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Sly and the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' on (33 1/3) Paperback – February 25, 2006
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The album itself is examined in detail, including an attempt to separate fact from fiction in regard to the personnel. For one, it turns out that all or part of the Family Stone is missing from much of the album, with Sly often playing the parts himself (or using such guests as Bobby Womack). The book gets into the details, but suffice to say that the original lineup of S&TFS came to an end at this point in time. Although there's probably more to the story that is known at this time, the author does a good job of detailing the album sessions, attempting to decipher the lyrics, and pointing out many of the ways that the album influenced pop culture. Perhaps one indication of the albums' importance regarding Sly's career is that eight of the cuts were lifted for the 2-CD THE ESSENTIAL SLY & THE FAMILY STONE. The book does have a few errors, and I disagree with some of the author's opinions (for one, I think HIGH ON YOU from 1975 is an excellent, highly-underrated album). Still, this book is recommended to anyone who wants more info about Sly and the album RIOT.
After reading Douglas Wolk's excellent "James Brown Live At The Apollo" in this same series I was really looking forward to this. What a disappointment! Hardly a page goes by where the author doesn't try to tie Sly's legacy with modern rap music, as if Sly's impact on hip hop was ever in question. The writing style is trendy and cute and the author never misses a chance to include himself in the text. There is nothing here that can't be found in cd liner notes or David Marsh's "For the Record" Sly and the Family Stone oral history (which I do recommend).
"There's a Riot Goin' On" is genius, and deserves a much better book. Miles Marshall Lewis' work here is thin, uninspired and ultimately soulless.
Lewis's chronology of Sly and the Family Stone is fairly boilerplate, often interrupted by references HIGHLIGHTING Afrika Bambaataa, Puff Daddy, Prince, Andre 3000 and De La Soul instead of Sly, which can get tedious. But once Lewis gets into the album, his analysis is fairly convincing. I even smiled when he redeemed one of my favorite tracks on the album, "Spaced Cowboy," which is usually dismissed as the least effective track on the album.
The only weakness of Lewis's book is that he points out the flaws of this album, but never really gets around to saying why this album is as important as it is, warts and all. Can a record be flawed and masterful at the same time? He never really tackles this question of aesthetic sensibility head on. Sure, this book doesn't shed any new light on the crazy days and nights spent making this album, but it does mostly account for it's challenging appeal after all these years.