There's a Riot Goin' On
|There's a Riot Goin' On|
|Studio album by Sly and the Family Stone|
|Released||November 20, 1971|
|Recorded||1970–71; The Record Plant, Sausalito|
|Sly and the Family Stone chronology|
|Singles from There's a Riot Goin' On|
There's a Riot Goin' On is the fifth studio album by American funk and soul band Sly and the Family Stone, released November 20, 1971 on Epic Records. Recording sessions for the album took place primarily throughout 1970 to 1971 at Record Plant Studios in Sausalito, California.
There's a Riot Goin' On embraces a darker, more foreboding funk sound that contrasts with the group's previous studio work in psychedelic soul, as featured on Stand! (1969), while also rejecting their successful melodic formula that was featured on their previous hit singles. The original title of the album was intended to be Africa Talks to You, but was retitled There's a Riot Goin' On in response to Marvin Gaye's landmark album What's Going On (1971), which was released five months prior to Riot.
There's a Riot Goin' On debuted at number-one on the Billboard Pop Albums and Soul Albums charts upon its release, while the album's lead single, "Family Affair" (1971), topped the Pop Singles chart. On November 8, 1972, There's a Riot Goin' On was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, for shipments of 500,000 copies in the US. It went on to ship 1 million copies, earning a platinum certification by the RIAA on September 7, 2001.
After an ambivalent reaction upon its release, the album's critical standing has improved significantly, leading to its praise as one of the greatest and most influential recordings of all time. There's a Riot Goin' On has also been ranked at or near the top of many publications' "best album" lists in disparate genres. In 2003, the album was ranked number 99 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Having achieved massive success with their 1969 album Stand! and performance at Woodstock, Sly & the Family Stone were due to have submitted an album of new recordings to Epic Records by 1970. However, Sly Stone, the group's creative head and multi-instrumentalist, missed several recording deadlines, worrying CBS executive Clive Davis. The band's Greatest Hits album had been released in the midst of an eighteen-month stretch from late 1969 to late 1971, during which the band released no new material. Relationships within the band were also deteriorating, as there was friction between the Stone brothers, Sly and Freddie, and bassist Larry Graham. While Epic executives requested more product, the Black Panther Party, which Stone had become associated with, demanded he make his music more militant and reflective of the black power movement, replace Greg Errico and Jerry Martini with black instrumentalists, and replace manager David Kapralik. After moving to Los Angeles, California in late 1969, Stone and his bandmates began to use drugs such as cocaine and PCP heavily, and became more focused on partying than recording music. During this time, Sly & the Family Stone released only one single, "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" / "Everybody Is a Star", issued in December 1969. Although "Star" was another positive-message song in the vein of their previous hit "Everyday People" (1968), "Thank You" featured a darker political theme by Stone.
By 1970, Stone had become erratic and moody, missing nearly a third of the band's concert dates and spending most of his time using drugs. Meanwhile, he hired streetwise friends Hamp "Bubba" Banks and J.B. Brown as his personal managers, whom after which enlisted gangsters Edward "Eddie Chin" Elliott and Mafioso J.R. Valtrano as Sly's bodyguards. In addition, Stone assigned these individuals to handle his business dealings, to retrieve drugs, and to protect him from those he considered as enemies, some of whom were his own bandmates and staff. A rift developed between Sly and the rest of the band, which led to drummer Gregg Errico's departure from the band to pursue other ventures in early 1971. Following the release of the band's Greatest Hits record, "Thank You"'s popularity cooling off and the band's absence from the media, speculation by fans and critics arose as to the release of new studio material. In a December 24, 1970 article for Rolling Stone magazine, journalist Jon Landau elaborated on the anticipation of the group's next record:
|“||The man from Epic tells me that Sly hasn't recorded much lately. His last album of new material was released well over a year ago and even "Thank You", his last single, is old by now. Greatest Hits was released only as a last resort in order to get something salable into the record stores. It was a necessary release and stands as the final record of the first chapter in Sly & the Family Stone's career. Whatever the reasons for his recording abstinence, I hope it ends soon so that he can get back to making new music and we can get back to listening to it.||”|
Stone had sought to create a darker, more conceptual work in contrast to the optimistic and radio-friendly work prior to There's a Riot Goin' On, and was influenced by drug use and the pivotal events which had led to, what writer Miles Marshall Lewis called, "the death of the sixties", including political assassinations, police brutality, the decline of the civil rights movement and social disillusionment. According to The Austin Chronicle, "slowed down, [Sly's] quest for post-stardom identity mirrored black America's quest for post-Sixties purpose."
