Despite 40 years of non-stop airplay on the radio, movies and commercials, countless samples, and scores of imitators, the sonic accomplishments of Sly & The Family Stone are still fresh and mind-blowing. Mixing soul and psychedelic rock with social consciousness, the San Francisco-based septet forged a new path in pop music. Without them, the careers of, among others, George Clinton, Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen, Prince and OutKast would have been entirely different, if not altogether impossible.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Sly & The Family Stone's debut, Epic/Legacy will release re-mastered limited edition CDs of the seven albums the band recorded for Epic, complete with extensive liner notes and bonus tracks.
According to the story, Sylvester Stewart was working as a DJ and recording engineer under the pseudonym Sly Stone. During an ill-fated session with The Great Society, Grace Slick's pre-Jefferson Airplane band, he decided to create his own band, the likes of which had never been seen. Bringing together the best musicians he knew, regardless of gender or color, he formed The Family Stone, which included his brother Freddy on guitar.
Rarely has an album been aptly named than their 1967 debut, A Whole New Thing. From the opening notes, a horn-driven, minor-key take on "Frère Jacques," it signifies a new direction in pop music. It's a joy to hear the sound of an exceptional band finding itself, particularly on "Underdog," "Run, Run, Run," and "Turn Me Loose." Everything that would work so well later on – the sharing of the lead vocals, the rock stomp, the joyous choruses, Larry Graham's remarkable basslines – is all there. It just needs more memorable songwriting, which would come later.
Still, what really makes A Whole New Thing worthwhile is how thoroughly they had already absorbed the different soul idioms. They can go from the horn-driven sound of Stax Records to the bass-heavy, harmony-laden pop of Motown to furious James Brown funk in an instant, while never losing sight of the groove.