are to understand, another for what sense we can make of the song given what we know was going on with the band and at the time (as in the info from Wikipedia), and so on. All valid readings…
- Sly and the Family Stone – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Sly and the Family Stone, Greatest Hits – Amazon.com
- Sly And The Family Stone – Greatest Hits (2007) (download torrent) – TPB