By 1969's Woodstock Festival, Sly And The Family Stone's reputation for incendiary live performances had grown to the point where they were regarded by many as the greatest live act on the planet. If there was any doubt whatsoever of this however, it was completely shattered by the band's historic performance at Woodstock.
Looking past Woodstock's images of stoned out hippies dancing naked in the mud that have become forever ingrained into the consciousness of a generation, there are really only a handful of images of the actual musical performances that took place there which have become likewise etched into memory.
Of these, only three were truly star making turns. Santana's electrifying rain chant during "Soul Sacrifice;" Ten Years After's Alvin Lee's blistering, teeth-clenched guitar soloing on "I'm Going Home"; and Sly And The Family Stone's unforgettable, call and response during the medley of "Dance To The Music" and "I Want To Take You Higher." The energy of this performance was absolutely off the charts, and the image of Sly throwing the peace sign in the air with fringe flying, is arguably the most lasting musical snapshot of that historic event.
It was a landmark performance whose way had been thoroughly paved by a landmark album, 1969's Stand!. While many music historians justifyably will point to There's A Riot Goin' On as Sly And The Family Stone's greatest work, my own vote goes to Stand! hands down. Either way you choose to slice it, these two albums represent the creative and artistic peak of Sly And The Family Stone.
But for my money, Stand! is where everything absolutely came together. From the first notes of the opening track, this album just flat out kicks ass and takes names. On a musical level, the band plays as tightly as any musical unit had ever done up to this point and establishes the standard for every single self-respecting funk band which would follow. Not to mention quite a few rock bands as well.
The album's original seven tracks include at least four hit singles: "Everyday People"; "Sing A Simple Song"; "You Can Make It If You Try"; and of course, the band's signature song made famous by it's Woodstock performance, "I Want To Take You Higher." The band was also by now fully incorporating the politics of both the civil rights and anti-war movements into it's lyrics via both "Everyday People" and the racially charged call to empowerment of "Don't Call Me Nigger Whitey."
Rounding out the album, the thirteen plus minutes of the instrumental "Sex Machine" begin with a slowly percolating wah-wah guitar that slowly builds in tension before finally exploding into a cacophonous wall of sound of crashing drums and screaming horns. The final effect is a virtual eargasm of sound (hence the title perhaps).