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  • Writer's pictureTony Harris


Updated: Jun 6, 2020

As a rule, I try to write this blog without necessarily drawing on the current context so that any views and opinions remain relevant whenever you happen to chance upon us. However, the current lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 crisis led me to think about whether a music review could be of any possible use to those currently limited to a single daily trip to the supermarket, if they are lucky.

I have seen many of my friends have costume days to lighten the boredom and I thought a classic soundtrack for this rather than "Frozen" again might make a refreshing change. So hopefully, this latest selection can help lift the mood of those cooped up because it is simply one of the most joyful, fun records you can ever hear. And it can help with home schooling, because if ever there was a perfect introduction for pre-teens and below into the world of funk then this is surely it. Trust me you'll all be dancing around like little lunatics as if you've all overdosed on e-numbers.

"Life" by Sly and the Family Stone.

Long before Prince there was Sly Stone - where rock and funk collided. And if you doubt me just listen to the first slashing fuzzbox riff that kicks off the opening track "Dynamite".

In truth, this is often the band's forgotten album - it was certainly less successful - coming in between the ubiquitous "Dance To The Music" and the stronger more socially conscious works of "Stand" and "There's A Riot Goin' On" which marked a much more confrontational style.

So perhaps the best way to set the scene is with the title track "Life" which has all the hallmarks of the band with their characteristic moments in the spotlight but gives it an almost circus-like atmosphere. This in turn just serves to emphasise the colourful melange the band make bringing together all of their differing talents and styles for a full-on romp.

Musically, the album is a lot tighter than its predecessor and whilst it is often quite simplistic lyrically "I'm An Animal" or "Chicken" being two good examples - it is just the happiest of soul with crucial intersperses of rock and psychedelia that make it a very unique record.

"Plastic Jim" even references the Beatles "Eleanor Rigby".

Whilst the album's release in 1968 will have coincided with seemingly deeper, heavier music especially from the rock world, "Life" seems perfectly happy to just lay down a groove and have a good time - even if you are doing the funky chicken.

If you have decided to enjoy this album with the younger elements of your family, they are probably really getting into a variety of getting down. It's not complex and the upbeat mood is relentless. But I should probably apologise for the inevitable 'Mummy/Daddy - what's a groupie?' that will inevitably come as a result of the exceedingly catchy "Jane Is A Groupie".

I will leave it your inimitable parenting skills to deflect that particular curveball.

Sly and The Family Stone were the first truly integrated band - across genders, across races, across musical styles. Their whole approach was centred on equality and a musical community giving focus to each of their members to contribute and all set to a clever mash-up of rhythms, melodies and vocal call and response.

As they chant as "Fun"'s opening line, 'when I party, I party hearty...', this seems to have been the entire purpose of this record released in that small window between the Summer of Love in 1967 with its free love invitation to experiment and open your mind and the harsher upsurge in outspoken unrest that marked 1968.

Perhaps that is why this album seemed to fade so quickly as it very quickly seemed out of step with the prevailing mood.

After "Life" came the band's real breakthrough with "Stand" and its two follow-ups and these seemed to reflect their times better as a more political stance tended to emerge and sadly drug addiction took hold of their mercurial leader. But for me, the whole ethos of Sly and The Family Stone is epitomised in this record. Keep it simple and mix everything together and something wonderful can emerge.

Ask your kids, they'll understand. And it's probably healthier than sugary drinks.

Click here if you want to hear what I'm talking about and get down with your bad selves.

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May 25, 2020

Interestingly, mine is a mono copy so I hadn't picked that up. It just sounds very tight as a result. It has a funny shelf life as it was called M'lady (after the track) in the UK and also featured a different cover in Japan and a couple of other territories.


May 24, 2020

I didn't know this album, and I didn't know why I didn't. But I did. In the UK it was, for some reason, released as M'Lady, and back in the day I had a copy, long lost. Good to hear it again. Very inventive and melodic as well as funky. However, listening to it on decent gear for the first time, I can't help but notice the extraordinary stereo mix. It is panned much more strongly to the edges than is the convention, to the extent that the drums are often far right! Doesn't stop the groove though - as it probably should be a mono listen in the first place...

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