Way back in 1970, when Michael Jackson was still shimmying alongside Tito and Jermaine, singing about birds and letters, one Sylvester Stewart was the world’s most batshit crazy music-star. Stewart, known to the world as Sly Stone, was holed up in a Hollywood studio making his definitive creative statement 1971’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On, increasingly paranoid of outside pressures from Black Panthers wanting him to go political, and record executives wanting him to finish up the album to capitalize on his growing fame after the surprise success of 1969’s Stand!. Sly, at that time, was known for his errant live performances, where the crowd was lucky if he showed up three hours late, if at all, and for his increased paranoia after finally achieving the fame he had set out for when he began his musical career. When Stone began to dig in and continue spending most of ’70 in his studio, shutting himself off to the world, his record company decided to put out Sly & The Family Stone’s Greatest Hits, as a stopgap between albums, and as a way to finance Sly’s last real opus.
Luckily for Sly’s record company, his greatest hits album did for his career, what Bob Dylan’s first greatest hits album did for his, as in expanded his fan base and made him seem essential. Listening to Greatest Hits, there’s no doubt he was. Sly, in 1970, seemed to foreshadow many separate phases of black music. There’s the beginnings of funk music on tracks like the bluesy “I Want To Take You Higher,” “Fun,” “Sing a Simple Song,” and album highlight “Thank You,” a song highlighted by very heavy drums and bass for the time, and nearly void of guitar at all, that bands varying from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to George Clinton are indebted to.
Sly should also be considered in his role of making R&B the most popular black music in the 1970’s along with the guys who made Motown a powerhouse. If someone had told me that “Stand,” “Life,” “Dance to the Music,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” and “M’Lady” were songs by The Temptations I’d have believed them. Sly could make catchy R&B group music as anyone in Detroit could in their heyday.
Sadly, to this generation Sly and the Family Stone are known as some relic pop group, a group that was cool like No Doubt was ten years ago. Or worse, the group is known for Sly’s erratic behavior and strange appearance at the Grammy’s in 2006, where he sported a white Mohawk. Maybe the repackaging and remastering of his band’s catalog will make Sly into the hero he should be, once and for all.
Hatchie – Keepsake
Keepsake, the debut album by Brisbane dream pop artist Hatchie is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars
Brisbane indie-pop artist Hatchie (known to her friends and family as Harriette Pilbeam) is in the envious position of being a pop artist unspoiled by the many trappings of what it is to be a modern pop artist. Unlike some of her contemporaries who craft music by committee or with Sheeran-like self-importance, Hatchie is as of now, unsullied by the pressures of the cookie-cutter pop machine. Hatchie’s debut full length is a showcase for a talent who is supremely confident and composed in her abilities, and Keepsake is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars. The album is also a wonderful throwback to pop’s dreamy 60s influences that shuffle in and out of this delirium while working alongside distinctly more current musical touches.
There is the lush dream pop sounds of “Without a Blush”, taking cues from the best of what Stars and Goldfrapp conjure but heaping a tonne of Pilbeam’s charisma on it. Like her vocals, “Without a Blush” has this elegance that has the ability to elevate songs from being beautiful to grand. It is the kind of vocal elegance that really shines through on songs like the skittering, beat-driven “Obsessed” and the alternative, guitar-fuelled (yay!) “When I Get Out”. Indie/electronic closer “Keep” is a wonderful end to proceedings.
However, the great strength of Keepsake is not just its composure in how all the songs have been put together. It is also this genuine, natural-sounding quality that permeates the album- nothing overly written, overly produced or put together by research groups or music analysts. It just sounds like talent. We can argue that much of pop music is constructed to appease the moment- designed to grab as much attention as possible in an A.D.D. world. And sure, that can be said about almost any kind of music, but the resulting aural tone of Keepsake is anything but transient or transparent.
The best way to combat tepid chart-topping music is to write better pop songs. Songs like “Her Own Heart” and the disco-toned “Stay” are examples of pop music that come across as timeless. We are moved by the songs found on Keepsake when we listen to them today. And I suspect that in 10 years time, or in 20, we will most likely feel the same. It is rare to find the sort of ageless beauty you find on Keepsake.