John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

Let’s Give Thanks for Sly Stone

No one did thankful songs better than Sly & The Family Stone.

By - Nov 23rd, 2017 09:41 am
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Sly and the Family Stone play the Opera House in Bournemouth. Photo by Simon Fernandez [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sly and the Family Stone play the Opera House in Bournemouth. Photo by Simon Fernandez [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s Thanksgiving and I want to thank Sly Stone for being both sly and stoned. But I can’t get a word in edgewise because he won’t stop thanking me and the rest of the world. Songs of thanks are rare and when they do show up, not always good. Three words: David Clayton Thomas. But Sly has two that I know of and they are gems, “Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” written before spellcheck, is the hit and deservedly so. But when you’re Sly Stone, all you write are hits, and “Thankful N’ Thoughtful” may not have been at the top of the charts, but it sure as hell should have been.

Taken from Fresh, one of the most aptly named albums of all time, it looks back and shakes off some of the darkness of it’s melancholy predecessor, There’s A Riot Going On. This was a welcome change for those who associated the band with high spirits and paisley patterned funk. I didn’t so much study these records as breathe them in or absorb them through my skin. They were necessary. Sly Stone, a game changer among game changers, kept changing his. Here you hear an early example of his use of drum machine, which sounds suspiciously like the rhythm box on Grandma’s Wurlitzer. Back then using something like this was novel in the way real drums are becoming now.

Though he wrote some really great changes on all his records, and Fresh in particular (“If You Want Me To Stay, Skin I’m In”), he was content on this song to sit on a long and funky riff in the key of G. Linear funk, a term that describes drum patterns that rarely hit two drums at the same time, can be applied to this meticulous weave of terse horn stabs, ultra-soulful background singers and signature keyboard and guitar stylings from his singular band. You could lose all that wonderful playing and still be swept away by the vocal — he sounds like a Ray Charles understudy. Sly, who never hid Brother Ray’s influence, is giving a virtual shout out to that other great innovator.

Sly could have stayed strictly instrumental and still have been at the top of the heap. When the Jazz Messengers covered “Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin),”  it didn’t lose much. Here, Sly is at his slyest as a wordsmith and provocateur. He also shows his Gospel roots, praising his maker for allowing him another day on the green side of the grass:

Sunday morning, I forgot my prayer
I should have been happy, I still be there
Something could have come and taken me away
But the main man felt Syl should be here another day

That’s why I got to be
Thankful yeah, yeah
I gotta be
Thoughtful
Ah ha thankful
You gotta be
thoughtful

From my ankle to the top of my head
I’ve taken my chances, hah, I could have been dead
I started climbing from the bottom, oh yeah
All the way to the top, ah huh
Before I knew it, I was up there
You believe it or not, yeah

Thankful
Thoughtful
Yeah yeah yeah yeah
Thankful
Thoughtful

Oh, something gets me, hah, put my head on tight
Because I know the future everything’ll be alright
Until then I’ll kick back and let the light shine
Remember all yours coulda been all mine

That’s why you ought to be thankful
Hah, hah, you ought to be thoughtful
Thankful
Thoughtful

Middle of stream, hah, I had to change my stroke
I say I put it on the good foot, ha, and it ain’t no joke
They said I was dyin’, I didn’t want to go
I kept on feelin’ I had to live some more
I had somethin’ to tell y’all

To be thankful
Y’all oughta be thoughtful
Thankful
Thoughtful

Still rectifying, straightening things out
I know what a good feelin’, you’re never in doubt
Sometimes I’m by myself, oh lord, feelin’ alone
I just look around and check it out and then it’s all gone
I’m still happy to be here

Thankful
Thoughtful
Count your blessings

My Momma gave me a song and said “Son sing
Record thankful and thoughtful, be such a nice thaing
People got to be reminded where it’s really at
Make your Daddy happy”
Momma, momma like it like that

You know I know you know I know
I’m thankful you know I’m thoughtful

© Sylvester Stewart

“Sunday morning, I forgot my prayer,” is a great opening line. It lets you know he’s going be talking about something serious, while the music promises no one will fall asleep. Being fresh, like the title of the album says, means no cliches. Who else do you know that says “From my ankle to the top of my head?” The song is fairly long but you sense he’ll run out of vinyl before the ideas dry up. Like Dylan and Prince, Sly lived on the far side of creative blocks. Unlike them, he stopped producing, as far as we know. Maybe there’s a hard drive with millions of new songs somewhere, but you suspect otherwise. Did he burn out? Was fame too much? I’d love to know, this man qualifies as one one of the great 20th century artists and I can’t think of many, aside from J.D. Salinger, who managed to disappear so thoroughly while still breathing.

But now my tummy’s growling and I’m smelling turkey and pumpkin pie, so we need to wind up. Lately we’ve gone around the table to say what we’re thankful for. After family and friends, I’ve got the work of this odd and interesting man at the top of my list. It’s special in a way that makes me feel glad to be alive and I’d love to thank him for it — if only he’d only give me a chance.

3 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: Let’s Give Thanks for Sly Stone”

  1. Dean J Calin says:

    I never thought twice about Sly Stone before. Once again, you have pointed out another truly genuine and perhaps overlooked talent in the American musical heritage. Thank you!

  2. Thomas says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to John, to Sly, and to all thankful people.

  3. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    A thankfulness song for the Thanksgiving holiday – by Sly Stone, and in thanks for being alive – great choice!

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