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VINE VOICEon May 16, 2007
Sly and the Family Stone's "Stand!" was an album of optimism and the brightness of '60s counterculture, but creeping just below the surface on that record was a darkness and claustrophobia-- an edge that separated "Stand!" from any of its predecessors or its peers. That darkness is the sound of "There's a Riot Goin' On", Sly Stone's bleak masterpiece, in its way the sound of civil unrest and, in my assessment, the greatest funk album ever recorded.

When I speak of claustrophobia, I mean it as a production vaue, and it's something evident throughout the record. There's a density to the record, even on the looser and less arranged pieces, that really sets the tone for the album. And while not all the album's songs have a message to match this claustrophobia, it does have a tendency to make even the optimistic material sound like you're trying to remember a dream after you've woken up. Take single "Family Affair"-- it's loose, based around a gentle pop vocal hook and is presented with a smooth baritone lead, but it sounds like "Stand!" dragged through the mud. It works out fantastically. All of this is accentuated by the tendency to move towards funk vamps for everything-- sometiems as much as seven minutes of the same riff feeds into this feeling of density.

But really, it's dark funk that dominates the record throughout-- wah wah guitars, dirty basslines, snapping horns, and Sly Stone vocalizing and singing all over the map, fierce and at times nearly out of control-- opener "Luv N' Haight" and Brave & Strong" are two fine examples of this. Along the way, he manages occasional moments of delicate beauty with a hint of melancholy that keeps the album from being a bit too bleak ("Poet", "(You Caught me) Smilin'") and closes things up with a recasting of "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" as a slice of slow funk that somehow manages to be as intriguing as the original.

This reissue remasters the record, appends a handful of bonus tracks (a single mix of "Runnin' Away" and three instrumentals leftover from the sessions) and includes a nice liner notes essay. The remastering alone makes this a worthwhile pickup, all the dark beauty of the record really comes forth and the feeling of the record is, if anything accentuated by it.

Truthfully, "There's a Riot Goin' On" may not be for everyone, it's a pretty dark record, but it's also the kind of thing that can really reinvent someone's opinion of Sly & the Family Stone (it certainly reinvented mine). It also serves nicely as a companion to "Stand!", they are very much opposite sides of the same music. I give a slight edge to "There's a Riot Goin' On" as Sly Stone's masterwork. This is essential listening.
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on February 15, 2006
This is one of my favorite CD's of all time. If you are considering buying this do yourself a favor and get this version (the import) rather than the U.S. version available for $9.99. Sonically I didn't notice too much of a difference between the two, but it's worth the extra few bucks for the packaging alone: this edition has a glossy cardboard case with the original cover, photos, and liner notes. The other version has an alternate cover (a live shot of the band onstage) and NO information of any kind offered aside from the track listing. This album has a famously muddy sound. I've heard several theories as to why, most seem to center around Sly Stone's increasing drug use at the time this album was recorded. However, the dark quality of the production fits the music and never affected my opinion of the album. I was not alive when this was released in the early seventies, but I can imagine the shock that listeners must have experienced upon absorbing this release as a whole. The optimistic anthems of Sly's music in the sixties were replaced by grinding funk with a bleak and bitter tone. As one looks back at the period in which this music was recorded, the sense of disillusion was not just Sly's; a general sense that many of the ideals of the 1960's had died with the end of the decade was prevalent among many of the "flower power" generation. (As far as Sly's drug intake at this point was concerned, I'm sure that didn't help either. I read that he sank over a million dollars into building his infamous "Pit", the creation of which was to give users a place to use and hang out.) Regardless of the circumstances, this disc is addictive. Every song is bass heavy and funky, which often makes me forget about the bleakness of the lyrics altogether. The unbelievably heavy bass line on "Thank You For Talkin' To Me Africa" (a slowed down remake of "Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin") would probably blow the speakers out in your car stereo if cranked to the max. (I never had the guts to try.) And only Sly could write a song as weird and desperate as "Just Like A Baby" and still keep my foot tapping. This disc has been in my car for the last 15 years and will stay there for good. Many theorize that this album began the slow and sad decline of the creative force that was Sly Stone, but I also enjoyed later releases like "High On You" and "Small Talk", which are worth searching for if you like this one.
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on May 27, 2008
If you're wondering what the big deal about Sly is, start here. Sly's famous "response" to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On is his masterpiece, a dark, murky funk album recorded while he was in the deepest throes of his depression. His drug dependency was hurtling out of control, his band was collapsing, and he had lost all faith in the counterculture he once banked his life on. Conflicts within the band got so bad that most of it was actually performed by Sly alone - any other musicians there may have been were dubbed in later. More proof that the best of music often comes from the worst of times. The album doesn't seem like a collection of individual songs, but instead a dark, deep, murky stew of foreboding grooves. But for simplicity's sake I'll describe these songs individually. "Family Affair" was the #1 hit, and its primitive drum machine rhythm is way ahead of its time - it also boasts a fine chorus (co-sung by Rosie Stone) and electric piano (courtesy of Billy Preston). And while it's the best song on the album, there are plenty of competitors. Like all of them. "Brave and Strong" has wonderful slap bass, horns and organ; "Poet", some of the best lyrics on the album; "Just Like a Baby" contains a beautifully melancholy melody; "You Caught Me Smilin'" is a light, mellow break from all the menace; "Luv `n' Haight" is a powerful indictment of the hippie culture; the gentle waltz "Time" is at once mournful, soothing, and desperate; the tripped-out yodeling on "Spaced Cowboy" is a blast and much-needed comic relief; "Running Away" makes for a triumphant, if wizened, return to the Family's old sound. The two extended pieces are controversial, but I like them: "Africa Talks to You `The Asphalt Jungle'" is eerie and entrancing, and it's helped along by both the falsetto vocals and the long guitar solos; "Thank You for Talkin' to Me Africa" (pretty much "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin" slowed down and with added guitar noodling) is a completely different interpretation of that classic - it's haunting, slow, druggy, and awesome. The peak of Sly's career and a funk milestone.
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on August 21, 2008
Altamont is the burial site of the idealism and hope that riddled the late 1960s. Inspired by the community pacifism of Woodstock, the Rolling Stones sought to create an extension of the mentality that surrounded Woodstock by creating a similar festival on the West coast. What was intended to be a celebration of the ideals that fostered American culture in the late '60s was, however, mired in tragedy (all of which is presented in the excellent documentary Gimme Shelter, well worth watching). Hope disappeared. Death followed. The ideals that marked the 1960s died at Altamont.

