Muddy Waters: Electric Mud (1968)


Did you know magic mushrooms grow in mud?

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1968, in a pop world dominated by Motown soul, British rock and American folk, blues legend Muddy Waters had all been forgotten by mainstream music fans. His record label then crassly masterminded a comeback plan — fuse his Chicago blues stylings to the hot new sound of the day, psychedelic rock, which resulted in the lysergically enhanced Electric Mud.

Although Waters himself sounded exactly the same, he replaced his usual band with a collection of young avant-garde jazz musicians who re-rendered his blues into smeary hyperactive acid funk.

“She’s Alright” is a death march prelude to a bar-knuckle bar fight, with power-drill guitars, goofy audio panning, and a completely unexpected segue in The Temptations “My Girl”.

Perfect for a blaxploitation soundtrack, the ultra-macho come-ons of “Tom Cat” strut around a radioactive fallout of moist sax riffs and parched guitar feedback.

“Mannish Boy” was a song he’d performed for years, but now it was dressed up with backward rooster sounds and trashy jungle drums, ready for its modern spotlight:

Now when I was a young boy, at the age of five
My mother said I was, gonna be the greatest man alive
But now I’m a man, way past 21
Want you to believe me baby,
I had lot’s of fun
I’m a man
I spell M, A child, N
That represents man
No B, O child, Y
That mean mannish boy
I’m a man
I’m a full grown man
I’m a man
I’m a natural born lovers man
I’m a man
I’m a rollin’ stone
I’m a man
I’m a hoochie coochie man

“Herbert Harper’s Free Press News” swings like a lost James Brown vamp, with Waters’ locomotive-strong baritone nearly dueting with the ear-piercing guitar shriek that runs through the entire track.

This was not your fathers’ blues.

THE FALLOUT: Blues purists abhored it. They, in fact, still abhor it. Muddy Waters totally disowned it, refusing to play any of it live and dissing the session musicians. He never publicly disowned the money he made though, as it sold an unexpected quarter million copies. The album also neatly set up Led Zeppelin’s debut the following year, a band whose fame was built upon electrifying (and stealing) Muddy Waters songs. Nevertheless Electric Mud fell out of print until 1996.

Electric Mud is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Sure it’s a sellout to the white audience but Electric Mud is still, inadvertently, a hard grooving and rewarding album.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Gaze at your Timberlands with The Veldt.

Kid Creole and the Coconuts: Wise Guy (1982)


Where your mai-tai is always refreshed.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: Oh Europe! You lover of American culture you! How thankful we are that you support jazz and techno and comic books and interpretive dance cause we here in America need a helping hand to validate our own greatness! We love us some Hendrix but damn if he didn’t have to go to England to get a leg up.

This outright dismissal of homemade brilliance happens less in New York, and its downtown music scene of the early ’80s is where the zoot-suited Kid Creole and The Coconuts made their mark. Their revelatory blend of swinging salsa, frenetic funk and big band Broadway show tunes populated their 1981 album Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places, which found only a tiny audience. For their next album they turned up the gloss without losing the crunch, resulting in the dazzling Wise Guy.

An audio vacation cruise to exotic unknown locales, each cut shimmers and shakes with lusty abandon. Much like the Kid himself all the songs are danceable, humorous, nuanced and oh-so-sharp. The calypso and soca-fueled “Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy” cleverly shows off the lighter side of pre-DNA paternity testing (“cause if I was in your blood, then you wouldn’t be so ugly”).

The romantic and dangerous “The Love We Have” mixes cold strings and warm horns into a frothy jungle drink of icy confusion. “I’m A Wonderful Thing, Baby” features a subdued swagger, its rippling muted guitars supporting a laundry list of the Kids’ liaisons.

Straight outta the speakeasy slides “Stool Pigeon”, a gangster-hard cautionary tale of ratting out to the Feds:

If you wanna squeal, said the FBI
We can make a deal, make it worth your while
So he told it all and in return
He got a credit card and a Thunderbird
He got a spanking new identity
And a condo down in Miami
He bought a plane, a boat and jewelry
But he couldn’t buy any company

Deep grooves with dark themes cloaked in confectionary glaze, how could anyone resist?

