Sly and the Family Stone: Stand!

May 3, 1969 – Sly and the Family Stone: Stand! is released.
# allmusic 5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Stand! is the fourth studio album by Sly and the Family Stone, released on this date in May, 1969 on Epic Records. Written and produced by lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Sly Stone, Stand! was the band’s breakout album. It went on to sell over three million copies and become one of the most successful albums of the 1960s. The album sold over 500,000 copies in the year of its release and was certified gold in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America on December 4, 1969. By 1986, it had sold well over 1 million copies and had been certified platinum in sales by the RIAA on November 26 of that same year. In 2003, the album was ranked number 118 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Stand! is the pinnacle of Sly & the Family Stone’s early work, a record that represents a culmination of the group’s musical vision and accomplishment. Music journalists have often hinted at this record’s boundless enthusiasm and blurred stylistic boundaries, yet everything simply gels here, resulting in no separation between the astounding Funk, effervescent irresistible melodies, psychedelicized guitars, and deep rhythms. Add to this a sharpened sense of Pop songcraft, elastic band interplay, and a flowering of Sly’s social conscious, and the result is utterly stunning.
Stand! was recorded after Life, a commercially unsuccessful album. Despite the Family Stone’s early 1968 single “Dance to the Music” being a top ten hit in the United States, none of the band’s first three albums charted above 100 on the Billboard 200. Stand! broke this trend, reaching number thirteen on the Billboard 200, and launching Sly Stone and his bandmates Freddie Stone, Larry Graham, Rose Stone, Cynthia Robinson, Jerry Martini, and Greg Errico into the pop music mainstream.
Much of the album was recorded in the San Francisco area at studios such as Pacific High Recording Studios. The band’s A&R director and photographer Stephen Paley recalled how “together” Sly Stone was while working on Stand!, down to his constant referencing of Orchestration, a how-to book on orchestral arrangement by Walter Piston. Stone’s attitude while working on the album would contrast sharply with the erratic behavior and work ethic he would develop after becoming dependent upon cocaine within a year of the release of Stand!
Like Frank Zappa’s Mothers, Sly Stone’s group is unique. And, in fact, a comparison of the two groups is not as far fetched as it first might seem. Both exude a superficial formlessness in their sounds. Both demand, on one level at least, to be taken seriously. But while the Mothers have taken pop music to previously unimaginable levels of complexity, Sly and the Family Stone Stone has gone in the other direction—to basics.
At first, Stand! seemed like soul music distorted, or soul music lacking its usual polish, but a couple of listenings showed this to be a superficial impression. John Mayall once called soul music “all showmanship,” which, while typically purist of him, is largely true. While the Stone Family puts on a show, it isn’t showmanship.
First of all, there is no attempt at sophistication. While all the Family Stones are competent musicians, their overall sound comes across more like a noisy clamoring street gang who just happen to have some musical instruments in their possession, than a polished blend of musicians. And, vocally, they’re much closer to the mid-Fifties black groups than present-day soul, even the Memphis variety.
But, if they’re a noisy young street gang they’re gang with a very evident sense of moral purpose (like the Mothers). Almost all their songs on Stand!, which includes their hit single, “Everyday People,” are openly idealistic, telling of things as they should be, dealing with vast social problems in abstract terms, which is not usually within the scope of soul music. Stand! is not, however, simply a polemic. It’s also extremely vital body music. It really can’t be listened to a low volume and communicate. Stand! depends on sheer energy more than anything else.
The most powerful instrument in the sound is usually the bass, which is incessant and repetitive. And, in fact, the most bothersome thing about this album, at first, was its insistent, almost defiant, repetition. But, it was bother-some simply because I sat there trying to figure it out; once I stood up (like the title says) it was fine. It’s not a contemplative piece.
There’s one long instrumental cut included, called “Sex Machine,” that’s really different. Except for the number of instruments used, it’s pretty close to Jimi Hendrix’s stuff. They use a single heavy bass line and pile up a lot of slurpy, buzzy, electronic sounds including the strange sound of Sly scatting into a microphone that its hooked up to a wah-wah pedal, and for a unit that isn’t primarily an instrumental group, they come out with one of the most listenable hard rock instrumentals I’ve heard in quite a while.
One of the other cuts that really stood out is pointedly titled, “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey.” It’s just that phrase and the converse, “Don’t call me whitey, nigger,” repeated endlessly in voices that sound like a black David Seville and the Chipmunks. It’s done in a taunting, almost snotty tone of voice and irritated the hell out of me until I realized that it was intended to do just that. It works. You get the message.
And, that, perhaps, sums up Stand! It’s effective. You can criticize each or any particular point regarding the music or the content of the message, but in toto, it works. Stand! is not an album for someone who demands perfection or sophistication, although it’s by no means crude—just basic. It’s for anyone who can groove on a bunch of very raucous kids charging through a record, telling you exactly what they think whether you want to hear it that way or not. If you don’t mind being pushed a little, then Stand! will move you. (RS 38)
~ ALEC DUBRO (July 26, 1969)
All songs written, produced and arranged by Sly Stone for Stone Flower Productions.
Side one
“Stand!” – 3:08
“Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” – 5:58
“I Want to Take You Higher” – 5:22
“Somebody’s Watching You” – 3:20
“Sing a Simple Song” – 3:56
Side two
“Everyday People” – 2:21
“Sex Machine” – 13:45
“You Can Make It If You Try” – 3:37
CD bonus tracks
Added for 2007 limited edition compact disc reissue:
“Stand!” (mono single version)
“I Want To Take You Higher” (mono single version)
“You Can Make It If You Try” (mono single version)
“Soul Clappin’ II” (previously unreleased)
“My Brain (Zig-Zag)” (previously unreleased instrumental)


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