By the age 11, Sylvester Stone had mastered piano, guitar, bass and drums. All the better to eventually lead a large band that mixed soul, rock, pop and funk in the most sublime combination. He got the nickname Sly in grade school (after a classmate misspelled his name as Slyvester), and grew up to be a popular DJ in San Francisco. He went on to produce The Beau Brummels, The Mojo Men and Grace Slick’s first band, The Great Society. Finally, he formed one of the greatest bands in American history, Sly and the Family Stone.
Over the course of six albums and many singles, Sly Stone and his band showed incredible breadth, putting out classic after classic. Of course, Sly is a recluse and eccentric now, but his legacy is staggering. Let’s pay tribute to the legend by sharing the first 10 songs that come up on your iPod or MP3 player.
Tom Waits – Underground (Swordfishtrombones): The first song on the album that signaled the new direction for Mr. Waits. This is a world where Captain Beefheart and Howlin’ Wolf meet Kurt Weill, and it was different but made total sense. Tom Waits was quite something before this change in direction, but this album launched him on the path to legend status.
Jonathan Wilson – Gentle Spirit (Gentle Spirit): One of many stunning epics on Wilson’s second album. This long haired singer/songwriter/producer not only plays with Jackson Browne and produces Dawes, but he’s a one man Laurel Canyon revivalist. This seems to mix in Midlake, Nick Drake, Emmit Rhodes and many others in a beautiful package, expanding the virtues of ‘70s West Coast folk based rock.
Gnarls Barkley – Necromancer (St. Elsewhere): This song is actually about necrophilia, and is one of the weirdest numbers on this eccentric R & B/pop album. Dangermouse lays down a collage of sounds, with crunchy percussion, hard guitars and noodling jazz piano while Cee-Lo Green is definitely not family friendly.
Hepcat – I Can’t Wait (Right On Time): One of the best songs on this excellent ska album. This L.A. band goes for a very traditional ska sound, so the R & B influences are there (as opposed to punkier post-Specials ska). This song has a big hook.
The Shangri-Las – Paradise (The Best of The Shangri-Las): The worst thing about The Shangri-Las is that there are so few of their recordings. Lead La Mary Weiss is perhaps the best singer ever at capturing at yearning, which is the central thing going on in this song as she fantasizes about some guy who I suspect would never have been good enough for her anyway.
Kraftwerk – Computer Love (Computer World): A great tune from the last essential Kraftwerk album. They had already influenced hip-hop, but this album crystalized the strange funkiness to their rhythms, which went well with the pithy keyboard lines that resonated and wormed their way to the brain. Great tune.
Bill Haley & The Comets – Rock-a-Beatin’ Boogie (Rock Around The Clock): Haley was a Western swing guy who saw the potential in jump blues, and found a middle ground. He’s not quite rockabilly, but this jumping sound definitely was rock ‘n’ roll. He may have looked like somebody’s uncle, but he was a hepcat and this track swings.
New Order – Hurt (Movement): This is one of the singles on the deluxe reissue of New Order’s first album, and the bonus disc is arguably the better of the two. On this song, the electronics are front and center, and Kraftwerk influence is all over the place. I really dig these early singles, because they haven’t quite perfected their New Order sound yet, but they seem to enjoy figuring it out.
The Who – Out In The Street (My Generation): This song is a cousin of their classic single “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”, but it relents from the guitar riff into a nice Isley Brothers style R & B number.
Howlin’ Wolf – Bluebird (Smokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters): A relaxed blues from the growling voice of Chester Burnett. This is a pretty smooth tune, and while I prefer my Wolf more gutbucket, he did this stuff real well too.