THE FALLOUT: Like Jimi Hendrix and James Baldwin, Kid Creole and the Coconuts blew up in England big time. Retitled Tropical Gangsters, it was a top five album, produced three hit singles and stayed on the charts for nine months. But back in the States it fell off the chart faster than a baby bird out of a malformed nest. Except for the rare dance hit, Kid Creole and the Coconuts never broke through to most of America.

Wise Guy is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Groundbreaking in its world music synthesis, Wise Guy dances alone.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Click into the future with Spacek.

Cody ChesnuTT: The Headphone Masterpiece (2002)


The Low Fidelity Theory.

Purchase this album:

THE SCENE: In 2000 Cody ChesnuTT’s band The Crosswalk were dropped from their label without ever releasing an album. Where many folks would respond by shutting themselves off in their room for a good long sulk, ChesnuTT went to his room with a four-track recorder and cut the thirty-six tracks that make up the exuberant The Headphone Masterpiece.

Back in the day (and by this I mean before computers came with free audio software) inexpensive four-track recorders were the must-have item for all working musicians. No matter where inspiration struck, within seconds you could capture your musical ramblings for posterity. Eventually many a musician would get the urge to recreate their intimate demos by shelling out thousands of dollars for a proper studio recording, where the unfamiliar surroundings would ensure a soulless, sterile facsimile of a once great performance.

ChesnuTT’s brilliant move was to completely ignore this urge and release his recordings as is, complete with tape hiss, background noise and the occasional bum note. Headphone has ninety minutes of songs as catchy as a food-borne virus, its length providing an extra-large visit with ChesnuTT’s extra-large love and sex-fueled persona.

Like a friendly waiter at a down-home diner he provides comfort-food helpings of ’60s style rockers (the surf garage-y “Upstarts in a Blowout” and “Look Good in Leather), soul-man electronica ( the ominous “The World is Coming To My Party”) and folk-gospel ballads (the sad organ pleading of “She’s Still Here”). With his unfeasibly large ego, flexible tenor and dark humor he begs for forgiveness in the nicotine withdrawal anthem “Somebody’s Parent”, and gets jealous of his infant son in his own damn lullaby (No worries/No stress/You lucky motherfucker) in “Daddy’s Baby”.

In the original, shambling version of “The Seed”, ChestnuTT compares musical genre-breaking to primal infidelity:

I don’t beg
FROM no rich man
And I don’t scream, and kick,
when his shit don’t fall in my hands, man
Cuz I know how to STEAL
Fertilize another against my lover’s will
I lick the opposition cuz she don’t take no pill
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-no dear
You’ll be keeping my legend alive
I push my seed in her push for life
Its gonna work because I’m pushin’ it right
If Mary drops my baby girl tonight
I would name her Rock-N-Roll

Even his indulgences are interesting, such as the way-too-short “Batman vs. Blackman”, the never-really started “Setting the System” and the warped-in-progress “ So Much Beauty in the Subculture”.

Ambitious? Oh heck yeah.

THE FALLOUT: Cody ChesnuTT was a media sensation in 2003, appearing in an unprecedented amount of high-profile media outlets normally out of reach for such an unknown and unclassifiable musician. He also had a minor radio hit with “The Seed 2.0”, an muscular re-recording with The Roots. Oddly, The Headphone Masterpiece never sold as well as his notoriety would lead one to believe, and in 2006 I had a difficult time finding a store that stocked it. And I live in a college town.

Cody ChesnuTT has yet to record a followup.

The Headphone Masterpiece is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

In a modern world where nearly every musical note we hear has been placed and altered with diamond-cutting precision, an album that ignores thirty years of recording advancements is downright heretical. But top-notch songwriting and performances trump sonic clarity any day of the year, and The Headphone Masterpiece proves that point admirably.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Kid Creole and The Coconuts get wise.

Common: Electric Circus (2002)


One day it’ll all make sense.

Purchase this album: Amazon

In 2000 Chicago-based conscious rapper Common released his third album, the instant classic Like Water For Chocolate. His first Top Twenty and first gold record, Chocolate’s lyrical depth and tight songs catapulted his ascendance into hip-hop’s big leagues. But his next album was in a league of its own, the retro-rockin’ Electric Circus.

Utilizing musicians and singers from rock, rap and R&B, he filled the album with gurgling organs, backwards noises and distorted guitar solos, the cumulative effect akin to hearing a rap album from 1967.