Recording and production
Sly Stone worked on There's a Riot Goin' On mostly alone in a studio that he had especially built for himself at The Plant Studios, also known as The Record Plant, in Sausalito, California, or at home in a studio located in the loft of his Bel Air mansion. The Record Plant studio included a bed and a wireless microphone system, and Stone would often simply lay down in the bed and record his vocals while in repose. According to the other Family Stone members, most of the album's instrumentation was performed by Sly alone in the studio via overdubbing and, for some of the material, used a rhythm box in place for drummer Gregg Errico. When the other band members contributed instrumentation to Riot tracks, they also did so by overdubbing alone with Sly, instead of playing in unison as was usual for them on previous recordings. For "Family Affair" and some of the other selections on the album, Stone enlisted several of his industry peers and musicians, including contemporary soul acts Billy Preston, Ike Turner, and Bobby Womack in order to provide instrumentation on Riot, instead of his bandmates. Stone had also enlisted several random female vocalists to contribute with background singing, but was unsatisfied and manually omitted their vocals from the tapes. The album's muddy, gritty sound was due in part to this excessive use of overdubbing and erasing parts of the reel-to-reel tapes.
In Fall 1971, Stone personally drove the Riot masters to the CBS Records offices, relieving the worried Clive Davis. CBS issued "Family Affair" as the first single; it was the band's first single in nearly two years. It became the fourth and final number-one pop hit for the band, and it was a notable departure from the sound of their earlier hits. A somber, electric piano-based record, Sly and sister Rose Stone sing about the good and bad aspects of family, with Sly delivering his part in a low, depressed tone. The song's rhythm is provided by a drum machine (or rhythm box), making it one of the earliest hit recordings to feature use of such a device (the first was another Sly Stone production, Little Sister's "Somebody's Watching You").
The swampy texture of the song's production, as well as the album's production, was engendered by Sly Stone's excessive overdubbing, multi-track and mixing techniques, which were notable for nearly drowning out undubbed sounds. Writer Miles Marshall Lewis later wrote of the album's production effect on Stone's vocals, stating "Never before on a Sly and the Family Stone album were songs open to so much interpretation, and even more so, dripping with cynicism. On the other hand you can hardly hear what he's saying for most of the album. Like Radiohead's Kid A or even the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. more recent to the time, a murkiness in the mix of the record inhibits complete comprehension of the words." Stone felt that the rhythm box, if used the way it was designed to be used, would make unrealistic sounds, and resorted to holding down five buttons, running the tape, then rewinding, holding down a different set of five buttons, and overdubbing.
Music and lyrics
The opening track introduces the predominant hard funk of Riot, and has themes of drug-induced euphoria.
The minimalist soul song contains a horn-driven melody, raspy vocals and delicate keyboard lines.
The closing track ends Riot with its heavy funk and hedonistic themes throughout a dark soundscape.
