Dance To The Music (1968)

Sly & The Family Stone

Written by Sly Stone
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Dance to the music sly and bandAs they say on the streets of New York: “What’s not to like?”

Sly & The Family Stone was the first mainstream band to be fully integrated, and only shortly after the demon of segregation had barely begun fading. They invented Psychedelic Soul (or Funk). They made esoterically constructed, socially aware songs like “Everyday People” and “Stand,” but they could also kick out the jams like few bands before or since. They could tone it down and create sensuous “slow-dance” songs like “Everybody Is A Star.” And they created one of the great seasonal anthems ever in “Hot Fun In The Summertime.”

Dance to the music Sly in concert

“Dance To The Music,” reaches a level of classic Rock achievement that few groups from the era attained, sporting an infectious beat and the magical hook of introducing each instrument “section” – guitar, bass, organ, drums, horns – as integral parts to a funky, danceable whole. It’s like an X-ray of a musical number.

“Dance To The Music” – with lots of !!!

The genes of Funk swirl around an area that extends roughly from the Gulf Coast of Florida, west through New Orleans over to Houston then up to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Of course, Funk finds a granddaddy in James Brown, a South Carolinian by birth, a Georgian by upbringing. And don’t forget the Motor City.

Around the same time as Sly & The Family Stone’s late-’60s work, (another branch of Funk had taken root in L.A. and San Francisco – out of which Sly came), there were numerous practitioners of the style, many of whom would enjoy only modest success. Others enjoy a cult following to this day.

Archie Bell & The Drells do the “Tighten Up”

The Funky Meters NOLA-style instrumental “Cissy Strut”

Junior Walker & The All-Stars hit you with “I’m A Road Runner”

“Soulful Strut” (1968) by Young-Holt Unlimited was a one-off, minor hit. Archie Bell And The Drells recorded “Tighten Up” in 1967 and set the Funk model for calling in different instruments as the song progressed. The Meters out of New Orleans were a Funk Mardi Gras bar band that recorded pieces like “Cissy Strut” in late 1968 and early-’69. Earlier, Junior Walker & The Allstars produced mid-decade classics like “Shotgun” (1965) and “I’m A Roadrunner, Baby” (1966).

“Soulful Strut” (1968) by Young-Holt Unlimited was a one-off, minor hit. Archie Bell And The Drells recorded “Tighten Up” in 1967 and set the Funk model for calling in different instruments as the song progressed. The Meters out of New Orleans were a Funk Mardi Gras bar band that recorded pieces like “Cissy Strut” in late 1968 and early ’69. Earlier, Junior Walker & The Allstars produced mid-decade classics like “Shotgun” (1965) and “I’m A Roadrunner, Baby” (1966).

Dance to the music album“Dance To The Music” spirited Funk out of its ethnic hideaways and punched the style into mainstream listening. Later, by fusing psychedelia with Funk, Sly would get his #1 chart songs.

“Dance To The Music” is a party song above all else. The message is simple and unadorned. Get up off your ass and move. The polyrhythms and African bell patterns (like a double cowbell struck quickly) are innovations that helped “American” R&B absorb new beats. Professor Longhair of New Orleans was also a key in bringing Mambo beats that merged with straight-up Boogie music to form yet another rhythm pattern. These were worked into deep, persistent, fast, bluesy grooves.

As can clearly be heard in “Dance To The Music,” this kind of playing is not just upbeat in the musical sense, but has a joyousness that says “forget your troubles, and shake it on down.”

Dance to the music sly today

Sly Stone in his golden years

Fred Stone plays a superior lead guitar and, among the many “might-have-been’s” in culture, we are left to wonder how the prodigiously gifted brother would have performed if he played with a more mainstream band. His licks are sinewy and fluid, almost athletic in grace and strength as they lift the song from a mere mass of rhythms.

One of the cornerstones of the song is Larry Graham Jr.’s, slap bass technique (his innovation) that provides not only the traditional bass note sounds but a replication of a bass-drum thump and a pluck that replicates the snap of a snare drum. This technique adds more layers of beat to “Dance To The Music.” Graham later collaborated with Prince on an album in 1999.

Sly’s church organ slips and slides throughout the piece, lifting it to spiritual and sexual heights at the same time.

Four lead vocals create a fun-time sense of controlled chaos, and some ad-libbed screaming and shouting lend a further anarchic flavor.

Dance to the music slyAlso lurking about “Dance To The Music” are complex mouth-sound rhythms that hark back to country-jug playing and look forward to the use of such mouth sounds in Hip-Hop and early-’80s DJ raps.

The first album released by Sly & The Family Stone, A Whole New Thing, was a commercial flop and received only a mixed critical reception. CBS music impresario Clive Davis insisted that the group put together a more commercial song. Although other group members resisted, Stone seized the opportunity. “Dance To The Music” became their first hit and continues to be a Rock standard, its high spirits undiminished by age.

mangoids
  • In For the Record: Sly & the Family Stone: An Oral History, author Joel Selvin said of the group: “There are two types of black music: black music before Sly Stone, and black music after Sly Stone.”
  • “Dance To The Music” influenced countless groups of the era and far after. The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and The Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces” are prime examples of the profound influence of Sly & The Family Stone. 

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