Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Extended Family

**1/2

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE
New Thing
1967, Epic/Legacy

***

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE
Dance to the Music
1968, Epic/Legacy

***1/2

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE
Life
1968, Epic/Legacy

****1/2

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE
Stand!
1969, Epic/Legacy

*****

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE
There's a Riot Goin' On
1971, Epic/Legacy

****

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE
Fresh
1973, Epic/Legacy

***

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE
Small Talk
1974, Epic/Legacy

Funk prophet Sly Stone's entire catalog reappears, fresh as ever.

Sly and the Family Stone recorded two masterpieces. Unfortunately, one of them is absent from this inevitable catalog reissue: 1970's Greatest Hits, which crystallized the band's vision of freedom -- as Greil Marcus summarized, its complexity, coherence, wild anarchy and endless affirmation -- and preserved indelible singles that, shamefully, aren't even bonus cuts here.

That vision of freedom is present in embryo on the much-sampled A Whole New Thing without generating a single song any ordinary fan needed remember.

Dance to the Music has one -- guess what it is. But highlighted by the twelve-minute "Dance ot the Medley," the thing moves a groove album that pits Larry Graham's athletic bass against Greg Errico's lead-foot drums, with articulate horns and multivalent vocals swirling and punching and meshing up top. On Life, Sly Stone figures out his shit -- although its hits were minor, its individual tracks stick, from the dyn-o-mite guitar of "Dynamite!" and the clucking horns of "Chicken" to the no-holds-barred clinches of "M'Lady" and the erotic ennui of "Jane Is a Groupee."

Highlighted but not exhausted by five songs Greatest Hits would recycle, 1969's Stand! revealed the magnificence of which this band would all too briefly be capable. "Sex Machine," which precipitated James Brown's, wah-wahs on a bit, but everything else is etched in Stone, from the equally precipitous "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" to the Chaka Khan fave "Somebody's Watching You" to, yes you can, "You Can Make It If You Try."

Sly Stone had Made It. But its temptations and contradictions ate him up. The result was the prophetic 1971 There's a Riot Goin' On, recorded in anarchic, druggy torpor over a year, or was it two, Stone didn't know the difference. Its taped-over murk presaging Exile on Main St., its drum-machine beats throwing knuckleballs at Miles and JB, it was darker than the Velvet Underground and Nico and funkier than shit, yet somehow it produced two smash hits, including the stark, deep "Family Affair." With its Richard Avedon and Doris Day covers, Fresh was Riot-lite, which equated to minor funk classic. Small Talk was the beginning of an end that proceeded through many false comebacks to yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Rolling Stone, May 3-17, 2007