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Sunday, February 16, 2014

I Am Everyday People

As someone who has always appreciated a great song, I always feel great delight in doing a Sunday Jukebox entry.  And, I am hoping that today's song selection will be a good one.  It is a song that promotes diversity, belonging, and acceptance - all qualities that could best describe the spirit of "BLACK HISTORY MONTH", in which a lot of entries this February will feature.

And, as I explained earlier, this year I'm going to be doing something a little bit different.  Every song that will be featured in this Sunday Jukebox special will be a #1 hit of some sort.  I haven't figured out how I plan on making this happen during October's Scare-fest or December's Advent Calendar yet, but I have got months to plan something for those two months.

But why look ahead to the future now?  It's February, so let's focus on the here and talking about a song that hit the top of the charts 45 years ago this week.

Yeah, somewhere in my brain, that made sense.

Yeah, today's song hit the top of the Billboard Charts on February 15, 1969 and it stayed there for a whole month, being unseated by Tommy Roe's "Dizzy" in March 1969.  The song is considered to be a perfect anthem for racial harmony, and as far as the artists who made this song popular go...well, let's just say that they practice what they preach!

Okay, enough blabbering on.  Let's just go ahead with today's song spotlight!

ARTIST:  Sly & The Family Stone
SONG:  Everyday People
ALBUM:  Stand!
DATE RELEASED:  November 1968

So, who exactly are Sly & The Family Stone?  Allow me to tell you.

They were a band that originated in the San Francisco area in the year 1967 - a year of great social unrest and activism.  Headed by singer/songwriter/record producer Sly Stone (born Sylvester Stewart), the band was the very first band in the rock world to have a line-up that was fully integrated and contained members of both genders.

Now, this might not seem like such a big deal nowadays, but in 1967 it was extremely noteworthy.  This was during a time in which segregation was slowly becoming a thing of the past in some states.  A time in which women were beginning to have more of a voice in the world.  A time in which people protested America's involvement in the Vietnam War.  And, Sly & The Family Stone certainly were the perfect poster children for those turbulent, yet groundbreaking times.

The band Sly & The Family Stone was actually a merger between two different bands.  Prior to forming that band, Sly Stone was the frontman of "Sly & The Stoners".  His younger brother Freddie was the lead singer of another band, "Freddie & The Stone Souls".

The two brothers decided that separate, they weren't going anywhere.  Together, they could really make their music even more beautiful and powerful. 

Hence the name "Sly & The Family Stone".

(Well, that, plus the fact that three-sevenths of the band's most recognized line-up were all from the same family.)

When Sly & The Family Stone first started up in 1967, the line-up was comprised of the Stone brothers, bassist Larry Graham, trumpet player Cynthia Robinson, drummer Gregg Errico, and saxophonist Jerry Martini.  Approximately one year later, Sly and Freddie's sister Rose joined the group as a singer/keyboardist.

And, at the tail end of 1968, Sly & The Family Stone would record the single that would become one of their signature hits.

Now, as I was saying before, the late 1960s were a time of great confusion and activism.  Five years prior to this song being made, Martin Luther King Jr. issued his "I Have A Dream" speech.  Earlier in 1968, King was assassinated on April 4, and his death lead to major riots in several cities across the United States, and sparked many protests for racial equality all over the world. 

In short, "Everyday People" could not have come at a better time.

The idea behind the recording of this song was all about Sly Stone's desire to see peace enacted all over the world.  He wanted to live in a world in which people weren't judged by the colour of their skin, the place where they were born, the people whom they loved, or the religion in which they believed in.  The theme of equality and respect for all certainly symbolized what the band was all about.  After all, the inclusion of Caucasian members Gregg Errico and Jerry Martini was proof positive that colour lines didn't exist in the world of Sly & The Family Stone.

The song also marked a departure of sorts for the band as well.  Known for their funk and psychadelic flavour that they infused into their earlier singles, "Everyday People" was more mid-tempo, and a much better fit for the Top 40 music scene and Billboard Charts. 

