Echoes: Sly & The Family Stone, “If You Want Me To Stay”

“Well you know that you’re never number two, number one has got to be number one”

Sly & The Family Stone had already been through a hectic transformation by the time Fresh was released. Drummer Greg Errico and bassist Larry Graham left after the fractured sessions for There’s A Riot Goin’ On, a calamitous album that succeeded both by and in spite of the sheer nerve and drug-fueled paranoia of its creator. To this day, there’s nothing quite like the dark, drug-like Riot. Released a few years after in 1973, Fresh was an attempt to get back the band’s charismatic sound–but there’s no reining Sly Stone in from his creative flourishes.

Take the first track off of the album, “In Time”. There’s the infectious groove that Stone could seemingly make out of anything, early drum machine loops, and a wiry, uncomfortable guitar hook that disorients as much as it ties the song together. Miles Davis was a huge fan of Sly & The Family Stone, and there’s rumors that he made his band listen to this song for 30 minutes straight to pick apart what was going on.

If not a perfectionist, Sly was a constant tinkerer, he was infamous for holding on to the masters for his songs for as long as possible, leaving him free to overdub or tinker with the mastering of the recording for as long as he liked. At the time, such tinkering would often have a negative impact on the overall sound quality of the record, which is why Riot features the muddy, yet bewitching sound that it does.

While Fresh kept some of the elements of Riot — like Sly’s penchant for using both live drums and drum machines, it’s an undeniably cleaner sounding record, and this helped produce the group’s last Top 20 hit, “If You Want Me To Stay”.

Sly was a creative force, and even with new band members brought in to replace old ones, he had no problem playing both the organ and bass lines on the song.  Sly still had an ear for a hook, and “If You Want Me To Stay”, with it’s lilting bass line and Sly’s signature vocal drawl is perhaps his finest.

That doesn’t mean he was content with it– this clip from Soul Train shows Sly putting another hook on top, just because he could.

There’s no denying Sly’s destructive behavior, and Fresh would be his last acclaimed album before the band disintegrated in 1975. While addiction and the inconsistent behavior that went along with it marred Sly’s musical career, his music and eclecticism left a mark.

Sly & The Family Stone – If You Want Me To Stay

Echoes

Prince, especially in his early years, sounded like a marriage of Rufus with Chaka Khan and Sly & The Family Stone, right down to the wiry instrumentals and love for drum machines–not to mention his patently bizarre behavior.

Uptown – Prince

Prince collaborated with Janelle Monae in recent years, and there’s a little homage to “If You Want Me To Stay” in “Electric Lady” with the bass hook.

Sly himself has been quiet in recent years, though there’s been rumors of comebacks from time to time.  David Kamp had a wonderful piece in Vanity Fair a decade ago that covered one such attempt.

 

Real Love

The Beatles- Real Love

When The Beatles came together for the Anthology series it was easy to assume it was just another cash in (after all the band had been gone 25 years and Apple was still making money off their one band, and they still are).  Real Love was the second Lennon demo that they had been given access to master and do what they please.  But it comes off great, George’s guitar work is fantastic, John sounds fresh and alive, a quality sorely lacking in Free as A Bird, and the harmonies are there along with Ringo’s steady backbeat.

G. Love and Special Sauce- Crumble

G. Love has been around an awful long time with his hip-hop/blues genre, and while that is no longer novel, G. Love has a knack for production that is the show piece of this song.  Starting with beautifully played piano interwoven with upright bass, it blossoms into nice syncopated drum and acoustic guitar work, the melody is shimmering and the music surrounds you, its not so much his words that have the flow on this song, its the music, though the words are good too.

Slow Club- It Doesn’t Have to be Beautiful

Slow Club is an English folksy rock duo in the She and Him style, except they’re much more bright in their melody and harmony, this song chugs along at a frenetic pace and the singing is wonderful and catchy too.

The Love Language- Lalita

This song bursts out of the gate with a Motown drum roll but keeps itself low-fi, the melody is insanely catchy and the whole thing sounds like it was recorded on one take, full of life and energy, you can just hear the fun the band is having playing this song.

