There's a Riot Going on
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The Civil Rights movement was undergoing a gradual, fitful death, militant Black Power factions were gaining in popularity, and Stone himself had become dangerously addicted to cocaine. There's A Riot Goin' On was marked at the time to be the start of Sly and the Family Stone's decline, but it has since proved to be their most enduring album. There's A Riot Goin' On revelled in psychedelic menace, the sweet soul once favoured by the multi-racial musical collective now corrupted by the powerful hangover that eclipsed the hedonism of the previous decade. There's still a firm grasp of soul's vitality, as on "Family Affair," but it's the slow, murky funk of "Thankyou For Talkin' To Me Africa", and the freaked, deranged yodels of "Spaced Cow Boy" that prove enduring documents of Sly's dizzying take on the nation's social unrest. There's A Riot Goin' On is the sound of the world's biggest party turning sour from the inside. --Louis Pattison
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The 2007 Sony/Legacy CD reissue of it features a 'best we can do' BOB IRWIN and VIC ANESINI Remaster. Thankfully this is also used in the 2010 5CD "Original Album Classics" Mini Box Set (reissued in Europe in 2013). I mention this because the Mini Box sets weigh in at about ten quid – two pounds per album – ludicrously great value for money. And in the case of the Funky-Soulful manic maestro Sly Stone – too much is never enough (if ya know what I mean baby...sorry about that)...
First appearing in 2010 in the USA as part of Sony's "Original Album Classics" series of 5CD mini box sets (Catalogue No. 8869770802) – the 2013 repackaged version out of Europe uses different (some would say prettier) artwork and sports a new catalogue number (88883743022). Although you get a flimsy card slipcase (as opposed to the hard card of the original American issues) - the best news is that you also get the 2007 BOB IRWIN/VIC ANESINI CD remasters – with all five of the albums retaining their expanded bonus tracks. Here are the Luv N’ Haight details…
Euro released August 2013 – “Original Album Classics” by SLY & THE FAMILY STONE on Epic/Legacy 88883743022 (Barcode 888837430227) is a 5CD Mini Box Set in a Card Slipcase that contains "There's A Riot Goin' On" on Disc 5 and plays out as follows:
Disc 5 (65:32 minutes):
1. Luv N' Haight
2. Just Like A Baby
4. Family Affair
5. Africa Talks To You (“The Asphalt Jungle”)
6. There’s A Riot Goin’ On
7. Brave & Strong [Side 2]
8. (You Caught Me) Smilin’
10. Spaced Cowboy
11. Runnin’ Away
12. Thank You For Talkin' To Me, Africa
Tracks 1 to 12 are their 5th album "There's A Riot Goin' On" – released November 1971 in the USA on Epic KC 30986 and January 1972 in the UK on Epic S EPC 64613). Although the title is famously listed as "There's A Riot Goin' On" at the end of Side 1 on the original vinyl album – the song is in fact not there (no seconds – no playing time). In order to acknowledge its presence however - the CD reissue gives it a playing time of 4 seconds of silence (hence the confusion with people feeling it’s a mastering mistake/track missing – it’s not)
13. Runnin’ Away (Single Version)
14. My Gorilla Is My Butler (Instrumental)
15. Do You Know What? (Instrumental)
16. That’s Pretty Clean (Instrumental)
The card repro sleeves are lovely to look at for the first three upbeat Soul albums - but with "Stand!" having a virtually blank rear and "There's A Riot Goin' On" missing its gatefold (with all the recording info on the inner) – there’s nothing to get your teeth into reading wise. And as fans will know – there have been almost entire books devoted to the recording, release of and posthumous importance of the acidic and incoherently trippy "There's A Riot Goin' On" LP alone. This is one of those times in this value-for-money series where you wish a half-decent booklet accompanied the release – because there’s much to say (and learn).
The 2007 BOB IRWIN and VIC ANESINI Stereo remasters are thankfully used and are typically superb - this time making the best of a bad lot. Even on the notorious overdubbed tape mess that is 1971's "Riot" where Sly went over things so many times that to this day there is 'muddiness' to the whole recording that cannot be removed (and some would say cannot be improved upon either). Even that is audibly improved (to a degree). That blurred sound to the brass work on "Runnin' Away" is a good example and the mumbling druggy crap that he spouts in “Spaced Cowboy” is almost coherent (almost).
The album opens with "Luv N' Haight" – a song so influential – a Funk and Soul reissue label took it as their moniker – Luv N Haight Records. The clavinet funkiness continues with "Just Like A Baby". But that's trumped up by the fantastic groove of "Poet" where Sly mumbles about his only weapon being words and music – a songwriter with his weapon of music. It sounds like Stevie Wonder's "Innervisions" (1973) and Jeff Beck's "Blow By Blow" (1975) years before those Funky events. November 1971 also saw the monster "Family Affair" track become their 3rd No. 1 single on the Pop charts. Huge like the album was – it still raises a smile and a butt wiggle.
But then you get magnificence like the nine-minute funk of "Africa Talks To You…" with its drum/keyboard/vocal layers that amble but yet somehow work. The CD audio is excellent here compared to my battered British vinyl original where turning it up back in the day only elicited walls of hiss. Admittedly "Brave And Strong" sounds compromised on the Audio front – kind of strangulated and lacking in clarity. Better is "(You Caught Me) Smilin'" where Sly lets out a few of his best Al Green screams as the Guitars do battle with Funky Horns. The laid back and shuffling "Time" is the kind of Sly Stone ramble I love – a mouthful of mumble turned into a groove. It goes out on the seven-minute Funkathon that is "Thank You For Talkin' To Me Africa" – a monster track amongst Jazz Funk aficionados. The Audio dips in and out as it used to – but the CD is still better than my record – and that Bass line is chugging and chunky in my speakers.
A pioneer, a hero, a drugged-up nutjob – Sly Stone was all of these and more. Mostly though you’re left impressed and wanting more…and that’s a complaint I’ll take any day of the week…
And it wasn't easy listening - this was and is an album that you may not get first time around. This is a fuzzy, sleazy, chunk of Funk, with none of the optimism of, say, "Dance To The Music", but it captures the drug fuelled spirit of the times.
"Family Affair" is probably Slys' finest, with its ambiguous lyric, but there are others here which stand comparison such as "Just Like a Baby" "Running Away" and "Brave & Strong". It is as a whole that this album desrves to be heard however, and it is as a whole that it claims its place as one of the best Funk albums of all
Someone... reissue please!
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My husband was pleased with this vinyl. I will be leaving him to enjoy listening to it full-blast, on his own, though!
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