One Track Mind: Sly and the Family Stone – "If You Want Me To Stay" (1973)

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photo: Urve Kuusik

by Pico

The other day I revisited that beautiful mess by Sly Stone called There’s A Riot Goin’ On (1971), where in the midst of some herion-induced haze were some of the most forward-looking funk and r&b music ever. Even the one radio hit from it “Family Affair” was at least five years ahead of its time and sounds fresh and vital even today. “Fresh” is also the title of Sly’s album which followed two years later, and its lone single “If You Want My to Stay” became his last top twenty hit, ending a memorable run of some songs that like the band’s makeup, cut clear across ethnic lines and gave us some thematic, memorable tunes like “Everyday People” and “Hot Fun In The Summertime.” But toward the end of that run, Stone was inventing deep funk grooves that along with P-Funk cast the mold for the genre right up to the present day.

“If You Want Me To Stay,” was, like “Family Affair” and “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin,” a trailblazing song of the genre, but perhaps not as much as the first two. Nonetheless, it had a hook—in fact, the whole damned song is the hook—and an insistent, rising and falling bass line that dominates it, even over Sly’s sassy, finger wagging vocal and the occasional organ swells and jazz piano tinkles. I can still remember hearing this song back in the day on an AM radio with bad reception where I couldn’t hear anything else about the tune, and yet that bass line (attributed only recently to Larry Graham’s replacement Rustee Allen) came through loud and clear.

Maybe that’s why a bass driven band like The Red Hot Chili Peppers were inspired to cover it many years later. Etta James, Eric Benet, Victor Wooten and Soulive all got that same inspiration, too. But nobody compares to the original, and for one last time in 1973, Sly Stone came out with something no one has quite done before but everyone’s been trying to do like him ever since.

Incidentally, Sly Stone turns 67 today. Happy birthday, Sylvester Stewart.

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