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For the album, Stone reworked 1969's "Thank You" single as the slower, closing track "Thank You For Talking to Me Africa", which according to Allmusic's Matthew Greenwald was a blues and gospel influenced examination of urban tension and the end of the 1960s, "perhaps the most frightening recording from the dawn of the 1970s, capturing all of the drama, ennui, and hedonism of the decade to come with almost a clairvoyant feel." "Africa Talks to You" is a nine-minute funk jam written in response to Sly Stone's backlash from estranged fans and friends, record industry associates, and the media. According to biographer Eddie Santiago, the lyrics cynically portray "fame and its cold retrogression into perceived insanity", with a chorus that reflects "Sly's feelings on being cut down in his prime like a tree in the forest."
"Smilin'" is a hymn to getting high. Thom Jurek of Allmusic stated that it is introduced by a "slow, wispy soul that sounds like it's drifting in from a distant radio somewhere". On its composition, Jurek also wrote, "Sister Rose's voice is all sweet, and at first so is Sly's, but as the horns and bassline come stepping in, Sly's voice gets heavy and is distorting in places deliberately. The delicate keyboard lines, luxuriant and in the pocket as they are, cannot keep the voice contained. There's a minimal instrumental break in the tune and it suddenly fades just as it emerged."
Side one technically concludes with the album's title track, which is silent, and listed as being zero minutes and zero seconds long. For many years, it was speculated that this cryptic track listing and the title of the album were in reference to a July 27, 1970 riot in Chicago, Illinois for which Sly & the Family Stone had been blamed. The band was to play a free show that day at the band shell in Grant Park (Chicago). However, the concert crowd became restless before the band made it onstage and began rioting. Over a hundred people were injured, including several police officers, and the reason given to the press was that the band was late and/or refused to perform. The back cover of the original LP jacket featured a photo collage that included a picture of the band shell in Grant Park overlaid with a photo of a police car. However, when Sly Stone was visited by web technician Johnathan Dakss of the band's official website in 1997, Stone dismissed this rumor. Instead, he told Dakks that the "There's a Riot Goin' On" track had no running time because "I felt there should be no riots."
The original cover art for Riot featured a red, white, and black American flag with suns in place of the stars. No other text or titles appear on the cover, although Epic executives added a "Featuring the Hit Single 'Family Affair'" sticker to the LP for commercial viability and identification purposes. Family Stone A&R director Steve Paley took the photograph. Three of the custom flags were created: one for Sly, one for Epic Records, and one for Paley. The album was later reissued with a more conventional, alternative cover featuring a photograph of Sly in concert and the traditional album titles and text. In an interview with Jonathan Dakss, webmaster of the official Sly & the Family Stone website, Stone explained the album cover's concept in relation to Riot's theme, stating "I wanted the flag to truly represent people of all colors. I wanted the color black because it is the absence of color. I wanted the color white because it is the combination of all colors. And I wanted the color red because it represents the one thing that all people have in common: blood. I wanted suns instead of stars because stars to me imply searching, like you search for your star. And there are already too many stars in this world. But the sun, that's something that is always there, looking right at you. Betsy Ross did the best she could with what she had. I thought I could do better."
The outer album sleeve features a photo collage, by artist Lynn Ames, depicting American cultural images of the early 1970s. Featured on this collage were color photos and black & whites of the Family Stone, the Capitol, a grinning boy in plaid pants, the American flag with a peace sign in place of the stars, the Marina City twin towers of Chicago, a Department of Public Works caution sign, a piece of the Gettysburg Address, the tail end of a gas guzzler, drummer Buddy Miles, the Lincoln Memorial, soul musician Bobby Womack, a bulldog, several anonymous smiling faces, and Sly's pit bull, Gun.