Adding to the surprises Common doesn’t even show up until the second song. The Zap Mama singers help tilt the carnival feel of “Ferris Wheel” into an ad hoc intro theme, then Common drops the boom-bap in “Soul Power” over a gumbo of spooky voices and violins.

Lyrically he chooses to be more impressionistic than specific, which suits the creepy French spy chase of “New Wave” and the psychedelic gospel of “Electric Wire Hustler Flower”:

Mercury and retrograde,
I’m trying to get niggas in the ghetto paid
While they watch pornos and Escalades,
away from floats and the dope in sex parades
Somebody screamin in my mind, I’m tryin to find if it’s me
Or voices on the master, they design to be free
Same revolt, can’t be found on TV, or radio, its livin in me
Hey lady, that smoke is bothering me
If I put it in your eye, ashes you would cry
All this rap talk is blowing my high
I just came to chill and build with my guy
I try to walk but I stumble off the humble path
This story of a pimp stick that became a staff
You got it, you gotta know where to aim the Mag
Art and opinions are made to clash

When he does focus his thoughts he brings forth the meditative and liquid “Between Me, You & Liberation”. A nearly spoken word poem on death and release, it floats in a midnight pool of jazzy drums and squirmy tones.

Common updates ragtime in “I Am Music” fusing fantastic bleary horns with UFO landing sounds. He also remakes rock’n’roll in the Hendrix homage “Jimi Was A Rock Star” an eight-minute exorcism of piledriving drums and head-bashing fret shredding.

With the right amount of record-label promotion, precisely setting and resetting expectations, this was the album to make his career.

THE FALLOUT: Three weeks after Electric Circus’ release, Common’s record label dissolved. Without adequate promotion it never gained a footing into other music circles, which left it squarely in the hip-hop camp. Journalists and fans dismissed it as un-listenable trash and publicly blamed his then-girlfriend, Erykah Badu, as the catalyst for his hideous transformation. His next album, Be, was a return to acceptance and sales, and free of all Circus’ progressiveness.

Electric Circus is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

See you next year.

NEXT YEAR: More albums, more obscurities, more cultures, and more uppityness.

Yeah, I know “uppityness” isn’t a word, but you know what I mean.

James Brown and His Famous Flames: Sings Christmas Songs (1966)


Funk is…a ham hock in your egg nog.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1966 Christmas albums were strictly the domain of pop acts (think Nat “King” Cole) or smoothed-out rock acts (think The Beach Boys). James Brown was the first Black rock’n’roll or R&B artist to release an entire Christmas album, the aptly named Sings Christmas Songs.

One of five albums he released that year, Brown recorded a surprisingly lush assortment of standards with subtle dustings of breakbeats. Even though this coincided with his ascent into his heavy funk many of these tracks are waltzes. Go figure.

Brown tackles Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” with skittering drums, warm horns and a vocal raspyness that humanizes some of the more trite lyrics. He also serves up a cover of Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby”, in which he oddly tries to emulate Charles Brown’ buttery flow.

He reclaims his own voice in “Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year” where he stops singing and talks to you, the listener, about what he’s thankful for this holiday season. It should be corny as hell but he pulls it off brilliantly.

Rich romantic violins feature prominently in “Please Come Home For Christmas” and “Christmas In Heaven” where Brown gets his croon on and gently pleads (OK, begs) for his baby.

His ode to Jesus, “Sweet Little Baby Boy”, is a surprisingly orchestrated country & western affair, perfect for drinking hot toddies or slow line dancing.

All in all, the perfect holiday package for, well, no one in 1966.

THE FALLOUT: Stylistically out of character and indifferently packaged, Sings Christmas Songs went over as well as coal in a Christmas stocking. He fared exceeding better with his next Christmas album, 1968’s unabashedly funky Soulful Christmas.

All of Sings Christmas Songs can be found on The Complete James Brown Christmas, available from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

A groundbreaker in holiday albums, Sings Christmas Songs opened the door for all musical acts to record Christmas-themed concept records. (So in some strange way, William Hung’s Hung for the Holidays is James Brown’s fault. Thanks, James.)

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: The last review of 2005!

