cover

Sly & the Family Stone
There’s A Riot Goin’ On - 1971

 

Side 1

Luv & Haight

From the start this thing is full of wah and round, warm, low end. The sweet soul of Sly and the background girls, the group Little Sister, bring us in with some nice building “ahhs” before we slide right in to that repeated refrain that is so far from the previous message of Dance to the Music.

Feel so good
Inside myself
Don’t wanna move
Feel so good
Don't need to move

The gentle horn swells of the bridge take the energy “Higher” as the increasing wall of wah chases its tail and the girls come back in

Feels so good, Feels so good
Wanna move, Wanna Move

The voices bounce back and forth, left and right from the overdubbed background singers and it puts the perfect psychedelic touch on this slow burner. And what a slow burning groove it is, if that’s Sly on drums, he fucking kills it. The style seems a bit different from what we had heard from Errico up to this point. The beat switches up from a steady funky shuffle to a wild, yet somehow very mellow, almost Mitch Mitchell style.

Just Like A Baby

Sweet, soulful, multi layered keyboards move this slinky shuffle. Sly lets us know that sometimes he cries and can tell when you lie, “just like a baby.” The silky smooth vocals from Sly (probably laying on his back in the studio as the story goes) just kill along with his tasteful keyboard licks. The low end really pulses along on this one and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of the tracks that Larry Graham actually played on. We are treated to a bridge of layer upon layer of Sly moaning from somewhere in outer space while another Sly, sounding like the drainage from days and days of major coke use are catching up to him as growls out to us from a little more forward in the mix. The tape hiss, emotion and pure grittiness of this let you almost feel the high along with Sly.

 

Poet

A bit of real drums start this one with some funky clavinet. Sly lets us know his only weapon is his pen, he’s a songwriter. At some point the rhythm king drum machine has faded into the mix along with the live drums and some wandering low end that is likely Sly. Then a bit of chicken scratch guitar sneaks up on you and you’re bobbing your head before you even know its there. Is that Bobby Womack on guitar? Who knows who’s truly playing on each track. Other than Sister Rosie and Cynthia, not much of the Family Stone was involved in the recording of this album. Not only Bobby Womack, but Ike Turner, Billy Preston and even Miles Davis its said was involved at some point in the recording. Layer upon layer of keyboard again bounce left and right as the steady pulse of the drum machine and live drum mix fades out.

 

Family Affair

We’ve come to the hit of the record. This was their final number one hit in the states. Sister Rosie’s smooth, far away vocals lead us into this pseudo adult contemporary drum machine & electric piano groove. Sly’s low vocals are almost like he’s talking to you, so matter of fact, so close in the mix. Then that sweet guitar and keyboard interplay of the bridge before the second verse, such a nice touch for a little change up in the song. Sly’s vocals sound strained and pained both physically and emotionally yet he still delivers them strongly and with conviction. And that closing scream is so primal, yet restrained at the same time.

Africa Talks to you

A little drum machine, a lot of wah and some warm, thumping bass before we drop in some live high hat, snare and kick. Genius for the time. Its not hard to make the leap from what's going on specifically in this song to what Prince has done for most of his career. We have Sly in a falsetto voice, the drum machine mixed with live drums, funky bass, chicken scratch guitar, both women and men singing choruses and the guttural soul screams. The layered vocals in the verse are truly amazing as you can pick out each voice specifically but as soon as you do it seems to fade back out as other voices take over. A very nice studio trick done to perfection. As the mellow groove slinks along Sly begins the refrain of Timberrrrrrr, Timberrrr along with layers of moaning, screaming and scatting through even more wah. The interplay of the guitar and the many many keyboards layered in adds some needed dimension to what would be an otherwise long and monotonous song.

Is this song too long? Yes. Does is get a little repetitive? Yes. Should they have trimmed or cut it? NO WAY! There are many things that may go on a little too long or maybe shouldn’t have been tried on the album, but the sum of its parts is genius and to cut any of it would take from the mood and what I think is the intended emotional response to this music especially in 1971, after the type of hits Sly had enjoyed prior to this. Every second of this album makes a statement.

After several minutes of wandering around the same groove with so many layers of voices, keyboards, guitars and bass your head will spin, Sly joins us again from outer space with more scat singing through the wah. We fade out of the groove which is actually more like nodding out as the track comes to a close and takes us into the title track of the album.

