Sly & The Family Stone’s “Family Affair” has to be one of the weirdest number one singles ever. First off, it marked an early experiment with the Rhythm King drum machine, a device that produced an incredibly unique sound. I’m sure it sounded futuristic in 1971. It sounds delightfully primitive (in an endearing way) these days.
“Family Affair” is also decidedly lo-fi; even Rose Stone’s spirited rendition of the title line feels like it’s been beamed in from far away. The formerly ebullient Sly sounds barely dialed in-delivering his vocals in a grunt pitched so low that for years I thought bassist (and later, deep-voiced balladeer) Larry Graham sang lead on this song.
It’s definitely not “Everybody Is A Star” or “Stand!” or even “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”. It’s also not The Family Stone playing on the record. Sly handles most of “Family Affair” solo, with contributions from his aforementioned sister as well as special guest stars Bobby Womack (on guitar) and Billy Preston (keyboards).
“Family Affair”’s parent album, There’s A Riot Goin’ On, was legendarily fraught with tension. Two and a half years elapsed between Riot’s release and that of its predecessor, Stand! In those two and a half years, strangely, Sly & The Family Stone’s legend grew even greater thanks to a couple of timely hit singles and groundbreaking live performances. These days, we’ve been trained to almost expect a letdown when we’ve been made to wait a long time between transmissions from an entertainer we love. “Family Affair” may have been different, but it most assuredly is not a letdown.