MeShell Ndegéocello: Bitter (1999)


Truth in packaging.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1996 singer/bassist/composer MeShell Ndegéocello released her second recording, the funky and soulful Peace Beyond Passion. Adding to her repertoire of romance tunes were songs about racism, religion and homophobia — just enough food for thought for commercial radio to drop her from playlists. Three years later she returned with all-new reasons for radio silence, the wounded Bitter.

Raw as a salted wound, Bitter is the fresh grave of a dead romance; the sounds that come out of your mouth after you’re all cried out. Gone are the rubbery bass lines and synthetic articulations, replaced with acoustic instruments played at speed of melting ice.

Her voice remains a smoky hush but now blackened with ash. Pleading with vulnerability, her empathic grief extends to every song, every tone, but never becoming pitiful. In the measured “Fool of Me”, her anguish is so deep perhaps the brushed drums are the only thing keeping her from falling to pieces.

“Beautiful” is even more fragile, revealing the intimate talk between lovers that we probably shouldn’t be hearing:

such pretty hair
may I kiss you
may I kiss you there
so beautiful you are
so beautiful

don’t move
you feel
so good to me
tell me in my ear


Even the instrumentals offer no solace. The casket-black beats of “Adam” anchor the weeping violins, while the plucked strings of “Eve” sound lost in a void of displacement.

The faster tracks sparkle with restrained tension. The pastoral regalness of “Satisfy” is a woodsy, forest dream. “Wasted Time” is a sparse skeleton dance of the burnt-out, with a tasty dehydrated slide guitar.

Ndegéocello also reinterprets Jimi Hendrix’s “May This Be Love” as a quasi-East Indian raga that hovers and darts into space music. Within the confines of the album this zigzag of styles is intoxicating, but outside the album….

THE FALLOUT: Named “Album of the Year” by many journalists, Bitter infuriated fans who wanted the funkier MeShell back, and it tanked. Ndegéocello revisited her approach again in 2005 with the release of the jazzy and challenging The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance Of The Infidel.

Bitter is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

A fierce emotional letter-bomb, Bitter triumphantly reconstructs the particles of heartbreak into a new, hopeful organism.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Good stuff from Bad Brains.

Shuggie Otis: Freedom Flight (1971)


What did you do when you were eighteen?

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: If you were the son of R&B great Johnny Otis, you were releasing your third album. As a kid Shuggie Otis spent years playing guitar in his father’s band, receiving an enviable musical education. His previous album, 1970’s Here Comes Shuggie Otis, was a charming blues entry but Freedom Flight was something else entirely.

Using the blues as a starting point, Otis effortlessly blended California’s folk, funk and orchestral pop genres into a unified theory of music, composing and arranging and performing it nearly by himself. At freakin’ eighteen.

Otis is a master guitarist, and his rippling fretwork buzzsaws through “Ice Cold Daydream” like hail on a windshield. His gentle, sunny voice is a mellow counterpoint to the aggressiveness of the track.

Well-known through its smoothed-out interpretation by The Brothers Johnson, “Strawberry Letter 23” is a gorgeous masterwork of spacey textures and evocative lyrics:

In the garden, I see
West purple shower bells and tea
Orange birds and river cousins
Dressed in green

Pretty music I hear
So happy and loud
Blue flowers echo
From a cherry cloud

Named for his desire to receive his girlfriends’ next strawberry-scented letter, this original version’s fragility is a revelation. The bells and “ooh ooh ooh ooh-oohs” all are present but its’ heartfeltness adds a tension missing from the more famous version.

“Sweet Thang” features him playing barroom piano and western slide guitar in one ear and churchified organ in the othe rear, resulting in the effect of having an angel and the devil standing on your shoulders, chatting away.

“Freedom Flight” is a rumbling and purring lullaby of sweet strings, chiming guitar and echoey sax. It’s grace and restraint allows it to command thirteen minutes without succumbing to tediousness.

The overall mood is wonderfully unpretentious. He seems to have no idea how dramatically groundbreaking his music is, he’s just a kid having fun.

THE FALLOUT: Although the album got props from other West Coast artists, it was received by the public with all the joy of a tax audit, and found no takers. Three years later Otis released his last album, the brilliant and equally genre-mining Inspiration Information, which only found an audience after its 2001 re-release.

During a concurrent high-profile comeback tour, Otis’ inability to perform a complete or coherent song with his band, night after night, was the first public inkling that the unfulfilled prodigy within him had taken a dark turn.

