Dance to the Music [Bonus Tracks]

by: Sly & the Family Stone

After the commercial flop that was 1967's A Whole New Thing, Sly Stone came back to San Francisco and decided -- however reluctantly -- to give Epic Records what they wanted: a record that could be played on the radio, because both "Underdog" and the ballad "Let Me Hear It from You" couldn't be slotted comfortably anywhere. Sly, having been a wildly successful radio DJ and producer (the Beau Brummels, Mono Men, Bobby Freeman), and well aware of the possibilities of the new burgeoning FM scene, delivered the big single and he delivered it big. "Dance to the Music," the album's single and opening cut, summed up so much of the history of black music with its references to early rhythm and blues, the big horn charts of Louis Jordan, gospel's repetitive phrasing, and the use of numerous lead voices in a single tune the way Motown did with its male groups like the Temptations and the Four Tops. Add to this the driving funk of James Brown and the sonic elements of the psychedelic era, and he had a record that could not miss. The message itself was positive, exuberant, and wonderfully memorable. In addition to the single, which he couldn't quite let go of for the entire album, was "Higher," an early version of "I Want to Take You Higher," and the recycled "Dance to the Music" in a 12-minute psychedelic funk jam, "Dance to the Medley." In "Ride the Rhythm," the endless references to the pumped-up basslines of Larry Graham and drummer Greg Errico pointed to the other obsession of the recording: dancing. In the Summer of Love, Sly was providing the soundtrack to an endless party. Even in the album's slower moments, such as "Are You Ready," Freddie Stewart's absolutely stellar guitar playing against the bassline and drums provided the horns room to slip, pop, and hum in the breaks. There is "filler," but even this stuff is high, quality material. The entire thing is a recording for celebration and deep rhythmic invention, where black music, from the bar-walking honks and squawks of R&B saxophonists to the newer more sophisticated sounds of Quincy Jones, was being bent and shaped into something entirely new. Listening to it in the dark beginning of the 21st century as part of Legacy's series of superbly remastered and expanded editions, Dance to the Music brings new directions and points to others. It may be flawed in terms of its insistence on repetition, but there is plenty here to chew on, especially when considering it preceded the true arrival of the band as a whole on Life. ~ Thom Jurek

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