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Music / There's a Riot Goin' On

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Do what you wanna do or keep on wishin'
Running away to get away
Ha-ha, ha-ha
You're wearing out your shoes
Look at you fooling you
- "Runnin' Away"
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There's a Riot Goin' On is the fifth studio album by soul and funk music group, Sly and the Family Stone released in 1971.

Having just come off the success of their previous record, Stand!, the band (Sly Stone, in particular) had become erratic, having formed drug addictions to cocaine and PCP and missing multiple concert and session dates. They would be pressured by their record label to release a follow-up to Stand!, to which they responded by recording "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" and "Everybody is a Star" for a Greatest Hits record to which the label had released due to their inactivity. Sly Stone would also be pressured by the Black Panther party (of which he had become associated) to remove the white members of the band and record more militant music reflective of the black power movement.

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All of this would heavily contribute to the recording process and sound of the record, with it having a murky take on the funk and psychedelia they became known for. It would show a marked change in the band's recording process, as in contrast to their previous records, the band never played in studio together. With Sly opting to record alone in his home studio or at a studio that he had built in The Plant Studios, also known as The Record Plant.

Other musicians were also enlisted in place of Family Stone members at different points with musicians such as Bobby Womack and Billy Preston filling in instrumental parts, whereas though the band's parts were either overdubbed or mixed out contributing it's turbid, grubby sound. It would also find Sly experimenting with newer technology such as drum machines, laying beats down then overdubbing them adding to the record's gritty sound. Lyrically, the record was pessimistic and trepid. With songs depicting everything from internal strife within the band and in the industry ("Family Affair", "Africa Talks to You") and drug intoxication ("Luv N' Haight", "(You Caught Me) Smilin'", "Just Like a Baby").

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The record would receive moderate success mostly off the back of the single "Family Affair", but would receive a mixed reception, the record having divided both critics and their fanbase. However, as time passed, retrospective reviews would be much more positive. With critics and historians considering it a landmark release in the funk genre and black music in general. With Rolling Stone even including it on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, with it being rated at number 99 on its 2003 and 2012 list. It would later be raised to number 82 on the 2020 list.

Tracklist

Side One
  1. "Luv N' Haight" (4:01)
  2. "Just Like A Baby" (5:12)
  3. "Poet" (3:01)
  4. "Family Affair" (3:06)
  5. "Africa Talks to You "The Asphalt Jungle"" (8:45)
  6. "There's a Riot Goin' On" (0:00)note 

Side Two

  1. "Brave & Strong" (3:28)
  2. "(You Caught Me) Smilin'" (2:53)
  3. "Time" (3:03)
  4. "Spaced Cowboy" (3:57)
  5. "Runnin' Away" (2:51)
  6. "Thank You for Talkin' to Me, Africa" (7:14)

Thank You for Tropin' with Me, Africa

  • Addiction Song: Quite a few, most notably "Luv N' Haight", "(You Caught Me) Smilin'" and "Spaced Cowboy".
  • Album Single: "Family Affair", "(You Caught Me) Smilin'" and "Runnin' Away".
  • Concept Album: The album has heavy themes of social unrest and drug addiction, with the title itself being a response to another seminal political soul work released in the same year.
  • Darker and Edgier: This record would be this to Stand!. What with it's grimy production and instrumental style and its dismal lyrics about drug addiction.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The original album cover is of an elaborately redesigned American flag, with a large amount of thought put into every element of it to tie into Sly's wish for racial unity and social progress:
    Sly: "I wanted the flag to truly represent people of all colors. I wanted the color black because it is the absence of color. I wanted the color white because it is the combination of all colors. And I wanted the color red because it represents the one thing that all people have in common: blood. I wanted suns instead of stars because stars to me imply searching, like you search for your star. And there are already too many stars in this world. But the sun, that's something that is always there, looking right at you. Betsy Ross did the best she could with what she had. I thought I could do better."
  • Epic Rocking: "Africa Talks to You "The Asphalt Jungle"" and "Thank You for Talkin' to Me, Africa" are this with the former being nearly nine minutes and the latter being seven minutes.
  • Funk: The album is considered both an experimental and an seminal record in the genre. Incorporating newer technology and production methods, as well as darker subject matter.
  • Limited Lyrics Song: Most of the record is like this given the fact that a lot of vocals were mixed out.
  • Longest Song Goes Last: "Thank You for Talkin' to Me, Africa" is this for the second side (however, of course, not the longest track overall).
  • Meaningful Name: The album was initially supposed to be titled Africa Talks to You after its track of the same name. However, Sly would retitle it as an answer to Marvin Gaye's seminal soul record What's Going On.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: The cover art most associated with the record is simply an American flag with the stars replaced with suns and black in place of the blue.
  • Miniscule Rocking: The title track which is listed on the record at literally zero seconds (however, it would be listed as four seconds on the CD release). According to Sly himself, the lack of runtime is representative of his wish for a world without riots.
  • New Sound Album: So much so that the record is generally perceived as a bridge between early and late Family Stone albums, with this record still being considered unique among them.
  • Rearrange the Song: "Thank You for Talkin' to Me, Africa" is a decelerated, blues-inspired, deep funk version of "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)".
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: "Runnin' Away":
    The deeper in debt, the harder you bet
    Hee-hee, hee-hee
    You need more room to play
    Look at you fooling you
    • "Africa Talks to You "The Asphalt Jungle" is generally interpreted to be one for Sly himself. It commenting on his own commercial fall from grace.
  • Protest Song: Whereas though "Brave & Strong" is a relatively forthright example. The title track is literally a moment of silence as Sly himself had said "I felt there should be no riots."
    • The album in general is something of a protest record, given its dark cynical atmosphere and its foreboding title.
  • Pun-Based Title: "Luv N' Haight"
  • Psychedelic Rock: Although the band had incorporated it in their sound prior to this record. This album would also experiment further with this with its slowed and layered instrumental style. With a lot of tracks almost imitating a drug high.
  • Single Stanza Song: Although most of the record is generally lacking in lyrics, songs like "Just Like a Baby" and "Poet" are literally a single verse repeated.
  • Textless Album Cover: Although in some cases, the flag is overlaid with a newspaper with the album's title and tracklisting.
    • The reissue cover features a photograph of the band performing for its album cover.
  • Title Track: "There's a Riot Goin' On", for a given definition of a track given its zero-second runtime.

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