One man, one album, would revisit the corpse of the '60s. If Altamont was the death and burial, this album would be the exhumation, assuring the decade was, indeed, dead.

Sly & the Family Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On

In the late '60s, Sly & the Family Stone served as a social voice of many discontented blacks; through their recordings, Sly & the Family Stone gave voice to many of the concerns of the black community. Peppered with funk and pop, Sly Stone presented social criticism with a bit of honey, making his group an integral part of the social, political, and musical landscape gripping the end of the decade. But as the decade came to its eventual end, so did Sly Stone.

Or so it seemed.

Deep into heroin addiction, Sly Stone gathered his fragmented mind and headed into the Plant Studios to begin recording of There's a Riot Goin' On. Working alone, what resulted was a druggy, murky, deeply-funky album echoing Sly's disenchantment with the late '60s and its failure to provide any answers or solutions to the nation's burgeoning problems.

"Family Affair," with its funky beat produced by a rhythm box, reflects on the ups and downs of being a family. "Runnin' Away" serves to highlight the economic uncertainties many in the community faced, with debt and surmounting despair. Perhaps the most poignant and critical song on the album is the closer "Thank You for Talkin' to Me Africa." Incorporating bits of Sly & the Family Stone's previous hit, "Thank You (Fallettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)," the closing track is the stinging rebuke directed at the false optimism of the '60s. The track is harsh and unflinching, Sly Stone's eulogy for a decade now dead, a decade which spoke of much promise but saw little change.

The original cover of the album itself, a waving American flag with suns in place of stars, seems ironic, given how fractured the country was left as the decade closed. With a new decade unfolding, the country was left to find and mend itself.

Perhaps the flag was, for Sly, an expression of hope. Perhaps, much like the American flag was in the '60s, the album cover was a warning of the dangers and false promises wrapped around this album.
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on February 21, 2009
This one of the most harrowing albums ever made, a brilliant musician caught in the transitional stage of losing almost everything to drugs but before his creativity imploded. File under Skip Spence's Oar, Big Star's SisterLovers, Syd Barrett and Brain Wilson's Smile-era flame-outs. The basic deal is Sly deconstructing a more polished album by substituting his own sloppier instrumental overdubs, narcotic vocals, mental wanderings. Easily one of the greatest albums of the 1970's, it's like a slow motion audio trainwreck you won't want to turn away from.
Essential dub funk but also a audio document of drug-induced brain damage.
Many of us from my generation experimented with drugs and came through it.
This is the sad, cautionary tale told in beautiful music of one of our greatest musical lights being extinguished.
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on February 10, 2013
Sly and the Family Stone's "There's a Riot Goin on" is, in my opinion, one of the greatest funk records of all time. I never tire of listening to it and each time I do, I marvel at Sly's genius and his ability as a musician. This work represents a shift in style and form from earlier hopeful messages found within his music to a darker urban blues/funk that represent the change in the attitude of the country and the counterculture of the 1960s. After the deaths of MLK and Malcolm X, what could one expect, really? Sly's message is one of a dark foretelling of what will come in the 1970s. It is an incredible musical masterpiece. The CD is great and I recommend it, but get it on vinyl if possible as well. You will not be disappointed. Enjoy.
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on April 7, 2008
There's a Riot Goin' On (1971) is Sly And The Family Stone's masterwork. Dark, dissatisfied and foreboding, it's the evil twin of (Sly ATFS album) Stand!. Where Stand! was optimistic, energetic and melodic, Riot is disillusioned, restless and FUNK. Both albums are great, but compared to Riot, Stand! almost sounds bubble gum. There's a Riot Goin' On is that heavy. And why shouldn't it be? Sly brought in friends Larry Graham (bass), Billy Preston (electric piano), Ike Turner (guitar) and Bobby Womack (guitar) to play on Riot. The musicianship is the best part of the album. It's tight, funky and cool to the point of being ice cold at times. It's great stuff! Sly's vocals fit the shattered theme of the album. He's hoarse and spent, stoned but focused on his message of a new and desolate reality. It almost sounds as if the old Sly was abducted by aliens, had the life sucked out of him, and returned to Earth only to be disappointed. In Thank You For Talkin' To Me Africa, Sly sings:

