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"Family Affair"
Sly and The Family Stone
Epic 10805
Dec. 1971
Billboard: #1    MIDI Icon Lyrics Icon Videos Icon

Sly Stoneawsuits, fines for being late at concerts (or not showing up at all), illness, management battles and lack of new material were slowly chipping away at the popularity of Sly and the Family Stone. In 1970, 26 of his 80 scheduled appearances were cancelled; in 1971 the figures were 12 out of 40. To add to Sly's woes, Columbia Records, frustrated at the length of time it was taking him to complete a new studio album, suspended his contract.

Sly and the Family Stone - There's a Riot Goin' On
"Family Affair" was a key track on Sly and the Family Stone's chart-topping 1971 album There's a Riot Goin' On, a critical and commercial success which also featured the hit "(You Caught Me) Smilin'." The album entered the Billboard Hot 200 album chart on Nov. 13, 1971, charting for 31 weeks and eventually claiming the top spot for two weeks.
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"He was so far behind schedule that I was getting worried that his contract would expire and he'd sign with someone else for the large advance he was seeking," explained Clive Davis, former president of the label, in his biography Clive: Inside the Record Business. The financially strapped artist asked for a quarter-of-a-million dollar mortgage payment on his sumptuous Los Angeles home (formerly owned by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas), but was evicted when the money didn't come through.

One of the places where Stone channeled his frustration was his music. For two years he experimented, parking a camper outside the studio and recording at whim. He stood up engineers or picked at the guitar to the tune of $140 for each hour of studio time. David Kapralik, then his manager, defended Sly in Rolling Stone, instructing, "Sylvester Stewart does not create 'product.' Sylvester Stewart is an innovator, a source of new fusions, new concepts. Ya don't turn them out like you turn out pizzas. They're life statements."

Finally, Sly emerged with an album Kapralik defined as "ripping into his soul," There's a Riot Goin' On. Its centerpiece was the single "Family Affair," the musician's own emotional explanation of the strife swirling around him. His manager claimed he was being chopped into pieces by several factions, including his family. Sly obliquely countered in Rolling Stone, "They may be trying to tear me apart, but I don't feel it. Song's not about that. Song's about a family affair, whether it's a result of genetic processes or a situation in the environment."

"Family Affair" was the highest new entry on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending November 6, 1971. The first new Sly and the Family Stone single in 18 months, it debuted at 50 and made a swift ascension, moving 50-21-8-5 to number one. It was the last single from the group to chart in the top 10. "Runnin' Away," the follow-up, reached number 23. "If You Want Me To Stay," released in the summer of 1973, was Sly's last hit, peaking at 12.

Though he periodically improved his concert appearance record, Sly's career never returned to the heights it had achieved in the late '60s.

Compatriot Bobby Womack ("Lookin' for a Love") talked Stone into seeking treatment for his drug problem in 1984, then asked him to perform on a two-month tour. Womack, who recorded with his brothers the Valentinos ("It's All Over Now") before a solo career with Minit Records, gives Sly credit for giving him an education in production during There's a Riot Goin' On, to which Womack contributed a couple of guitar tracks while absorbing engineering techniques. "He went a lot further into his career than I have, than I have ever to reach," Womack told Lee Heldebrand in Pulse! "He fell a lot lower but it's just because he became overtaken by drugs and the pressure."

- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.

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