Monday, December 23, 2013

Song #454 of 9999 - Everyday People by Sly & the Family Stone

Song #454 of 9999

Title: Everyday People
Artist: Sly & the Family Stone
Year: 1969
Album: Stand!

Let's start 1969 with a positive message and an irresistible song. Too bad that Sly Stone's message of equality still resonates nearly 45 years after its initial release. That it appears on a record featuring the (now) shockingly entitled "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" may be a sign of some progress but it seems like the smallest of victories in a world still fraught with racial and economic disparity.

But back to the song. Sly needs just two minutes and one chord (well, technically two) to deliver the dogmatic message shared by so many who carried the banner of peace in the late 60s. He uses the harmonic stasis to his advantage, scattering descant horn and vocal lines wherever he pleases, as they all fit perfectly over Larry Graham's off-the-beat single-note bass track. For example, listen to the horn line that emerges during Rose Stone's first playground chant chorus—it's an exact repetition of Sly's verse melody. He can get away with this mixing and matching because the song is, with few exceptions, entirely pentatonic—use F# as your bass note and you'll never need the white keys! 

But I can't leave this post without mentioning my favorite moment of the song, when Sly sings "I-----am everyday people." I wondered what made that bit so special and I found upon closer examination that the long high note Sly sings is actually the 9th above the bass note. It's a soft dissonance that resolves even before the monosyllabic word is complete. Yet it's so effective—especially in combination with the vocal harmonies—in making that refrain as bold as the idea it espouses.

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