Stone may not be much thought about, but his music still sounds startlingly current. More than George Clinton, more than James Brown, more even perhaps than Prince, Sly and the Family Stone’s hits foreshadow the bricolage construction and magpie eclecticism of hip-hop. The first track on Sly Stone’s first album, 1967’s A Whole New Thing, opens with what is effectively a proto-sample: a horn riff from, of all things, Frère Jacques. ...
Maybe Stone would be a little more discussed or acknowledged if his message wasn’t so insistently political and uncomfortable. Still, the real reason there aren’t a bazillion Sly Stone think-pieces whooshing through the net isn’t because of that. It’s just a marketing failure. “Ain’t nobody got the thing I can hear / But if I have to I will yell in your ear,” he sang in one of his 70s tracks, Time for Livin’, but he’s been singularly bad at shouting in anyone’s ear for decades. The media needs a news peg, and when an artist isn’t releasing music, or performing, or maintaining the brand, it’s difficult to generate interest.
The one exception, of course, is that final news peg, death. If you’re not in the spotlight, nobody looks at you – until you die, at which point think piece writers are all given one last chance to consider your legacy. “You only funky as your last cut / You focus on the past your ass’ll be a has-what”, as Sly-and-Prince-disciple Andre 3000 said, back when he was still relevant and people wrote think pieces about him. Time and the media chug ahead, and Stevie Wonder’s career is less important at the moment than whatever Justin Bieber happened to say yesterday on Twitter. That’s pop, and there’s not much point in being bitter about it. Still, it’s worthwhile to take a moment now and then to think about the legends while they’re here, rather than waiting for that arbitrary online instant when everybody all at once will be allowed to remember, after Sly’s left, how important it was for him to have been here all along.
One thing I like about Sirius XM (satellite radio) in the car is that when someone like Bowie or Prince dies they dedicate a channel to his or her music for several weeks playing deep cuts and allowing me to go through the appropriate stages of semi-grieving for a great artist I've never much cared for: indifference, questioning of one's taste, guilt, remembering that 90% of the artist's work is not your thing and the rest mostly sounds dated outside of the handful of cuts you started thinking of in phase 2, smug reassurance.
Anyhow, point is the article in the Guardian is right on -- Sly Stone sounds as current and as perfect as ever. Sign me up for the Praising Sly Before He's Dead movement.