There’s A Riot Goin On

Odd, high brow, clever, mistake? You choose. It’s a few seconds of silence.

 

Inside Gate Fold

Inside Gate Fold

 

Side 2

 

Brave and Strong

Brave and Strong starts us off with some thumpy bass and drum machine with a little live drumming mixed in and switches it up to just live drums for the verses. The horns stabs here and there actually feel a little out of place with the lack of horns elsewhere on the album. Still, there is an almost James brown feel to the bass and horns here, as well as the lyrics. For me, if I had to pick a weak point of the record, this would be it. But it's still fun.

You Caught Me Smilin

Some nice keyboard and guitar interplay leads us in to the smooth chorus of this mellow song that turns up the groove as you go. The almost lazy background vocals are perfect for the contrast into the bridge where very funky guitar and bass lock into some licks that force you to make the nasty face and bob that head. The smooth chorus comes back with its sweeping, mellow bass and delicate voices before Sly screams us into another funky funky funky bridge section. Complete with wah horns, and more thick layers of keyboard, bass and guitar.

Time

Perhaps Sly felt time getting away from him or maybe it was something else but his vocal delivery on this is very up front in the mix and clear as if we need to pay attention to what he's saying. And it’s a serious matter in this song. Life will go on as well as time and Sly seems to want to be outside of both of these things. The way his vocals almost flow out of time with this slow blues is a thing of beauty. And the growls pull you in deeper, deeper into the slow drum machine groove hiding in the background. Then it all fades….

Space Cowboy

Deep funky bass along with whisking, swishing drum machine beats and live drums propel this mid tempo tune along nicely. The keyboards fade in and bring us in to that familiar Riot territory, and the almost whisper of sly’s voice imply he’s calling to us from space again. An aptly named song I suppose.

About that spaced yodeling, you love it or hate it I suppose. For my money, I love it. It goes on a bit but the way Sly toys with the phrasing and delivery as the song plods along keep it fun. The harmonica is very reminiscent of previous Sly featured solos and again does not disappoint. Classic Sly.

The verse and yodel sneak back up on us after the harmonica solo and its full steam ahead till the end.

Running Away

I’ve always loved Cynthia’s french horn part in this song. It has an almost tv theme song sound to it but it works as a nice feature for Cynthia’s horn playing. Sister Rosie’s vocals are up front and sound great as ever. Eventually you hear what might be Sly backing up on vocals but actually sounds a bit more like Larry Graham to me. The bridge is truly beautiful with some layered French horn lines that alternate with the vocals before we get a fantastic, full-on, multi tracked horn solo over some thumping bass. This is another song that sounds like Larry Graham on bass and possibly Errico on drums as they are funky and live sounding all the way through.

Thank You For Talking To Me Africa

The slowed down, evil twin to Thank you (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again). This thing plods, slinks, warps and funks along for an eternity. More hard, thumping bass with lots of funky guitar licks thrown over the top that bounce left and right. Live drums pump us along before layer after layer of vocals sings the lyrics of Thank You as if through a thick layer of smoke, junk and time. The drums drop out for the chorus as the bass thumps along even harder to keep the beat going. Space Sly gives one of his patented screams from the netherworld and the drums fall back into place right where they left off. Sly upon Sly sing the chorus to Thank you. A bit of Little Sister and probably Cynthia thank us as well. The drums never falter as they slowly keep the boom chick boom chick plodding along at the pace of a very heavy trip. Sly ends with the line

Dyin’ young is hard to take,
Sellin out is harder

A fitting end to a truly unique and groundbreaking album at the time it came out. Over all the sound of this first pressing is thick and full. The recording itself is interesting in that you can hear punch ins at times. There are times that you will hear a little hiss start, a guitar lick, then the hiss will stop. The hiss will begin again, the same guitar lick, then the hiss will stop.

My copy came with a lyrics sleeve which is almost invaluable due to the thick mix and how buried some of the vocals are at times. The original cover that you see in my picture was deemed controversial and was later replaced by the concert photo that is on the inside gate fold.

Over all this is one of my favorite albums of all time and I have heard it plenty on CD. Finally enjoying it on vinyl and hearing how deep, thick and dense the mix truly is, only increases my appreciation for this landmark album. And I only paid $4.00 for it.

 

back cover

Back Cover and Lyrics

sly message

A Message From Sly

Click here to see a large version

 

 

 

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copyright 2015 by a guy who just really loves records