Flamin' eyes of people fear
Burnin' into you
Many men are missin' much
Hatin' what they do

This is not an album of "hit singles", even though Family Affair went to number 1 on the charts and (You Caught Me) Smilin' and Runnin' Away were moderately successful as singles. There's a Riot Goin' On is a heavy funk album experience. Cool, funky and fascinating.

The bonus cuts are, with the exception of the single edit of Runnin' Away, fantastic and spacy funk instrumental pieces. They're all as good as anything on the album.

At times, There's a Riot Goin' On sounds like funk music from another planet. It isn't for everyone, but if it's a funk/rock/soul masterpiece you're looking for, it doesn't get much better than this. Sly And The Family Stone's best album.
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on March 8, 2013
After listening to this cd for a 3rd and 4th time,I just had to re-do my review.This cd was very good.Very deep.Everyone keeps reviewing that this cd was concepted during Slys darker period.I would say it was more induced by all the drugs he was doing at the time.Its a very slow/mellow musical listen.Buy this cd and listen your favorite artists.
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on June 16, 2008
Sly And The Family Stone-There's A Riot Goin' On *****

In the time I have owned There's A Riot Goin' On I have not been able to put it down. As I think about Stand! and what a great and positive (well sort of) and up beat album it was and how much I love it, I realize that I love this because it is everything that album isn't. The two albums have become sort of a yin and Yang thing. Where the former is bright and colorful Riot is dark and eerie and basically the seedy underbelly of society as well as funk.

The more I researched the album it seems to me that Sly Stone had given up on the counter-culture which he had built his entire career around and abandoned all rules and began running with gangs of thugs and low-lifes and sunk even further into drugs than I thought he did. Well there is nothing like pain and anger to create great art with, and clearly Sly knew that.

As the album opens with the cleverly tittled 'Luv N' Haight' referencing Haight & Ashbury in San Francisco, and it is about the most positive sounding song one the album, and from there it is doomy with low tuned Fender Telecasters early drum machines and some heavy, and I do mean heavy grooves. 'Poet' just might be the sexiest groove this side of T.Rex's 'Mambo Sun' while the lyric could be anything but, creating a texture to the song unmatched by any other. 'Family Affair' was obviously the center piece of the album, as it was the groups biggest hit off the record and has on of Sly's best lyric endeavors as well as some of the greatest duo vocals of all time rivaling the Stones' 'Gimme Shelter.' The title track is concidered a joke as it is really not a track, though I am sure Sly had some hidden meaning behind it. 'Spaced Cowboy' more or less was autobiographical of Sly's personal situation wither he meant it that way or not. 'Thank You For Talkin' To me Africa' at times feels like a rewrite of a certain hit (I bet you can guess which one) but it works and it closes the album perfectly.

I've heard that this was Sly's response to Marvin Gaye's What's Going on and I would go so far to say that this is an even greater album, though both had equally great messages to say. That is saying something considering that this album took months and months to record as Sly keep throwing all the tracks out. One thing is for sure there is going to be a riot in constant rotation in my stereo for a while to come.
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on November 19, 2009
If you've never heard Sly & the Family Stone before, start with Stand! and Fresh. For many, that will be all they ever want. This album is Stand! turned inside up and upside in by a narcotic, gun toting haze. Not for the faint of heart.

Thing is, it's also very, very good.

To make things perfectly clear: Sly was drugged out of his bleepin' mind when he recorded Riot. It's testament to his enormous talent he managed to get out an album so funky most musicians would give their left nut to have done one track from it. "Luv N' Haight" is a damning indictment of the Summer of Love. "Poet" has one of the deepest funk grooves ever recorded. "Thank You for Talkin' to Me Africa" is the deliriously joyous "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)" slammed into the mud and shot up. It's also the standout track and the core of the album. It is inexorable downward pressure. It doesn't go anywhere, it starts you low and keeps you there for the duration as guitar and organ flourishes waft in and out as phantoms of his (then recent) happy past. The Velvet's "Heroin" romanticizes the rush and crash waves of using; this track is the grinding reality.

The sound of the album is sometimes frustratingly murky. His vocals are slurred. All part of the package.
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