Freedom Flight is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Beating both Prince’s and Stevie Wonder’s one-man show by both personal age and recording date, Shuggie Otis’ Freedom Flight is a genre without a name, an album without a time, and a voice without a future.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: The first time Richard Pryor was on fire.

Saul Williams: Saul Williams (2004)


Grippo on another level.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 2001 New York slam-poet Saul Williams released his first album Amethyst Rock Star, the result of a difficult, label-controlled recording process. His unhappiness led him to kick his label to the curb and record his follow up on his own, the self-representative Saul Williams.

Wielding his flexible voice like a Swiss Army knife, Williams inhabits his energetic poems with an endless range of vocal styles – rapping, reciting, singing, shouting – while emoting his pet themes of self-awareness and hip-hop stagnation.

The xenophobic “Talk to Strangers” features unsettlingly icy piano from Serj Tankian (the lead singer of System Of A Down), its ballet grace compounding the paranoid confessional.

“Grippo”, Williams’ name for the song’s industrial punk-hop style, was written after attending a paradigm-shifting concert by white rappers. “So substitute the anger and oppression/ With the guilt and depression/ And its yours.” Stuck together like Brooklyn traffic, the greasy punk vocal dances around the guitars’ car alarm melody.

Hip-hop gets a stern talking-to in the vicious “Telegram”. Old-school flow melts over older-school heavy metal as Williams broadcasts the message:

We are discontinuing our current line of braggadocio,
in light of the current trend in “realness”. (stop).
As an alternative, we will be confiscating weed supplies
and replacing them with magic mushrooms,
in hopes of helping niggas see beyond their reality. (stop).

Williams backs up a truck full of cutting-edge beats and sounds to his prose. “List of Demands (Reparations)” finds him pleading over the vibration of massive turbines, and the distorted, dry, pasta crunch drums of “African Student Movement” charmingly unifies the rhythms of urban industrial and African township.

The piano jazz of “Black Stacey” is a humorous platform for him to croon and scat painful recollections of childhood racial politics:

I used to use bleaching creme,
’til Madame CJ Walker walked into my dreams.
I dreamt of being white and complimented by you,
but the only shiny black thing that you liked was my shoes….
I was Black Stacey.
the preachers’ son from Haiti
who rhymed a lot and always got
the dance steps at the party.
I was Black Stacey.
you thought it wouldn’t faze me,
but it did
’cause I was just a kid.

Multiple voices, rock solid flow, exciting tunes, a high-profile arts career – what happened to this album?

THE FALLOUT: I looked for Saul Williams in the Rock section of my favorite record store. Finding nothing I then zoomed over to the Spoken Word section, where I found lots of similar albums by poets, although they were all Caucasian. Eventually I found it the Hip-Hop section, after the Westside Connection divider.

Usually an album this diverse would be placed in the Rock section, as it generally serves as a catch-all for departure albums. I wonder how many people looked for it and simply gave up the search.

Saul Williams is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

A propulsive snapshot of his current mental state, Saul Williams is the sound of a free thinker, an alive mind, and hot beats.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Shuggie Otis breaks with convention, and possibly reality.

Public Enemy: Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age (1994)


Biting the hand that feeds.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1992 the much-loved Public Enemy tasted their first cup of Haterade after releasing the concept-free semi-remix album Greatest Misses. Undaunted, they returned in 1994 with the brilliantly bitter Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age, a fusillade of finely tuned aggression and progressive noises.

PE focused its rage on the supply chain of the record industry: morally bankrupt record companies, elitist and impotent music journalists, and the audience that supports them both. Or to put it another way, they had a big problem with their own label, critics and you, personally.

Gangsta rap was becoming the genre of choice among hip-hop fans and the labels responded by pumping out more gangsta rap, a product that PE found to be morally toxic to its audience. As keepers of the pro-Black agenda they were certainly not going to start writing songs about “beating bitches down”. (OK, they did write that in “Sophisticated Bitch” but that song was on the first album and that was, like, a long time ago and stuff.)

So had you just stopped purchasing gangsta rap and the culture of consumer crap it represented, they wouldn’t have had to record such R&B diatribes as “Give It Up”. Bad consumer. Stop it.

