In the late '60s, few artists were as popular and as groundbreaking as Sly & the Family Stone. Led by Sly Stone
(born Sylvester Stewart), the group was both racially and sexually integrated, very much a novelty at the time, and their music embraced a lively eclecticism, fusing rock, R&B, and psychedelia while giving birth to a new breed of funk and embracing a lyrical stance that was streetwise but powerfully hopeful. Sly & the Family Stone's first five albums are collected in full in this box set, and in addition to featuring their best work, it offers an interesting look at their creative and commercial growth. Sly and his cohorts were still working out their formula on 1967's A Whole New Thing
, though that's not to say they didn't live up to the title; Dance to the Music
, released in April 1968, was a more assured and energetic release, and featured the title tune, which became the Family Stone's first major hit and pointed the way to their future glories. Just five months later, the group returned with the album Life
, which found Stone taking even more chances as a songwriter, while the band was blending deeper psychedelia with tauter funk. Sly's golden era peaked with 1969's Stand!
, a triumph that featured many of the group's best and best-known tunes (including "Everyday People," "I Want to Take You Higher," and the extended workout "Sex Machine"), as well as witty but trenchant social commentary in "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" and "You Can Make It If You Try." 1971's There's a Riot Goin' On
was at once a masterpiece and a retreat, an album that tossed away the energy and unity of the best Family Stone work in exchange for an obsessive inner gaze and a stoned disillusion as the sunny vibes of the '60s gave way to the cynical solipsism of the '70s, though the album's sound would prove massively influential and it spawned Sly's last number one hit, the powerful "Family Affair." Taken together, these albums define the best and most important work of Sly & the Family Stone's career; anyone interested in the history of funk and R&B (or any pop music from the '60s) should have this music in their collection, and this set makes it available at a very reasonable price.