* * * * * (five stars out of five)
The Greatest “Greatest Hits” Album Ever?
There I was – Fourth of July weekend. I had just mounted (oh, behave) the elliptical machine at my fitness center and I was looking for something on my ipod to motivate me. Most times I just go with the shuffle, but on this day, I felt like a whole album, start to finish, in order. A friend had loaned me “Different Strokes By Different Folks,” a Sly and the Family Stone tribute album (sort of). I cued it up and within about 10 seconds of hearing Will.I.Am rapping his way through Dance To The Music, I knew I was in trouble. Sorry, but it was tantamount to sacrilege to these ears. With no interest in even hitting skip to hear what Maroon 5 might have done to Everyday People, I decided to go for the real thing – “Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits.”
Two things struck me – pretty much instantly. The first was that I could think of no better way to celebrate our country’s birthday (and diversity) than to enjoy a band like Sly and the Family Stone – a band comprised of black and white, male and female, whose music blended rock, funk, and soul into a sing-a-long hit machine like no band before or since.
The second thing that struck me was that the band’s Greatest Hits is the mother of all greatest hits albums. First of all, it’s a true collection of the band’s greatest hits, released long before some label wiseass figured out that if you put a new non-hit song on a greatest hits album, maybe that would become a hit too, and help to boost album sales. If it didn’t produce a hit, at the very least, completist fans would be sucked in and feel obligated to buy the disc. No – “Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits” is all hits, all the time. It smokes from the first notes of I Want To Take You Higher through the fadeout of Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin). The messages are positive (Stand, Everyday People, Dance To The Music, Hot Fun In The Summertime, You Can Make It If You Try) and the grooves are irresistible (the aforementioned Thank You, M’Lady). The sequencing and pacing are perfect – the songs are culled from multiple albums, but you’d never know it. They fit together like they all came from the same sessions.
Before the advent of the CD and the boxed sets, “Essential” collections, and endless repackaging and reissuing that ensued, there were many great greatest hits albums (Eagles’, Elton John’s, Patsy Cline’s, Bob Dylan’s (first and second), Creedence’s “Chronicles”, Rod Stewart’s “Sing It Again Rod,” Rolling Stones’ “Hot Rocks” – the list goes on and on), but to my ears, none is as great as Sly’s. If you have a copy, pull it out now; if not, run out (or online) and get it – and dance to the music, all night long, everyday people, sing a simple song.
– Mark Klemow