Upon its release, There's a Riot Goin' On was met with divided reaction from fans and music critics who were not used to the album's sound and lyrical content. Los Angeles Times writer Robert Hilburn expressed a mixed response towards the band's stylistic change from their previous "soulflavored" sound of songs such as "Everyday People" and "Hot Fun in the Summertime", while stating "there is little on the album that is worth your attention". While Sly Stone's previous body of work consisted of mostly optimistic R&B and psychedelic soul music, some major music publications praised this new, darker direction and composition. In his review for Rolling Stone magazine, music journalist Vince Aletti wrote that "At first I hated it for its weakness and its lack of energy and I still dislike these qualities. But then I began to respect the album's honesty". Aletti cited it as "one of the most important fucking albums this year" and "the new urban music... not about dancing to the music, in the streets. It's about disintegration, getting fucked up, nodding, maybe dying. There are flashes of euphoria, ironic laughter, even some bright stretches but mostly it's just junkie death, oddly unoppressive and almost attractive in its effortlessness". A columnist for Hit Parader magazine gave Riot a favorable review, and stated that the album has "a lot that makes Sly the in-person rave that he is."
In his consumer guide for The Village Voice, critic Robert Christgau gave There's a Riot Goin' On an "A-", which he later revised to "A+", Christgau noted that "what's expressed is the bitterest ghetto pessimism" and complimented its "subtle production techniques and jarring song compositions", while citing it as "one of those rare albums whose whole actually does exceed the sum of its parts". There's a Riot Goin' On was included on several music publications' "End of the Year" lists and critics' polls, including The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop albums list at number seven. The album achieved commercial success with two hit singles and debuting at number-one on the Billboard Pop Albums and Soul Albums chart. In his book Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music, which was published four years following the album's release, music critic and writer Greil Marcus cited There's a Riot Goin' On as "Muzak with its finger on the trigger."
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
There's a Riot Goin' On has since been viewed by critics as one of the greatest and most influential albums ever recorded, while earning several accolades. Christgau wrote of the album's significance for Rolling Stone in 2007: "Sly Stone had 'Made It'. But its temptations and contradictions ate him up. The result was the prophetic 1971 There's a Riot Goin' On, recorded in anarchic, druggy torpor over a year, or was it two, Stone didn't know the difference. Its taped-over murk presaging Exile on Main St., its drum-machine beats throwing knuckleballs at Miles and JB, it was darker than the Velvet Underground and Nico and funkier than shit, yet somehow it produced two smash hits, including the stark, deep "Family Affair". In a retrospective review, Zeth Lundy of PopMatters called There's a Riot Goin' On "a challenging listen, at times rambling, incoherent, dissonant, and just plain uncomfortable" with "some episodic moments of pop greatness to be found" and viewed it as a radical departure from the band's previous work:
|“||[It] sank their previously burgeoning idealism at a time when social disillusionment was all the rage. Sly had found something else to take him higher and, as a result, Riot is a record very much informed by drugs, paranoia, and a sort of halfhearted malcontent [...] listening to it isn’t exactly a pleasurable experience. It’s significant in the annals of pop and soul because it is blunt and unflinching, because it reflects personal and cultural crises in a manner unbecoming for pop records at the time. Riot can be classified as avant-soul only after being recognized as a soul nightmare—the 'nightmare', so to speak, being a reflection of an unfortunate and uncompromised reality, not a glossed-over pop-music approximation of reality.||”|
In 1994, There's a Riot Going On was ranked number 14 in Colin Larkin's Top 50 Soul Albums. Larkin described the album as "unlike anything heard before in black music". In a 2003 article for Rolling Stone, a contributor commented on the album's overall change in direction by Sly Stone for Riot by writing, "Sly and the Family Stone created a musical utopia: an interracial group of men and women who blended funk, rock and positive vibes... Sly Stone ultimately discovered that his utopia had a ghetto, and he brilliantly tore the whole thing down on There's a Riot Goin' On, which does not refute the joy of his earlier music." In addition to being featured near the top of several major publications' "best album" lists, There's a Riot Goin' On was also ranked at number 99 on Rolling Stone's 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, one of four Sly & the Family Stone entries to be included on the list; it is the second highest of the band's entries, preceded by Greatest Hits (#60), and followed by Stand! (#118) and Fresh (#186). Pitchfork Media named it the fourth best album of the 1970s 
Along with its critical recognition as one of the greatest albums of all time, the music on There's a Riot Goin' On is also considered one of the first instances of the type of funk music later popularized by George Clinton and Funkadelic, the Ohio Players, and similar acts. There's a Riot Goin' On, as well as the follow-up efforts Fresh, and Small Talk are considered among the first and best examples of the matured version of funk music, after prototypical instances of the sound in Sly & the Family Stone's 1960s work. The album's unique sound also influenced legendary jazz musicians Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock to crossover to the jazz-funk genre. From the 1970s on, Riot's songs have been extensively covered and sampled. Among the artists who have covered or reworked songs from Riot include Iggy Pop, John Legend, Lalah Hathaway, Ultramagnetic MC's, De La Soul, Beastie Boys, Gwen Guthrie, and many others. The funk music genre in general, including the works of Sly & The Family Stone and James Brown & The J.B.'s, had great influence on pioneering hip hop acts, such as Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc and many others who have sampled their music.
