Suzanne Moore on Fresh by Sly and the Family Stone: “His growl is pure libido”

From the Long Players series: writers on their most cherished albums.

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I love Fresh. I love it for its cover: Sly Stone in the air, flying like a leather sex insect; black against white. The image, by Richard Avedon, is supernatural to me. This, and Lou Reed’s Transformer, make me tingle still. I had a boyfriend who painted them for me, which was the best art I had ever seen. Sort of. This was the olden days and we had to make our own entertainment. The boyfriend was an attempt at that. I was 15 and making the most crucial decisions of my life. What music to play. I liked some hippyish music – but then I heard the siren call. It was Sly Stone’s voice. And I was gone. I played “In Time”, the first track, over and over again. It mesmerised me. The bassiness of it, the way it comes in and out. All present tense. Apparently Miles Davis did the same thing: he played it on repeat to his band for 30 minutes. So there is something a girl in Ipswich and Miles Davis had in common.

Miles, twice Sly’s age, recognised him as a peer. I love that. Miles being outfoxed by Sly. Who isn’t? The thing here is that it’s all drum and bass, stripped down but lifted high into the mix. It’s a revolution. “If You Want Me to Stay” is one of my all-time favourite tracks. Nile Rodgers once told me this was a coded message from Sly to his record company. There were difficulties, shall we say. I don’t know, as I just hear a song about leaving, and I love songs about leaving as they make me feel powerful.

Who knows exactly what Sly is singing about half the time? Coke. Pep. Getting Down. Que Sera, Sera. It’s slightly out of it, but totally on it. Falling apart and then coming absolutely together. Something to do with rhythm itself. It’s stupid to say I love funk as that’s like saying I love breathing but what I really like is this dark, intoxicated, yearning funk. It’s all there in his growl of slink and joy, which is pure libido. You see it on the cover, you hear it on the record .The skin he is in.

Without Sly there would be no Prince, no Outkast, no Frank Ocean. He still looks and sounds to me like something future not past. But it’s his voice. There is just nothing better in this world than Sly Stone’s purr. If he doesn’t make you feel real you must be already dead. That voice. Everythang is everythang.

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Suzanne Moore is a writer and columnist. In 2019 she was joint winner of the Orwell Prize for journalism.

This article appears in the 07 December 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special

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