Dance to the Music (song)
|"Dance to the Music"|
|Single by Sly and the Family Stone|
|from the album Dance to the Music|
DB 8369 (March 1968 UK release)
58-3568 (June 1968 UK reissue)
|Sly and the Family Stone singles chronology|
"Dance to the Music" is a 1968 hit single by the influential soul/funk/rock band Sly and the Family Stone for the Epic/CBS Records label. It was the first single by the band to reach the Billboard Pop Singles Top 10, peaking at #8 and the first to popularize the band's sound, which would be emulated throughout the black music industry and dubbed "psychedelic soul". It was later ranked #223 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Reluctance to adopt a pop sound
Notably, none of the band members particularly liked "Dance to the Music" when it was first recorded and released. The song, and the accompanying Dance to the Music LP, were made at the insistence of CBS Records executive Clive Davis, who wanted something more commercially viable than the band's 1967 LP, A Whole New Thing. Bandleader Sly Stone crafted a formula, blending the band's distinct psychedelic rock leanings with a more pop-friendly sound. The result was what saxophonist Jerry Martini called "glorified Motown beats. "Dance to the Music" was such an unhip thing for us to do."
About the song
However, "Dance to the Music" did what it was supposed to do: it launched Sly & the Family Stone into the pop consciousness. Even toned down for pop audiences, the band's radical sound caught many music fans and fellow recording artists completely off guard. "Dance to the Music" featured four co-lead singers, black musicians and white musicians in the same band (segregation had just been repealed four years prior), and a distinct blend of instrumental sounds: rock guitar riffs from Sly's brother Freddie Stone, a funk bassline from Larry Graham, Greg Errico's syncopated drum track, Sly's gospel-styled organ playing, and Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson on the horns.
An unabashed party record, "Dance to the Music" opens with Robinson screaming to the audience, demanding that they "get on up...and dance to the music!" before the Stone brothers and Graham break into an a cappella scat before the song's verses begin. The actual lyrics of the song are sparse and self-referential. The song serves as a Family Stone theme song of sorts, introducing Errico, Robinson, and Martini by name. After calling on Robinson and Martini for their solo, Sly tells the audience that "Cynthia an' Jerry got a message that says...", which Robinson finishes: "All the squares go home!"
"Dance to the Music" was one of the most influential songs of the late-1960s. The Sly & the Family Stone sound became the dominating sound in African-American pop music for the next three years, and many established artists, such as The Temptations and their producer Norman Whitfield, Diana Ross & the Supremes, The Impressions, The Four Tops, The 5th Dimension, and War began turning out Family Stone-esque material. The Temptations, in fact, rode their first "Dance to the Music"-inspired single, "Cloud Nine", all the way to the Pop Top Ten and to a 1968 Grammy Award. "Dance to the Music" and the later Family Stone singles also helped lead to the development of what is now known as funk music.
Cover versions and uses in pop culture
- Later in 1968, Sly & the Family Stone released an alternate version of "Dance to the Music" as a novelty single. This recording was a French language version called "Danse à la Musique", with the group's vocals sped-up in a style similar to that of The Chipmunks.
- It is heavily sampled by The KLF on their 1988 single "Burn the Bastards", where they chant "Jams have a party" instead on "Dance to the Music".
- It was performed on stage in HBO's 1981 television special The Pee-wee Herman Show.
- The song was covered by the Simple Minds as part of the medley "Love Song/Sun City/Dance to the Music" on their live album Simple Minds Live in the City of Lights (1987).
- In 1998, "Dance to the Music" was admitted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
- Billy Joel covered the song and it is featured on his live album 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert.
- In 2001, the DVD for the animated film Shrek added "Dance to the Music" to the additional segment "Shrek in the Swamp Karaoke Dance Party", alongside other classic songs like "YMCA", "Like a Virgin" and "Baby Got Back".
- The song was also covered by Martin Lawrence in the film Black Knight.
- The song was featured in the 2008 Will Ferrell sports comedy Semi-Pro.
- The cast of the TV show Smash performed this song in the episode "The Coup".
- Lead and background vocals by Sly Stone, Freddie Stone, and Larry Graham
- Ad-libs by Cynthia Robinson
- Organ by Sly Stone
- Guitar by Freddie Stone
- Bass by Larry Graham
- Drums by Greg Errico
- Horns by Jerry Martini (tenor saxophone and clarinet) and Cynthia Robinson (trumpet)
- Written and produced by Sly Stone
- Selvin, Joel. Interview with Jerry Martini. For the Record: Sly and the Family Stone: An Oral History. Pg. 60
- Selvin, Joel (1998). For the Record: Sly and the Family Stone: An Oral History. New York: Quill Publishing. ISBN 0-380-79377-6.