Q-Tip- Believe

Q-Tip defied common belief when he continued to have a quality career after the fallout from A Tribe Called Quest’s breakup.  This song has swagger but in ways that Jay-Z wished he had, the back track is funky and D’Angelo’s backing vocals are beautifully arranged, try and hate this song, go ahead I dare you.

Pete and J- Young Love

Boasting a Simon & Garfunkelesque harmony as well as a feel for Elliot Smith melody, Pete and J (now known as Harper Blynn) are a great up and coming group fashioned in the old style melodies and classic rock production.

Hall and Oates- You Make My Dreams

Sure its old, sure its cheesy, but can anybody hate this song? Its just so damn happy and the harmonies are great

Prince- Raspberry Beret

Prince is never conventional, and the cello violin arrangement thrown into this song is a perfect example of his eccentric genius, and no song about this subject matter should be this catchy and the bridge is fantastic. Favorite line thunder chimes out when the lightning sees her kinda makes you feel like a movie star.  Wonderfully done all around song.

Sammy Davis Jr- These Foolish Things

Some songs just put you in a mood, overcome with love and memory, this is one of them, the arrangement is sparse and the lyrics are beautifully poetic, and Sammy Davis Jr.’s performance here is fantastic.

Soul Coughing- Soft Serve

Beat poetry meets funk, in the best of marriages, the bass line is fantastic, the arrangement creative, a very underrated song.

Port O’Brien- Love Me Through

Another great new band to watch out for with the members hailing from Alaska and California, the guitar work on here is great and a very beatle-esque melody.  Great rainy day song

The Beatles- Every Little Thing

People love to look back at the early years of The Beatles and criticize their simplicity, but sometimes simple is perfect (Lou Reed made a career out of it).  This song is very beautiful in its understatement, the harmonies are great the melody is sweet and you can just hear their youth, and the feeling is universal.

Jimi Hendrix- May This Be Love

As great as he was a guitarist, Jimi Hendrix was an equally excellent arranger and lyricist.  His flashy guitar work takes a backseat on this one and even without it, I rate this as one of his best songs.

Kings of Leon- True Love Way

At the time they hadn’t blown up yet, Use Somebody and Sex on Fire hadn’t been overplayed by every single radio station yet, the bravado hadn’t come yet, but the presence was there, great arrangement and vocal performance on this one, I’d argue this song is more powerful then Use Somebody and Sex on Fire put together.

She’s the One- Bruce Springsteen

No longer was he under the shadows of Bob Dylan and Van Morrison comparisons, he was on his own, and he exploded on to the scene with this album.  She’s the One doesn’t do alot to avoid his former comparisons though, it even adds a few new ones, his lyrics are as poetic as Dylans and his vocal performance is reminiscent of Morrison and Orbison and the guitar work, Bo Diddley.  But that great melody, and those hooks, and the heart, thats all his.

Robert Palmer- Fine Time

Robert Palmer wasn’t always the suave power rock guy his 80’s hits made him out to be, sure he always loved the suits, but in the 70’s he was funky and he had great taste.  Fine Time boasts the immortal James Jamerson on bass as well as a combined backing band of Little Feat and The Meters who were both great bands on their own.  The highlight of the track though is the intensity he puts into the vocal performance, he really feels the music and he drives the band in return with his powerful presence.

Keb’ Mo’- Love Blues

Keb’ Mo’s first record soungs so organic, if you closed your eyes you’d feel like he was just in front of you playing his acoustic guitar, he’s got a great voice to boot, an underrated essential to being a bluesman, and nice harmonica work as well.  A real sunny Sunday afternoon kind of song.

G. Love and Special Sauce-Ride

I don’t know any other artist who can emulate summer as well as G. Love can, and the arrangement and production values are great on this song as well.

Bob Dylan- Love Minus Zero/ No Limit

Bob has a lot of well written songs, and this is among his best

The Explorers Club- Last Kiss

Imagine that the Beach Boys came out in the last couple years, they would be this band, the similarities are unnerving.

John Lennon- Real Love

The original demo before The Beatles put their production hands on it, the piano work is beautiful as well as his vocals, its almost as if you’ve got him playing the piano just for you and its really endearing.