From the Vault...


Sly & The Family Stone
"There's A Riot Goin' On"

© Sony Records

Year of Release: 1971

track listing
  • Luv N' Haight
  • Just Like A Baby
  • Poet
  • Family Affair
  • Africa Talks To You/
    The Asphalt Jungle/
    There's A Riot
    Goin' On
  • Brave And Strong
  • (You Caught Me) Smilin'
  • Time
  • Spaced Cow Boy
  • Runnin' Away
  • Thank You For
    Talkin' To Me Africa

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    Sly & The Family Stone
    "There's A Riot Goin' On"

    This week back in 1971, Sly & The Family Stone was at #1 on two charts: The song "Family Affair" was on top of the singles chart, and the album this song originally appeared on, There's A Riot Goin' On was on top of the Albums chart.

    By 1971, Sly Stone was encountering a major drug problem. And from this, his creative forces in music showed. The album There's A Riot Goin' On was dark sounding. My guess is the "Riot" was Sly Stone's drug problem.

    I never really followed Sly Stone's music when I was younger -- I only had one 45 of his -- "Hot Fun In The Summertime"/"Fun." I was aware of his biggest hits -- I had "Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" on a Various Artist LP, Ronco's Good Vibrations. Their other big hits, such as "Family Affair," "Dance To The Music" I remembered from radio airplay. And, also to mention, I remember hearing their music from the Woodstock concert LPs.

    1969's Stand album achieved greatness. 1970 saw a Greatest Hits compilation. 1971 arrived with There's A Riot Goin' On, and by now, Sly stone's personal life took a turn, with his drug addiction. Normally in cases like this, careers take a downfall. In one of many online reviews of this album, this was mentioned: "This is idealism soured, as hope is slowly replaced by cynicism, joy by skepticism, enthusiasm by weariness, sex by pornography, thrills by narcotics."

    Leading off the album is the "dark" "Luv N Haight" -- I'm sure the Haight was referred to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury. This intersection was the hangout and homes of bands from the 1960s, such as The Grateful Dead (most famous), Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin.

    Now, instead of looking at how dark themed the songs were, let's face how the sounds of these songs are ... "Just Like A Baby" has a groovin' feel; it also has comparisons of an artist that would become famous in the 1980s -- Prince. "Poet' also has a smooth, groovin' soul sound. "Family Affair" definitely is soulful, it reached #1, and personally, this song is really the best song on the entire album.

    Jazz and Soul has "Africa Talks To You/The Asphalt Jungle/There's A Riot Goin' On." Funky as in James Brown has the next track, "Brave And Strong." "(You Caught Me) Smilin'" was another "hit" from this album, but truthfully, I didn't remember this song as popular, nor did I ever hear it on the radio back in the day. Slowing down the pace is "Time," and "Spaced Cow Boy" definitely threw me off, as this song sounded "out of sync" with the rest of the album, and it sounds as if it was "lost"; a song that could easily be left behind, and forgotten. "Runnin' Away" -- a decent, Pop sounding track, and the album ends with "Thank You For Talkin' To Me Africa," which is a slow-down version of their #1 hit, "Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin)."

    Continuing with the other review I had read -- "Joy isn't entirely gone -- it creeps through the cracks every once and awhile and, more disturbing, Sly revels in his stoned decadence. What makes Riot so remarkable is that it's hard not to get drawn in with him, as you're seduced by the narcotic grooves, seductive vocals slurs, leering electric pianos, and crawling guitars. As the themes surface, it's hard not to nod in agreement, but it's a junkie nod, induced by the comforting coma of the music. And damn if this music isn't funk at its deepest and most impenetrable -- this is dense music, nearly impenetrable, but not from its deep grooves, but its utter weariness. Sly's songwriting remains remarkably sharp, but only when he wants to write -- the foreboding opener "Luv N' Haight," the scarily resigned "Family Affair," the cracked cynical blues "Time," and "(You Caught Me) Smilin'." Ultimately, the music is the message, and while it's dark music, it's not alienating -- it's seductive despair, and that's the scariest thing about it."

    There's A Riot Goin' On is an album that is hard to listen to. Sly Stone's career remained at a standstill -- After 1970, performances were steadily dropped, because promoters were afraid that Sly Stone and/or other members of the band might miss the concerts, refuse to play, or even pass out from drug use. Since 1971, Sly Stone released six albums; all of which never accomplished the success of his hit years - 1969 to 1970.

    Sly & The Family Stone was inducted in the Rock Hall of Fame in 1993. In 2006, members of the Family Stone entered the studio to record again. Sly Stone was invited, but he declined. In 2007 to 2009, he was slowly coming back to form, helping out a Sly & The Family Stone tribute band, and performing again. In 2011, he released his first album since 1982, I'm Back! Family And Friends. The album featured re-recordings of his hits, as he received help from artists such as Jeff Beck, Ray Manzarek, Bootsy Collins, Ann Wilson, Carmine Appice and Johnny Winter. Three unreleased songs were also included.

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