Thursday, September 23, 2010

September 23: Sly & The Family Stone, "I Want To Take You Higher"

Artist: Sly & The Family Stone
Song: "I Want To Take You Higher"
Album: Stand!
Year: 1969

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Though they can often cause an almost unlistenable musical chaos, when a band properly mixes together many different genres, the results are almost always legendary.  To properly execute such an endeavor, a band must have an exceptionally high level of musical talent, as well as the vision of at least one member that can mix the different styles in the correct proportions.  Over their career, there were few groups that did this in as consistently brilliant fashion and influenced so many later bands then funk-soul-rock-disco pioneers, Sly & The Family Stone.  Throughout the end of the 1960's and the early 1970's, few bands showed as much successful musical experimentation, and Sly & The Family Stone were also able to embed strong messages in most of their music without ever sounding preachy.  Whether the band was playing simple, yet unforgettable songs like "Sing A Simple Song," or they were performing one of their many blistering civil rights anthems, few bands captured the entire spirit and sound of the era as accurately as one finds within the music of Sly & The Family Stone.  Though they had a number of great records, few can compare to the overall impact of their 1969 album, Stand!, as the album highlights everything that makes the band so significant.  Boasting a number of unforgettable songs, few show a similar level of perfect musical mixture as well as unrestrained joy as one finds within Sly & The Family Stone's 1969 classic, "I Want To Take You Higher."

As "I Want To Take You Higher" begins, the strong funk element is immediately clear, and yet there is a unique psychedelic mood which comes from it, making it unlike anything that had been recorded previously.  In many ways, this sound can be seen as the pinnacle of what Sly Stone had been working toward on his previous efforts, and this sound has been copied countless times since.  The guitar form Freddie Stone is a bit restrained in comparison to his other work, yet it still packs the same groove that defines many of the bands' songs.  However, one would be hard pressed to find a more impressive performance by a rhythm section anywhere than is found on "I Want To Take You Higher."  The pairing of drummer Greg Errico and bassist Larry Graham is able to deliver one of the most powerful, well paced cadences in the history of music, and yet there remains a fantastic swing and groove throughout their performance.  Capped off by the bright, almost screaming horn section of Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson, it is not hard to understand why their performance at the Woodstock Music And Arts Festival remains widely regarded as the highlight of the weekend.  However, the one element that sets "I Want To Take You Higher" far apart from the rest of the bands' catalog is the blistering blues harmonica that is played by Sly himself.  Adding yet another style into the mix, it is this aspect that makes "I Want To Take You Higher" a true classic and one of the greatest songs of one of the strongest musical eras in history.

Along with the unique sound of his band, the way that Sly Stone sings and shares the vocal duties on his songs are yet another way in which they were unlike any of their peers.  While in most cases, group vocals were reserved only for chorus sections, it is the fact that many of their verses feature this approach that gives their music an almost gospel feel.  On "I Want To Take You Higher," Sly, Freddie, and Rose Stone, along with Larry Graham all take turns on lead vocals, and while each of them sounds fantastic, it is their combined effort that makes the song truly soar.  It is also this shared sound that makes the song anthemic, as it almost forces the listener to sing along, and this was always one of the key elements that made the music of Sly & The Family Stone so special.  Yet "I Want To Take You Higher" is a bit different than most of the bands' catalog, as there is no strong political or social message, instead standing as a celebration of the joy of music.  The vocals and music build to an amazing level on the track, and both of them create a perfect example for the lyrics which are being sung.  Trading off lines, the essence of the song is perfectly captured in the lyrics, "...feeling that should make you move...sounds that should help you groove..."  Even during the nonsensical lyrical portions, the vocals are superb, and few songs so accurately represent themselves as one finds in "I Want To Take You Higher."

Strangely enough, "I Want To Take You Higher" was never released as a single, instead becoming the b-side to the albums' title track.  The fact that these two songs were paired together instantly makes that single one of the greatest in history, as it in man ways shows both sides of the personality of Sly & The Family Stone.  Fusing together elements of funk, rock, gospel, soul, and a number of other genres, "I Want To Take You Higher" expresses a love for music in a way like no other, and it is much the reason the song remains such a classic all these decades later.  Not only did this song set a blueprint for psychedelic funk, but one can also hear early sounds of what would become disco within the brilliant rhythm section on the track.  Whether it is the bright, almost overblown horns, the deep groove of the rhythm section, the dancing guitar work or the unmistakable harmonica, there is something for every music lover to be found on "I Want To Take You Higher," and this in many ways is exactly the purpose put forth within the lyrics.  The final element that makes Sly & The Family Stone such legends can also be experienced on this song, as it features their trademark ability to spin unforgettable, yet wordless musical hooks.  Taking all of these pieces together as one, Sly & The Family Stone were a musical powerhouse unlike any other band in history, and one can experience everything that makes their music so fantastic in the form of their 1969 song, "I Want To Take You Higher."

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