They've taken us higher, taught us to dance to the music, and were so funky that they could make up their own spelling ("Thank You [Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin]"). Sly and the Family Stone set the standard for a gritty soul sound with a thumping rhythm, and the then-unusual interracial band lineup broadened their appeal to previously segregated audiences. Their magnetic performance during Woodstock solidified their reputation as a seriously funky group spreading a 60s message of unity. Few songs exemplify Sly Stone's vision more than "Sing A Simple Song."
The "B" side to the number one 1969 single "Everyday People," "Sing A Simple Song" also appears on Sly and the Family Stone's seminal album Stand! Similar to such tracks as "I Want to Take You Higher" and "Everyday People," it addresses peace, humanity, and positivity. As the title suggests, the lyrics are simple, arguing that music can solve most problems. "You're in trouble when you find it's hard for you to smile/A simple song might make it better for a little while," they sing. To be sure, the group's joyful performance inspires joy in the listener. The often-sampled beat, laid down by Greg Errico, immediately grabs you by the collar and demands that you submit to the funk. Add to that Larry Graham Jr.'s incredible bass, so integral to many Stone songs, which throbs relentlessly.
Stone and other band members trade vocals, proclaiming that "Time is passin', I grow older, things are happening fast/All I have to hold onto is a simple song at last." Stone's message of harmony shines through, with one lyric clearly expressing his goal in music: "I'm livin' livin' livin' life with all its ups and downs/I'm givin' givin' givin' love and smilin' at the frowns." Trumpeter and vocalist Cynthia Robinson interrupts the proceedings by rapping, almost mocking the notion of a childlike "simple" song. "Try a little do rey me fah soh lah ti do!" she growls, sounding anything but demure. Fred Stewart's pounding guitar, played along with Graham's bass, rounds out the track, making "Sing A Simple Song" one of the funkiest tracks ever recorded.
While Sly and the Family Stone continued to release albums, including 1971's There's A Riot Goin' On, Stone's drug habit ultimately destroyed the group. That album also signaled Stone's shift from uplifting messages to a downbeat, world-wearied outlook. But "Sing A Simple Song" personifies the band's earlier 1960s ideal, and its powerful beat and bass remain astounding 42 years later.