Dance To The Music was released April 27, 1968 and was the second album by Sly & The Family Stone. Their first album was titled A Whole New Thing but it was this second effort that would live up to that title as it did indeed invent a whole new type of music.
1968 found flower power and the hippie movement at their height. The Beatles were winding down and such artists as The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane, and Jimi Hendrix were starting to completely change the American music scene. Psychedelic music and drugs were abroad in the land. It was against this background that Sly & The Family Stone would issue this release.
They would create a music type that would be labeled psychedelic soul but its legacy includes the origins of the funk movement. The varied rhythms, the horns weaving in and around the other instruments and the scattered and interactive vocals were unique in 1968. This sound would appeal to both white and black audiences. Artists such as Bootsy Collins, The Temptations, Rick James, Prince, and even the 70s James Brown would take their cue from Sly’s music and move it in a number of different directions.
Sly (Sylvester Stewart) Stone would write all the songs plus produce, arrange, play the keyboards, and share vocal duties. Despite all that, in retrospect, bass player and vocalist Larry Graham and drummer Greg Errico were important parts of this new sound. Graham experiments with an early fuzz tone on his bass plus Errico's altering of traditional rhythms fit Sly’s musical vision well.
The first side of the original release is superior. The title song, “Dance To The Music,” just roars out of the gate. It featured four lead singers who traded vocal lines. It was the first song to signal that Sly & The Family Stone had recorded something very different. It would become a hit single and a commercial break through for the group. Rolling Stone Magazine would place it at number 223 of their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
“Higher,” which would form the foundation for a later anthem by the group, and “I Ain’t Got Nobody (For Real)” would continue this rock/soul fusion. It would be the twelve minute “Dance To The Medley” that would be the highlight of the album. Consisting of several songs, it was both exhilarating and exhausting, as it pulsed along. Music in the late sixties did not get much better than this extended jam.
Dance To The Music is a joyous party album as Sly had not yet begun to write the socially relevant lyrics that would soon follow. The energy level through the nine tracks and forty minutes has rarely been equaled. It is a rare occasion where influence and listenability intersected well.