When I think of funk music, I think of Sly & The Family Stone. The band, which formed in 1967, revolutionized funk, soul, R&B, however you want to categorize them. But really, they revolutionized music in general.
Now, that phrase is thrown around a lot. That band “revolutionized music.” However, in the case of Sly & The Family Stone, it’s true. What’s more, their influence is tangible, we can actually hear a difference in music pre-Sly & The Family Stone versus post-Sly & The Family Stone, and it’s pretty cool to hear.
Brian Eno sums it up nicely:
[i]f you listen to records from the ’50s, you’ll find that all the melodic information is mixed very loud. … and the rhythmic information is mixed rather quietly. … from the time of Sly and the Family Stone’s Fresh album (1973), there’s a flip over, where the rhythm instruments, particularly the bass drum and bass, suddenly become the important instruments.
Before Sly & The Family Stone, the mix was focused on the melody and all of its ornaments. You can hear this in a song like The Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie.”
In the mix, Don and Phil’s vocals and guitar are the main highlights, while the only drum we really hear is the higher pitched snare. This was the sound of the time. When Sly & The Family Stone hit the scene in the late 60s, music had already evolved from The Everly Brothers, but the evolution was about to speed up.
Eno cites Fresh as the album that brought about the shift to drum and bass, and I wouldn’t argue with him. I mean…he is Brian Eno. Still, Sly & The Family Stone’s focus on drum and bass can be heard as early as their first album A Whole New Thing (1967). For example, listen to “Bad Risk.”
Still, Fresh really does indicate a sea change in music. Suddenly, the bass players and drummers were the most important people on stage. To hear this change, check out “In Time.” Why this song as opposed to another track off of Fresh? Because apparently Miles Davis was so blown away by this song that he had his band sit and listen to it on repeat for 30 minutes straight. If it was that important to Miles, who are we to decide otherwise?