Spy StoneJune 22, 2014
See this World Cup? It’s fairly playing havoc with my writing schedule. Anyway, watchin’ that Fellaini fella play for Belgium earlier on had me reaching for my Sly Stone *LPs.
Sly Stone‘s 4th album with the Family Stone was Stand!, an LP choc-full of call-and-response male/female vocals, fuzz bass, horn blasts and a swaggering pop funk that’s untouchable. When highlighting the genius of Sly, the critics will always go for the moody, lo-fi introspective paranoia of There’s A Riot Goin’ On, but if you want an album to soundtrack your summer, you need only reach for Stand!
As well as the title track, the LP hurtles along on a wave of prime-time Sly – Sing A Simple Song, Everyday People, Don’t Call Me Nigger Whitey, I Want To Take You Higher. All tracks I’m sure you’re familiar with. Tucked away in the middle of the first side is the album’s hidden masterpiece – Somebody’s Watching You.
Always missing from the various Sly ‘Best Ofs’ that clutter up the virtual racks of hyperspace, Somebody’s Watching You deserves your attention. It’s Sly in miniature – songbird-sweet female vocals filling the gaps between Sly’s bottom-of-a-well baritone, a horn section that parps away in happiness exelsius, a choppy, descending guitar riff, with a tasteful electric piano and organ fleshing the whole thing out. The fact that Sly had the genius to add the poetically rhythmic Shady As A Lady In A Moustache line makes it even better.
Sly & The Family Stone – Somebody’s Watching You
Those songbird-sweet vocals were provided by Sly’s little sister Vaetta and her 2 gospel-loving pals Mary and Elva. They were collectively known as Little Sister and provided backing vocals on much of the Family Stone’s output from Stand! onwards.
With a bit of commercial success under his belt, Sly brokered a deal with Atlantic Records that would allow him to write and produce (and occasionally feature on) tracks by other artists.
Between the release of 1969’s Stand! and it’s 1970/71 follow-up There’s A Riot Goin’ On, he recorded and released 2 Little Sister singles. The first, You’re The One, was Sly-lite r’nb funk by numbers, all popping bass and groovy bass runs.
The second was an astonishing version of Somebody’s Watching You. Often credited as being the first track to feature the rudimentary beat of the nascent drum machine, Little Sister’s Somebody’s Watching You is darker and moodier than the original but no less than 100% Sly. Sparse and skeletal, there’s nothing much to it at all. It starts as if half-way through, with the girls’ whispered vocals and murky instrumentation drawing you in. A guitar wah-wahs until then end of never and the Fender bass is set to ‘groovy’ once more. The whole thing is over and done with in less than 3 minutes. Hardly the perfect pop song, but highly influential – the girls’ falsettos coupled with the funk instrumentation and gentle pitter-patter of the drum machine could almost be a blueprint for Prince – you can practically hear him writing The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker as this record spins.
Little Sister – Somebody’s Watching You
Click here to read more about the recording of Sly’s There’s A Riot Going On. It’ll help you make sense of the advert below…
*Aye, OK. I stuck them on the trusty old iPod while I painted my knackered and faded garden furniture. Looks great now. If anyone would like to give me some Sly Stone vinyl, feel free to get on touch.