The utter uselessness of music critics is demonstrated in the hazy mule train of “I Stand Accused”, while PE publicist Harry Allen dissected the utter uselessness of major labels in “Harry Allen’s Interactive Super Highway”. Nine years before Apple’s iTunes Music Store debuted, Allen sharply predicted the legal sale of digital music and how it would empower the creators and destabilize the record industry.

The intensity of these messages is matched with unique sounds, live instrumentation and explosive, challenging rhythms. The eco-warning “Race Against Time” cleverly sloooooows down the beat to make its point. “Aintnuttin Buttersong” laments the propaganda of the “The Star Spangled Banner” while paying homage to Jimi Hendrix’s Vietnam-era interpolation, chaotic guitar included.

Flavor Flav even kicksed in a serious song with a remake of The Last Poets “The White Man’s Got a God Complex”. Flav wrestled the kinetic sparseness with a venom he’d never shown before:

I’m making guns! (Uptown, I’m God!)
I’m making bombs! (Uptown, I’m God!)
I’m making gas! (Uptown, I’m God!)…
Birth control pills! (Uptown, I’m God!)
Told the Indians I discovered them! (Uptown, I’m God!)…

The concept of “discovering Indians” returned with the hovering incendiary metal of “Hitler Day”, which rowdily recasted Columbus Day as a celebration of a 500-year genocide.

Now that’s gangsta.

THE FALLOUT: PE’s label Def Jam were not pleased with the album (shock!) and barely promoted it. Critics were sharply divided, depending if they felt picked on or not. Although “Give it Up” was a minor hit, the audience really, really wanted to keep buying that G-Funk, and Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age stalled.

Public Enemy didn’t record another non-soundtrack album for five years, but when they did they took their own advice. 1999’s There’s A Poison Goin’ On was released on their own label, as an MP3 album.

Muse… is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age is an extremely gutsy and extremely engaging album. Forward-sounding, retro-leaning and wholly unique.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Saul Williams would like some words with you.

Sly & The Family Stone: A Whole New Thing (1967)


Birth of a one rhythm nation, under a groove.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1967, the Summer of Love, San Francisco disk jockey Sylvester Stewart turned his utopian vision of equality into a pioneering hybrid of hippie rock and hard-charging soul, culminating in Sly & The Family Stone’s debut release A Whole New Thing.

The first prominent multi-ethnic and multi-gendered rock group, Sly & the Family Stone blurred racial and genre lines with a jubilant sound filled with sharp political insights, uplifting messages, and a kick-ass backbeat. It was so unified and original that many folks didn’t know how to respond, hence this is his only album from the ’60s without any hit songs.

Well, kinda. The funky psychedelia of “Trip To Your Heart” features the main sample from L.L. Cool J’s “Mama Say Knock You Out”. But “Trip” is fantastically more ornate, with acid-trip vocals, teeter-tottering horns, free-form intro and Larry Graham’s near-inhuman bass playing.

“Underdog” universally champions the struggle to thrive in the face of adversity (much like the cartoon superhero):

I know how it feels to get demoted
When it comes time you got promoted
But you might be movin’ up too fast
(Yeah, yeah)

If you ever loved somebody of a different set
I bet the set didn’t let you forget
That it just don’t go like that
(Yeah, yeah)

I know how it feels
For people to stop, turn around and stare
So go right, don’t rate me
I don’t mind

I’m the underdog

Blessed with phenomenally gifted singers and musicians, the band tears through the jazzy waterfall of notes in “Advice” and the chorale of nonsense syllables in “Run, Run, Run” with singular ease. Sly’s voice itself is an amazing instrument, often sexy and scary within the same sentence, declarative but personal.

Sly also flexes his considerable production muscles during the slowed-down ending of the brassy “I Cannot Make It”, and the echoed call-and-response of the proto-Portishead “That Kind of Person”.

Alas, being the musical midpoint between The Temptations and The Grateful Dead was not an immediate selling point.

THE FALLOUT: It was not a big seller but it was taken quite seriously by his musical peers, as they considered him to be one of the few geniuses in their midst. Sly & The Family Stone’s next release was 1968’s Dance to the Music, which started them on a six-year journey of having REALLY big hit songs.

A Whole New Thing is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Ignored mostly due to the greatness of the following albums, A Whole New Thing is a chunky but funky appetizer to the banquet of Sly Stone.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Barry Adamson confronts the Negro inside him.