The Washington Post recently published an opinion piece arguing that the Kennedy Center should honor Sly & The Family Stone:
There’s no band more deserving. Sly and the Family Stone’s multi-race, mixed-gender lineup epitomized the social idealism of 1960s America, and the group’s protest songs melted genres with a funky, euphoric electricity that has never been matched.
via Kennedy Center should honor Sly and Family Stone, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell – The Washington Post.
Of course I agree, and I was particularly pleased to see the emphasis on Sly’s melding of genres, and of races. Musical genres in general seem to have metastasized in recent years in a seemingly endless proliferation of variations of house-this, garage-that and most especially indie- and alternative-everything. But the barrier between black and white still seems to me to remain fairly strong. Look at the faces of the alternative and indie crowd, of the bands (in whatever increasingly fine-grained genre they have been sorted) and to a somewhat lesser extent their fans.
On the other side, R&B – by whatever name it is going by – also still seems fairly unmixed, though perhaps less so than rock, depending on how you define it. Britain seems to regularly throw out soul singers of often tremendous talent who happen to be white. Amy Winehouse is of course the obvious example, but there’s also Adele – currently topping charts all over (and check out her NPR Tiny Desk concert) – and Duffy, who made a big splash a couple of years back with the single “Mercy” from her album Rockferry.
Leaving aside international hip hop, the R&B and rock scenes in the US seem less multiracial now than they promised to be back in the 1970s, when you had bands like Sly and War. Of course, I could be completely wrong – there are so many bands out there doing so much that it is impossible to keep up with it all these days. But when you look at what is big and obvious, you don’t see too many bands like Sly & The Family Stone. So this is kind of my pet peeve and I won’t keep flogging it, at least right now, but rather dish up the track I am spinning, that’s got me grinning, just at the moment.
Sly & The Family Stone, “If You Want Me to Stay” – from Fresh (1973)
Coming as it did on the heels of the utterly whacked There’s a Riot Goin’ On, 1973’s Fresh surprised a lot of Sly fans by actually living up to its name. The weariness and paranoia of Riot are totally missing in action, replaced by a relaxed optimism that seems to shine from every note of tracks like “If You Want Me to Stay” and “In Time.” The band–newly buttressed by the rhythm section of Rusty Allen and Andy Newmark–plays it loose and funky, and Sly’s oddball sense of humor resurfaces on a cover of Doris Day’s “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).” Sadly, Sly would never again make a record even half as fresh as Fresh.
Filed under: Song of the Day, funk, music