Sly & The Family Stone - There’s a Riot Goin’ On - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Sly & The Family Stone - There’s a Riot Goin’ On

by Ljubinko Zivkovic Rating:10 Release Date:1971-11-20
Sly & The Family Stone - There’s a Riot Goin’ On
Sly & The Family Stone - There’s a Riot Goin’ On

When There’s A Riot Goin’ On came out in late 1971, it caused quite a lot of divisions concerning its qualities, merits, and durability. Contradictions concerning this album continue to this day, even though tides are turning in its favour, not that it matters much to Sly since he’s not among us anymore. Even then, it may not have mattered to him because he was on such a drug binge at the time; before, during and after the recording of this album. But then, it seems maybe it did, since his musical inventiveness and productivity were on a continuous downward spiral from then on.

From today’s perspective, it is one of the best, most inventive, influential and socially conscious soul/r&b albums. In 1971 when it came out it joined some of the best and most influential soul/r&b albums ever - Marvin Gaye came up with What’s Going’ On?, Curtis Mayfield came up with Roots (and his as influential Live album), James Brown released Revolution of the Mind (as well as five other albums), George Clinton and his Funkadelic came up with Maggot Brain and Isaac Hayes put out and won the Oscar for the Shaft soundtrack.

Sly formally came last with There’s  Riot Going’ On, and many thought that the title was the answer to Marvin Gaye’s album title. This is where many contentious opinions stem from, many even accusing Sly of inciting riots, which he denied later on. Actually, the album took quite some time to come out, as its recording started early in 1970 and was marred not only by drug use but also by inter-band bickering (particularly with Larry Graham), the growing influence of the Black Panther movement on Sly, and his growing paranoia. Initially, the album was titled “Thank You for Talking to Me Africa”, but all the events involved brought the change. It actually has a title track listed, but it is a silent one and lasts 0:00 seconds. Sly later explained that it was done so, because he wanted no riots whatsoever.

But in essence, musically and lyrically (and let's not forget its cover) what we got is something that is certainly one of the most inventive and influential r&b/soul albums ever, drug binge or no drug binge, Black Panthers or no Black Panthers. His incorporation of rock and funk was actually one of the key influences then (on George Clitnon’s Funkadelic and all other incarnations for sure) and now, and the album itself currently is among the top sampled albums around.

With the elastic, drown out tempos of There’s A Riot Goin’ On Sly came up with something you can call ‘slacker funk’, maybe even inspiring all those slacker rockers that came on later (remember Evan Dando’s Lemonheads and their “My Drug Buddy”?). I guess they all listened to “(You Caught Me) Smilin’” quite a few times.

But incredible rhythm shuffles and intricate brass arrangements like on “Brave & Strong” are still there, and the album makes even the crude rhythms machines (or any rhythm machine, for that matter) available at the time sound good, as for example on the opener “Luv N Haight” or “Spaced Cowboy”.

Its acerbic and seemingly downtrodden lyrics are a matter in itself, but like in “Africa Talks To You," “The Asphalt Jungle,” or the closer “Thank You For Talking’ To Me Africa”, they certainly show a hefty dose of optimism; a bit veiled, but there nevertheless. The album’s full glory though, is embodied in “Family Affair,” probably one of the best funk/rock/soul tracks ever (musically and lyrically), showing the full complexity There’s A Riot Goin’ On as an album brought, and fully negating any negative opinions it has garnered through the years. An album to be cherished. Always.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars
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