Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Sly And The Family Stone - A Whole New Thing
Scene: It is mid-afternoon. Penfold is sitting in his office. He is listening to music. His friend enters the room. (Conversation intended to be read quickly)
“What’s going on my friend?”
“Nothing much. Same old, same old if you know what I mean. Say…what is that?”
“What is what?”
“That thing,” says my friend as he points his finger.
“No, not the stereo. What is that thing that you are listening to?”
“Oh, that thing.”
“Yes, that thing. Is it new?”
“Yes it is.”
“When did you get the thing?”
“The thing came in the mail today.”
“Do you like the thing?”
“Oh yes. This thing is special.”
“Because it’s new?”
“Then what’s so special about the thing?”
“Everything. It’s a whole new thing!”
“A whole new thing?”
“Are you pulling my leg about this thing Penfold?”
“Would I joke around about a thing like this?”
“You joke around about things all the time.”
“But this thing is different.”
“Because it’s new?”
“Can I believe you about a thing like this?”
“Can you afford not to believe me about a thing like this?”
“The thing is you do seem to know a little bit about these things.”
“Yes. These things are things I like to know about.”
“They’re kind of your thing.”
“So I should get my own copy of the thing?”
“That seems to me like the thing to do!”
“Do you really think I’ll like the new thing?”
“Absolutely. You’ll like the new thing a lot better than that old thing you’re into.”
“Fine. You talked me into it. I’ll pick up a copy of the thing.”
“Great! I promise it’ll be just the thing!”
There is no point in beating around the bush waveriders. I’m confident that nearly every human being on this planet has heard a Sly And The Family Stone song. It is certainly possible that some individual out there is operating under the assumption they have not yet been exposed to this group, but let’s face it…they’re wrong. Maybe “Everyday People”. Perhaps “I Want To Take You Higher”. Almost certainly “Dance To The Music”. Some folk might not have known the name of the band, but I guarantee an overwhelming majority would hear the beginning of one of those aforementioned songs and say to themselves, “Oh man. I love this song!”
Sly And The Family Stone’s second, third, fourth, and fifth albums are considered all-time classics. This is a statement that I wholeheartedly agree with, but I am going to talk about something else today. I am going to talk about my personal favorite Sly Stone album; his debut, A Whole New Thing. From the first moment I began listening to this album my ears knew that they had found a new soul mate. Waveriders, I’m sure you have all experienced one of these musical connections yourselves, but if you have not had the pleasure let me explain further. To say that the music clicked with me immediately is an enormous understatement. It was magical!
Admittedly, I’m a sucker for bands that combine musical elements I already like in a new and interesting way. I like rock n’ roll. I like funk. I like classic r&b/soul. I like the blues, and I like pop. SATFS manages to combine elements from all of those genres into an immensely listenable sonic gumbo. The main reason I like the music on A Whole New Thing more than later Sly Stone releases is that the songs are less refined than what followed. What does that mean? Well, the energy level of every song is off the charts and the compositions are often quite complicated. Most songs utilize multiple singers, have horns blasting intricate note patterns, and layer truly funky guitar/bass/organ instrumentation on top of some wicked rock n’ roll drumming. In short, it’s a dream come true for folks like me!
Those in need of proof concerning what I’ve reported need look no further than album opener “Underdog”. Horns build up listener anticipation before the full band kicks in around the twenty second mark. From there we have highly motivated start/stop drumming, rock solid basslines, tasteful guitar and organ playing, and positively massive sounding waves of unified instruments and voices following irresistible sing-along choruses. Oh, and the lyrical content is nothing to laugh at either. And that is only the first song! It gets even better! The energy level is lowered slightly for the next two tracks, “If This Room Could Talk” and “Run, Run, Run”. Then the throttle is stomped to the floor for the barn-burning “Turn Me Loose”. Knowing that the listener needs a breather, the band delivers the stunning blues/soul number “Let Me Hear It From You”. Waveriders I apologize. This writeup is getting out of control, and I didn’t even talk about other favorites like “I Cannot Make It”, the psychedelic “Trip To Your Heart”, or the bonus track “What Would I Do” from the 2007 remaster. Alas, you’ll have to discover these delectable sonic morsels for yourselves.
On several occasions I’ve read that A Whole New Thing is a ‘lost album’. Due to the success of later Sly And The Family Stone albums, the debut release is largely forgotten. This is a travesty of the highest order! But fear not waveriders, for we can rectify this grave injustice. All you have to do is pick up a copy of this magnificent album, let the music it contains fill your days with happiness and good cheer, and then spread the word to anyone who will listen. We can do this!