Sly and the Family Stone - Higher!

Sly and the Family Stone
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There will be a temptation to go right to hits included on the Sly and the Family Stone box set Higher! To be fair, most people who buy Higher! won’t stop at “Stand!,” but more on that later. Still, it’s an understandable instinct to go straight to the hits because those hits display Sly and the Family Stone at the height of their creative powers. You get to see the mixture of gospel influenced vocals, rock, blues and jazz that made Sly and the Family Stone a ground breaking funk band that influenced performers such as Miles Davis. Besides, “Hot Fun in the Summertime” conjures up certain memories that listeners hold near and dear, and casual fans and hard core fans alike have that sentimental gene.

There will be a temptation to go right to hits included on the Sly and the Family Stone box set Higher! To be fair, most people who buy Higher! won’t stop at “Stand!,” but more on that later. Still, it’s an understandable instinct to go straight to the hits because those hits display Sly and the Family Stone at the height of their creative powers. You get to see the mixture of gospel influenced vocals, rock, blues and jazz that made Sly and the Family Stone a ground breaking funk band that influenced performers such as Miles Davis. Besides, “Hot Fun in the Summertime” conjures up certain memories that listeners hold near and dear, and casual fans and hard core fans alike have that sentimental gene.

Sly’s biggest hits begin to show up on the second CD, but appear en masse by the third of this four CD box set; so if you just have to get a hit of “Dance to the Music,” go to disc two. Disc three tells the story of this multi-racial band’s hit making days. Most of the group’s well-known song can be found on that disc, including “Everyday People,” “Sing A Simple Song,” “I Want to Take You Higher.” The third disc also has live versions of “Stand!,” “You Can Make it if You Try” and “Dance to the Music.” The fourth disc includes my personal favorite, “If You Want Me to Stay.”

Higher! Represents one of two types of artist-based compilation CD’s. The first kind is the greatest hits variety. This is where listeners expect to hear the tunes that received radio airplay or charted or won awards, with a few with a few fan favorites thrown in. That type of project mainly exists to reach the broad cross section of fans. Box sets such as Higher! tell a band’s history and evolution through music, liner notes and in some cases, DVDs. Hard core fans are the target of the box set because they are expensive – likely cost prohibitive for someone who is only interested in the hits.

I hope that casual fans or young people who heard a few of Sly’s hits will listen to Higher! From start to finish. Disc one shows a band experimenting with a variety of sounds that range from early 1960s beach/surfer music (“I Just Learned  To Swim”) to the electric organ based pop/soul of “Buttermilk Part 1.” It also features the Memphis soul styled party/dance song “Dance All Night” and the James Brown influenced “Ain’t Got Nobody.”

“Higher” (not to be confused with the better known “I Wanna Take You Higher) finds Sly calling forth his Church of God in Christ roots in a song that begins with praise and worship introduction before transforming into a funky love song. Listeners will pinpoint “Higher” and the following track “Underdog” as the point where the identifiable Sly and the Family Stone sound starts to emerge.

Higher! is aimed at the hard core Sly and the Family Stone fan, but the box set has something for casual fans and new fans alike. That something comes in the form of the unreleased, unknown and unappreciated tracks that provide a rare view into how this groundbreaking band evolved, as well as the thought process that guided that evolution. It’s a fascinating look at one of the most influential bands of the last half century and is well worth the price of admission. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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