Sly and The Family Stone – 1971 – There’s A Riot Goin’ On
One of the best albums ever recorded in any kind of music
Ranked #99 in Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time”
Great dark soul album with layered drums, electric piano and forbodding bass sounds. The vocals, mostly by Sly, are full of despair and emotion, as are much of the lyrics. “Family Affair” is a major classic with some really druggy vocals from Sly. “Africa Talks to You” is a bit lengthy, but has some good guitar in addition to the driving bass and funky piano. “You Caught Me Smilin” is a really great, more mellow song while “Spaced Cowboy” has a bit of a country vibe with some good harmonica work. “Runnin’ Away” is a much lighter and poppier than anything else on the album, and it even has some good horns also.
A1 Luv n’ Haight 4:01
A2 Just Like a Baby 5:11
A3 Poet 3:01
A4 Family Affair 3:04
A5 Africa Talks to You “The Asphalt Jungle” 8:45
B1 Brave and Strong 3:29
B2 (You Caught Me) Smilin’ 2:54
B3 Time 3:01
B4 Spaced Cowboy 3:59
B5 Runnin’ Away 2:56
B6 Thank You for Talkin’ to Me Africa 7:12
A wonderful album from Sly and crew — moving way past the straight funk approach of earlier records, into a complicated crossover soul style that’s filled with warmth and righteousness! Despite the political tone implied by the “riot” in the title and the co-option of the American flag on the cover, the album’s strongest suit is its warmth and personal soul message — sometimes filled with politics, sure, but always sounding like a sexy love song, no matter how hard it tries to get righteous! The flow is wonderful throughout — a very well-thought out album that shows that Sly was singing way past the singles scene — and the record’s filled with great cuts like “Family Affair”, “Luv N Haight”, “Brave & Strong”, “You Caught Me Smilin”.
It’s easy to write off There’s a Riot Goin’ On as one of two things — Sly Stone’s disgusted social commentary or the beginning of his slow descent into addiction. It’s both of these things, of course, but pigeonholing it as either winds up dismissing the album as a whole, since it is so bloody hard to categorize. What’s certain is that Riot is unlike any of Sly & the Family Stone’s other albums, stripped of the effervescence that flowed through even such politically aware records as Stand! This is idealism soured, as hope is slowly replaced by cynicism, joy by skepticism, enthusiasm by weariness, sex by pornography, thrills by narcotics. Joy isn’t entirely gone — it creeps through the cracks every once and awhile and, more disturbing, Sly revels in his stoned decadence. What makes Riot so remarkable is that it’s hard not to get drawn in with him, as you’re seduced by the narcotic grooves, seductive vocals slurs, leering electric pianos, and crawling guitars. As the themes surface, it’s hard not to nod in agreement, but it’s a junkie nod, induced by the comforting coma of the music. And damn if this music isn’t funk at its deepest and most impenetrable — this is dense music, nearly impenetrable, but not from its deep grooves, but its utter weariness. Sly’s songwriting remains remarkably sharp, but only when he wants to write — the foreboding opener “Luv N’ Haight,” the scarily resigned “Family Affair,” the cracked cynical blues “Time,” and “(You Caught Me) Smilin’.” Ultimately, the music is the message, and while it’s dark music, it’s not alienating — it’s seductive despair, and that’s the scariest thing about it.