Saturday, 9 April 2011

The A-Z of All-Time Great Pop Singles: "D"

D is for "Dance To The Music", by Sly & The Family Stone

Like Funkadelic, I guess Sly & The Family Stone act as a gateway funk band for rock orientated teenagers - they've been fulfilling that role ever since their show-stealing performance at Woodstock 40 years ago, when they got thousands of peacenik long-hairs up on their feet and grooving in the mud. The footage of the Family Stone at that concert is simply mind-boggling; a firestorm of full-throttle funk. Takes no prisoners. KICKS. ALMIGHTY. ASS.

The Family Stone were the first "cross-over" act; their music an explosive cocktail of white rock and black soul - but, unlike so much (good & bad) soul-does-psyche experiments, there is nothing remotely self-conscious, artificial or exploitative about this fusion. I love a lot of psychedelic soul, but even the very best stuff, at least the commercially successful stuff, (Norman Whitfield-era Temptations, say) has some element of "lets give this whole hippy thing a go". (To be fair, that's often a big part of it's charm.) But The Family Stone's sound works because it's totally natural, and, crucially, it was their idea first. And it wasn't just their sound that was "integrated". Consisting of men and women, white folks and black folks, The Family Stone lived the Woodstock Nation ideal of interracial, inter-gender harmony, where so many others just talked a good game.

Dance To The Music, their break-out hit, is an example of how a big single can be used by a band as a calling card, a statement of intent - everything you need to know about the Family Stone philosophy is here. The phrase "melting pot of influences" is a cliche, but it applies perfectly here - it is a bubbling gumbo of Doo-Wop, Motown pop, and fuzzed-acid rock. It has one of the all time great first lines - the exhortation to "Get up - and dance to the music!" is impossible to refuse, and I dig how it makes their music The Music, the definite article, the only music that matters. From thereon, it's just your regular arrangement of accapella doo-wop, drum solos, fuzz bass solos, about five different vocalists, introductions to the band members, and an instruction for "squares" to leave. Dance To The Music: the sound of somebody spiking King Curtis's Memphis Soul Stew with LSD.


The folks! said...

Another great choice,Paul.This song was always guaranteed to get you on the dancefloor in the good ol' days of the Imperial ballroom.(Just had to mention it!!)

Dazzy Hitch said...

Fascinating stuff as always, but I'm afraid this is where our musical tastes diverge somewhat, as I've never been too enamoured with American Funk, though I appreciate the "get-down-and-dance" energy that SATFS always put into their performances.
I really like "Family Affair", but I'd imagine that's probably the antithesis of their usual style.

Oh, and I really must try to drop the phrase "bubbling gumbo" into as many conversations as possible... :)

Dazzy Hitch said...

I was just wondering if you've been watching the chronological re-runs of Top Of The Pops 1976 on BBC4?

Tonight's show included Brass Construction's "Movin'" and Isaac Hayes's "Disco Connection" (complete with Pan's People in denim hotpants), two prime cuts of mid-70's funkiness, I'm sure you'll agree. They also had Smokey and the appalling Brotherhood Of Man on, but you can't have everything, I suppose...