Dave Rosen of Ink Blot magazine said that the album sounds unique from any other music, which he found ironic because of its vast influence on genres from soul to hip hop: "Sly employed the unconventional (and possibly entirely original) technique of mixing live drums with what was at the time a primitive drum machine ... The introspective, yet political lyrics, the hard and dirty funk grooves, the inspirational, yet depressing songs—all of these elements would come to influence not only peers like Marvin Gaye and James Brown, but two generations of rappers and funkateers who paid homage to Sly's vision by making his samples and beats an essential backbone of their own innovations. Sly's Riot is still goin' on." In his book There's a Riot Goin' On, author Miles Marshall Lewis described There's a Riot Goin' On in retrospect as "one of the most powerful and haunting albums to inspire the hip hop movement."
All songs written, produced and arranged by Sylvester Stewart for Stone Flower Productions.
- Side one
- "Luv n' Haight" – 4:01
- "Just Like a Baby" – 5:12
- "Poet" – 3:01
- "Family Affair" – 3:06
- "Africa Talks to You 'The Asphalt Jungle'" – 8:45
- "There's a Riot Goin' On" – 0:00
- Side two
- "Brave & Strong" – 3:28
- "(You Caught Me) Smilin'" – 2:53
- "Time" – 3:03
- "Spaced Cowboy" – 3:57
- "Runnin' Away" – 2:51
- "Thank You for Talkin' to Me Africa" – 7:14
Bonus tracks for 2007 Epic/Legacy limited edition compact disc reissue. The title track, which was originally no time, was placed at four seconds for the reissue and was accompanied by previously unreleased bonus material.
- "Runnin' Away" (mono single version) – 2:44
- "My Gorilla Is My Butler" (instrumental) – 3:11
- "Do You Know What?" (instrumental) – 7:16
- "That's Pretty Clean" (instrumental) – 4:12
|U.S. Billboard Pop Albums||1|
|U.S. Billboard Top Soul Albums||1|
|"Family Affair"||U.S. Billboard Pop Singles||1|
|"Family Affair"||U.S. Billboard R&B Singles||3|
|"Family Affair"||UK Singles Chart||14|
|"Runnin' Away"||U.S. Billboard Pop Singles||23|
|"Runnin' Away"||U.S. Billboard R&B Singles||15|
|"Runnin' Away"||UK Singles Chart||17|
|"(You Caught Me) Smilin'"||U.S. Billboard Pop Singles||42|
- Larry Graham – bass, backing vocals
- Greg Errico – drums
- Gerry Gibson – drums
- Bobby Womack – guitar
- Freddie Stone – guitar
- Ike Turner – guitar
- Sly Stone – arrangements, drums, drum programming, keyboard programming, synthesizers, guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals
- Billy Preston – keyboards
- Jerry Martini – tenor saxophone
- Cynthia Robinson – trumpet
- Rose Stone – vocals, keyboards
- Little Sister – backing vocals
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