Sony/BMG's Legacy division issues remastered versions of Sly and the Family Stone's first seven albums today. Unfortunately, corporate behemoth Sony/BMG is over a year too late to capitalize on the surge of interest created by Sly's brief, bizarre reappearance at the 2006 Grammy Awards. Nevertheless, the time is always right for Sly's music to be rediscovered.
Sadly, Sly Stone's first solo record, 1975's High On You, remains out-of-print. Hopefully, that oversight will be corrected soon because it is an under-rated album that deserves a second look.
While the first five Family Stone LPs (up through 1971's There's A Riot Goin' On) are universally acknowledged as classics, Sly's later albums are more controversial. By 1971 Sly's drug use had gotten out of control, and his erratic behavior, including a slew of missed gigs, began to take a toll on his career. Nevertheless, the later albums have much to recommend them. Fresh is one of my all-time favorite Sly albums, and is generally recognized as a good record, even if it is held in lower critical regard than Riot.
Small Talk, High On You and Heard Ya Missed Me on the other hand, are typically written off as the work of a spent artistic force. While they are certainly uneven efforts, much of the music on Small Talk and High On You still sounds fresh and vital to me. Not every track on these albums is great, but Sly digs into some deep funky grooves that rival anything George Clinton and company were doing under the P-Funk umbrella at the time. Anyone who is a fan of The Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique (and who isn't?) should own a copy of Small Talk, if for no other reason than to hear where the boys ripped-off one of the funkiest grooves of all-time.
The title track of High On You went to #3 on the R&B charts, but peaked at #52 on the pop charts. Frankly, I don't know what pop radio programmers were thinking, because "High On You" is crazy great, nearly as good as Sly's best songs from the 60s. But what I really don't get is why the album's third single "Crossword Puzzle" failed to chart altogether. It could be because Epic made the mistake of issuing the inferior "Le Lo Li" as the album's second single. With its lame "different freaks for different weeks" lyric, "Le Lo Li" does indeed sound like a pale echo of past glories. "Crossword Puzzle" on the other hand, is the funkiest defense of single-motherhood you will ever hear. Despite the song's lyrical content ("How could you wish her pain, Cuz' she has her maiden name"), I bet the killer groove could get even Focus On The Family's James Dobson's hips moving. Bonus funk points to anyone who can tell me where the killer horn hook from this song was famously sampled.
(BTW, I think I could make those pants work for me.)