TMR Music Review: Woodstock 40th – Sly and the Family Stone

Listening to the original Woodstock 3 LP vinyl set (later reissued on a double CD), one heard this rendition of “Dance To The Music”  that was lifted along with the MEDLEY: Music Lover/Higher to comprise track 4 on CD 2 after iconic farmer Max Yasgur speaks.  It was a dynamic slice of the Woodstock festival which now, thanks to Sony/Legacy’s 40th Anniversary Woodstock releases is -finally – and thankfully – put in its proper perspective.

Along with previously unreleased material that original over 12 minutes of music is found on tracks 5 and 6 of the complete set by Sly & The Family Stone live at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, Sunday, August 17, 1969.

The “feel” of those songs does change in its original context, and historically both documents are vital.  On the Woodstock set as a collection one can gauge the music in a setting where it is alongside the groups’ peers, as part of Sly’s stand-alone Woodstock document it provides a fun and insightful look into one of the major pioneers of rock & roll and funk/pop as he brings his artistry to the ocean of faces at this major outdoor rock concert.   Sony/Legacy include ecologically friendly cardboard slip covers for each disc and sleeves that include dates, credits and liner notes.  I, of course, enlarge them on a xerox machine and wish the labels would expand the liners or create an easier to read document, but that’s a minor quibble at this point, these packages are beautiful and the music is wonderful.  I don’t know how you readers feel about the double-sided color poster included, but forty years after the event I’m not putting posters on my bedroom wall any longer!  So, a one sided poster with the liners/credits might have been more enlightening, but again a minor observation.    M’Lady, Sing a Simple Song, You Can Make It If You Try, Everyday People, Dance To The Music, Music Lover/Higher, I Want To Take You Higher, Love City and Stand, all Sylvester Stewart originals, are here in all their glory.  You can listen to a concert from a year and two months after this up on Wolfsgang’s Vault – Fillmore East 1968, and M’Lady is even crisper and more intense as the opener.  The band goes through a number of songs different from the Woodstock set and both concerts give a perspective on this brilliant but erratic artist.

STAND – the CD

The Stand CD is a phenomenal work and for those chagrined that an able from the day is packaged along with the Woodstock live tapes be of good cheer: the Jefferson Starship package would’ve been two CDs anyway so you get the bonus of the Volunteers album and the Stand CD from Sly Stone and his Family is a parallel that is historically essential to play next to the Woodstock concert.   STAND was truly the breakthrough for the band, the hit song opening with the same “stand to attention” drum roll Bobby Hebb used to open his classic “Sunny” four years before this (And Hebb would be recording his Epic release, Love Games, across the hall from Sly when the Family Stone recorded “There’s A Riot Going On” for the same label!).   “Everyday People” and “Sing A Simple Song” were pretty much a double-sided hit 45,  “Stand” and “I Want To Take You Higher” were also heavy airplay items.  The album was released on May 3, 1969, just three months before Woodstock,  with 5 of the album tracks getting the live treatment.  As Sly Stone/Sylvester Stewart was a producer for Autumn Records (y’know, home of the Beau Brummels and The Mojo Men) his production chops are awe-inspiring on the Stand disc.   It’s a textbook of funk/pop/rock as well as record production.  Sly is the inspiration for Earth, Wind & Fire and other groups who were mass appeal.  Even George Clinton, who pre-dates Sly, must owe some of his popularity to the innovations of Stone/Stewart.  The rendition of “Somebody’s Watching You” is more uptemp and not as remarkable as Little Sister’s hit version, but it is also a revelation and worthy of attention.

This is my second of 5 essays on the Sony/Legacy Woodstock releases – and it won’t stop there.  This is the Summer of re-living Woodstock and these releases of rarities are not only like finding buried treasure on the beach, they are so good they are going to save the summer of 2009.