Sly Stone was a genius. Is a genius. A one time drug addled platinum mohawked genius. But a genius none the less. A funkified, soulful genius with the ability to make me dance in a spontaneous way. I wanna take you higher, and all that jazz.
Sly came to me late in life after Arrested Development did their riff on “Everyday People”, which is quite possibly in my top ten dance songs of all time. While AD took the classic and turned it into a story about defending his girlfriend from a couple of misogynistic assholes and general harmony among African-Americans, Sly and his merry band of troubadours plead for world peace and acceptance of every human being regardless of colour, religion, size, shape, fashion sense, language, ability to play slap bass or not. (Shout out to the incredible slap bass of Larry Graham on the track.) While the AD version was a modern twist on the funk of the original, Sly’s groove is deeper, more fun, more charming and sillier. Sly and the Family Stone were not self-important on “Everyday People”- they could be, and would be later on.
But then there is “I Want to Take You Higher”, which is a song of sheer joy. I’m a sucker for songs that celebrate music, the glory and feelings of melody and harmony. The stuff that makes you move and cry and laugh. Music, Martin Luther said, was a gift and Grace of God. Joy seeps from every single note. A great love song about music is visceral to me. It’s always uplifting and inspiring. “Sing A simple Song” talks about the healing power of music. “Stand!” encourages rebellion and conviction in the face of challenges. Fight for what is right and you will be rewarded in some way. The Soul jam of “Sex Machine”, the burgeoning paranoia and pessimism of ” Somebody’s Watching You”, and the lyrical minimalism of the second track “Don’t Call Me -, Whitey” all make this the artistic high point from a band that continued to be adventurous as time went on. When Sly disappeared, only to come out of hiding in 2006 to play the Grammys looking quite unique, music suffered for it. Another one of my tragic and lost geniuses, Sly has attempted to come back over the last few years. Maybe yet he can get that one last riot started.