The song was notable for having nearly every single member of the band contributing vocals to the song.  Of course, Sly Stone was the lead vocalist, singing most of the words in the song, but once the chorus began, Sly, Freddie, Rosie, and Larry Graham would belt out the words "I am everyday people".

And, according to Sly Stone, the phrase "everyday people" was used as a way to tell the listener of the song that they did not consider themselves a part of a smaller, segregated group of people.  Rather, they wanted everyone to see them as parts of a bigger picture.  A bigger, more diverse picture in which everybody played a positive role.

Sly & The Family Stone certainly hoped that the message would permeate through their fan base as well, as it was one that they truly believed in.

I suppose that in some manner of speaking, "Everyday People" could be considered one of the first anti-bullying anthems to be recorded.  Not only did the song proclaim that racism was bad, but it also illustrated a powerful message that hate of all kinds was an exercise in futility.  I mean, in the grand scheme of things, should we exclude someone from a party because they happen to be a few pounds overweight?  Absolutely not.  Should we deny someone the right to get married because they happen to be in love with someone of the same sex or opposite race?  Absolutely not.  Should we deny somebody a job opportunity because they happened to be born a different sex or practice a different religion from everyone else?  I don't believe we should.  So, why would we waste the precious time that we do have on this Earth letting hatred and discrimination poison us from the inside out?  It doesn't seem like it would be a very fun way to live life, does it?

TRIVIA:  There's a line in the song that says 'different strokes for different folks'.  Not only did that become a bit of a catchphrase for the late 1960s and early 1970s, but that line was the inspiration for the title of the show that would come to be known as "Diff'rent Strokes".

At any rate, the song spent a month on the top of the charts, sold three million copies, and became an anthem for the civil rights movement as well as the signature song for the group.

Unfortunately, shortly after this single was released, problems began to arise for the band...and these problems would permanently destroy the unity and harmony within the band - ironically while they were promoting peace and harmony all over the world.

You see, the 1960s were a time of great social upheaval and many people chose to cope with it in a bunch of different ways.  Some chose to express themselves with music - which many did during Woodstock in 1969.  Some chose to express themselves with protests and sit-ins at major university campuses.

And, some chose to use drugs and narcotics to get through the days.

Sly Stone was one of those who fell into a life of heavy drug use.  By the time the 1970s arrived, he was a functioning drug user - he spent every waking hour high on drugs.  In fact, there were reports that Sly Stone would have guitar cases filled with cocaine for his own personal use.  Because of Sly's increasing addiction to cocaine, it caused him to miss quite a few shows that Sly & The Family Stone were scheduled to play.  These missed shows caused people to stop attending their concerts.  By the mid-1970s, their concerts - which used to sell out five years earlier - only managed to sell one-eighth of what the concert venues could hold.  Stone's repeated drug use also caused tension within the band.  Gregg Errico would be the first to leave the group, and the others soon followed.  By 1975, Sly Stone was essentially a solo artist keeping the Sly & The Family Stone name going, but due to poor sales of his future albums and his dependence on drugs, Sly Stone checked into rehab in 1984.  He did attempt a comeback of sorts in the mid-1980s, releasing a few singles here and there, but after getting arrested in 1987 for possession of cocaine, he disappeared from the music spotlight for almost twenty years.

His last public appearance in the music scene took place in 2006 - thirteen years after the band's 1993 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Sly & The Family Stone were supposed to play a special reunion performance at the end of the Grammy Awards, and organizers were worried that he would be a no show, as he missed many of the rehearsals.

He did end up making that performance...but he left after only three minutes on stage, making it one of the weirdest live performances ever shown at a Grammy Awards ceremony. 

Not much is known about what Stone is doing these days, but it was reported that in September 2011, Stone was reportedly homeless and living in a van near Los Angeles, California.  It's been two and a half years since then, and I have to wonder what is going on with him now.

Still...regardless of Sly Stone's personal problems, 45 years ago, he was a leading figure in making sure that all people were treated with dignity and respect...and that everybody had the power to become everyday people.

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