On Dec. 4, 1971, Sly Stone knocked Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft” from the top position on the Billboard Hot 100. It would be his last #1 single.
Sly Stone had been a popular disc jockey in the Bay Area during the late sixties. He’d been involved with recording and music since the age of 4—his family had a gospel group called the Stewart Four. Stone loved all styles of pop music. He left his DJ job to form a band with high school friend Cynthia Robinson on trumpet, Gregg Enrico on drums, Larry Graham on bass, Jerry Martini on saxophone, his brother Freddie on guitar and sister Rose on piano.
Sly and the Family Stone brought a “psychedelic soul” sound to ’60s music. They were one of the shining stars at Woodstock. But by the 1970’s, Stone’s drug abuse was causing problems. He was fighting lawsuits, and losing money, for not showing up to concerts due to illness. His record label, Columbia, was impatient for his next album and worried that a lack of new material was causing his popularity to fade.
But Stone delivered and in November of ’71, There’s a Riot Goin On was released. The title was in response (an answer) to Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On?. The LP contained very personal and somber music, darker themes with social commentary, and a penetrating funk. It would go to #1.
“Family Affair’ was the lead single, released on Nov. 6 and debuting at #50. It hopped to #21 the following week, then to #8, and to #5 before reaching #1. Oddly enough, the Family Stone did not back Sly on this recording. Sister Rose sang on the track, but it was Billy Preston playing the piano, along with Bobby Womack on guitars. Stone programmed the drum track (an innovation at the time) and played bass.
“Runnin’ Away” (a personal favorite) and “(You Caught Me) Smilin'” were also released as singles, but they couldn’t crack the Top 20.