by Sly and the Family Stone
Most everyone who was around at the time gets really excited trying to describe the importance of Sly and the Family Stone in the 1960s: "Sly and the Family Stone took the Sixties ideal of a generation coming together and turned it into deeply groove-driven music. Rock's first integrated, multi-gender band became funky Pied Pipers to the Woodstock Generation, synthesizing rock, soul, R&B, funk and psychedelia into danceable, message-laden, high-energy music. In promoting their gospel of tolerance and celebration of differences, Sly and the Family Stone brought disparate audiences together during the latter half of the Sixties," says the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website. Or here's Chuck D, who was a huge Sly Stone fan as a kid: "Sly and the Family Stone was the epitome of a group playing the music, saying the lyrics, but also backing up the words."
Did Sly and the Family Stone "back up the words" as fully as Chuck D remembers it? Sadly, Stand! was in some ways a flash in the pan, the only optimistic moment Sly and the Family Stone ever gave the world. In the years that followed, fame led Sly Stone down a road of heavy drug use and dangerous living, complete with a mansion in Bel Air and a gross tendency towards womanizing—hardly fitting to the liberated image of a united crew of men and women rocking out together as equals. Sly became disenchanted with the cheerful, utopian message of the hippie movement, watching through a cocaine-laced haze as the heroes of Civil Rights and Black Power were gunned down or arrested and race riots broke out year after year. He formed a habit of being late to his own shows if he showed up at all, and more than one Sly Stone appearance ended in police interference after frustrated crowds grew angry over his absence. By the time they released a second album in 1971, There's A Riot Goin' On, Sly had expelled two members of the group in heavy power struggles; according to some, he was even influenced by some militant Black Panther friends to fire their white Jewish manager (although by the time this happened the manager himself was so strung out on drugs that "firing" him just meant dragging him to the door—for more on all of this, see Joel Selvin's depressing essay on There's A Riot Goin' On in his book Smartass).
By all accounts, There's A Riot Goin' On is a paranoid, disenchanted reflection on the disappointments and losses of the times. Bill Shapiro writes that "this tough, abrasive slice of community hopes and shattered dreams remains one of the most disturbing recordings ever released by a commercially successful pop band." The funk was grittier, darker, and possibly even better than ever, but the flower power sensibility had come and gone.
Sly Stone was so heavily disillusioned and destroyed by drugs that he never really came back (although he continues to make music and talk about his dreams somewhere in Northern California). But in some ways, the disillusionment only makes the illusions more interesting. Lots of people were let down because, for a brief moment, this massive, interracial crowd really believed that the idyllic world of "Everyday People" was just around the corner. Sly and the Family Stone's calling card is undoubtedly the fact that they captured this fleeting feeling in a song that has become a timeless anthem for the values of multiculturalism and tolerance.