Friday, May 10, 2013

99. There's a Riot Going on (1971) Sly and The Family Stone



  1. Luv n' Haight 
  2. Just Like a Baby
  3. Poet
  4. Family Affair
  5. Africa Talks to You 'The Asphalt Jungle'
  6. There's a Riot Goin' On
  7. Brave & Strong
  8. (You Caught Me) Smilin'
  9. Time
  10. Spaced Cowboy
  11. Runnin' Away
  12. Thank You for Talkin' to Me Africa


Sly and The Family Stone were theoretically a band but in reality weren't. They were basically Sly and whatever he let any of his family members do. On There's a Riot Going On he wrote everything and recorded all the instruments and would occasionally call on a sibling to play something which he'd inevitably overdub anyway. He'd fling on bits of his own and then remove them and overdub other things and delete them too and treat the whole thing like a massive work in progress. Apparently it's the constant overdubbing and editing that has given There's a Riot Goin on its notoriously muddy sound. There's a lack of clarity in everything that reminds me of the old days when you'd copy someone's tape and then someone would copy yours and you'd lose a degree of fidelity every time (I'm sure I had some tapes that were copies of copies of copies and they sounded terrible, but in those days it was all I had).  There's a Riot Goin On is so swampy at times I struggled to work out whether Spaced Cowboy actually had deliberate backing vocals or not. There appears to be some backing singing goin' on but it's so low in the mix it sounds to me like bleeding from other microphones rather than deliberately mixed in. It's entirely possible that there was actually a riot goin' on at the time and protesters outside made their way onto the master tape somehow. Although I should point out that it's hard to focus on what's happening in the background when all you can hear in the foreground is a black guy yodelling. Seriously. I can't think of a single other album in which a black guy yodels. This may well be the only recorded instance in which an African American has been moved to yodel. And if it, is I can see why.

Much of the overdubbing comes in the form of percussion which Sly felt would be better if it was played by a machine. There's a Riot Goin on features some of the first ever electronic percussion ever put on record and to be honest you can clearly hear it's technology in its infant stages. It sounds more like a guy playing around with a machine than a live human who understands what the word "groove" means.

There's a riot Goin On is given an extra layer of murkiness thanks to it's subject matter. While other funksters were just obsessed with being funky, Sly was starting to get political and felt the need to write lyrics which (if you could hear them) are apparently politically charged firebombs of latent social-justice fury. Although the murky production means the album is a bit like having someone tell you about bad things while buried in a swamp.

The general consensus among many of the record buying public is that There's a Riot Goin On isn't as good as Stand! and I'd have to agree. Stand! is just straight ahead funk and seems to have a genuine sense of purpose. It wants you to move your feet and shake your body and sing at the same time. It's a disco inferno of your very own to light up your house. There's a riot Going On sounds like someone trying to create their own sound collages while changing the world one mind at a time. There are none of the highpoints that Stand offered and the  alleged "standout" track here is A Family Affair which gets tiring in a hurry. Brave and Strong is a much better song with a lot more funk and groove packed into it's short running time.

There's a Riot Goin On also has the worst song I've ever heard Sly and The Family Stone commit to vinyl. Runnin Away is just awful and sounds like what would happen if 12 year olds tried to write and sing funk music. I can't identify the gender of the lead singer and it's possible they don't actually have one and hover somewhere between the two sexes while being rejected by both. The crap little sing-song rhyme that whatever it is sings is occasionally interrupted by a muted trumpet, and when I say muted I mean severely muted. It sounds like horns being played by a mattress.

The final track on the albums is Thank You For Taking to Me Africa, a self-tribute to their earlier hit Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). I say tribute, I think what I really mean is "watered down version". The band takes the mighty bassline from the original song and slows it down until it's tedious and repeats it over and over again. It's an interesting statement but basically ruins one of their best songs.

There's a Riot Goin On is probably my least favourite Sly and The Family Stone album on the countdown. It's still worth hearing but it's nowhere near as good as Stand! which I still highly recommend.


It's not my favourite track from the album but here's the lead single and the one everyone knows: Family Affair.



Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This album must release enzymes every time I play it. It's like a full body massage from the inside. "

-A massage from the inside. What a great phrase.

So is this album a riot or just a bunch of people throwing stones at the police? Let me know below

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