The Essential Sly & the Family Stone [Epic/Legacy]
Multiracial, coed, and serving up a fusion of rock, soul, and psychedelia, Sly & the Family Stone represented the utopian inclusiveness offered up by the counterculture in the late '60s -- and the dark disillusion that was to follow. Both sides are captured on this two-CD collection, tracing Sylvester Stewart's collective through the journey from flower-power funk to deeper-hued, more militant, socially conscious fare. Kicking off with deep album cuts "Underdog" and "I Cannot Make It," this Essential wisely incorporates less-familiar flashes of genius among the anthems. Powered by Larry Graham's chugging bass lines and Rose Stone's brassy horns, classics like "Stand!," "Dance to the Music," and "Everyday People" may have made for ultimate party music, but Sly Stone found ways to work in messages about racism ("Don't Call Me N***er, Whitey") and self-empowerment ("You Can Make It if You Try"). By the early '70s, following the seminal There's a Riot Going On, Stewart's drug problems brought a darker tone to the music and resulted in the classic "Family Affair," plus nods to Black Power ("Thank You for Talkin' to Me Africa") and various societal ills ("Babies Makin' Babies"). Not long after, the increasingly erratic Sly resisted all attempts to resuscitate his career and spiraled into paranoia and poverty. Along with James Brown, Sly & the Family Stone introduced pop fans to the world of hard funk and in the process influenced pop-rock royalty such as Prince and Lenny Kravitz, along with punk-funk rockers such as Living Colour, the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- who covered "If You Want Me To Stay" -- and Fishbone. The reasons for Sly's musical longevity, if not his maddening inability to keep the creative fires burning, are all right here.