Sly and the Family Stone: 20 Essential Songs

The best from the generation-defining funk-soul-rock legends

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"Dynamite" (1968)

Life was a middle child album, shortchanged between the breakout success of "Dance to the Music" and the transcendent accomplishment of Stand! Yet, for all its commercial shortcomings, the album made an impact with critics, especially Rolling Stone's Barret Hansen (a.k.a. the future Dr. Demento) who declared it "the most radical soul album ever issued." Hansen was particularly taken by the group's "element of surprise": Songs like the psych-fringed "Dynamite" or the carnival-esque title track make quixotic shifts in arrangement, with sudden sonic pockets opening up and closing while the Family's singers play tag on lead vocals. As trumpeter Cynthia Robinson told Ebony last summer (before she passed in November), "We were free to adlib things. Sly would cut things off in a different way than the real recordings; he'd just stop it and go into something else."

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