David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 133: Sly And The Family Stone (Everyday People)

September 6, 2020

As I keep thinking about songs that somehow penetrated my consciousness in the 1960's, at a time when I was barely school age (I turned 8 in 1970), I notice that the cartoon band (as mentioned last week with The Archies) wasn't the only technique used to catch the attention of some 6- or 7-year old urchin. Even though I don't remember anyone I know owning any Sly And The Family Stone at the time, several of their late 1960's songs remained rooted in time in my memory: "Dance To The Music," "Hot Fun In The Summertime," and "Everyday People," especially.

Since "family" groups were so big in the late 1960's and early 1970's -- The Beach Boys, The Jackson 5, The Carpenters, The Osmonds, The Cowsills -- Sly And The Family Stone seemed to slide in nicely into my image that pop music was a family affair. And all those other bands were so squeaky clean, delivering songs, to my ears, as saccharine-like as The Archies "Sugar Sugar." Again, I assumed, not having a whole lot of opportunity to learn otherwise in Morgantown, West Virginia, that Sly And The Family Stone fit right in with that image.

They almost did, with the hugely notable exception, of course, that they were an integrated band, and that non-Stones, whites, had been incorporated seamlessly. Even by the early 1970's, when my interest in the bands became as important as my interest in the songs, to see a band make-up of whites and blacks, women and men, was rare.

Needless to say, "Everyday People" appears to be a needed message almost every day since its 1969 release, perhaps no more today. When Arrested Development sampled it as part of "People Everyday" in the 1990's, the message was clear: to a lot of us we are NOT everyday people.  Another 28 years later, as riots break out across the country, it is obvious that "there is a yellow one that won't accept the black one/that won't accept the red one that won't accept the white one."

I am not sure a Sly Stone out there could even write "Everyday People" right now. The sense of idealism, of subtle messaging, of "Everyday People" can't be pulled off.  I suppose that is understandable if 50 years of posturing has not changed the way people can't get along. Musically, it is fairly straightforward, going full-in for hooks that sound like the music of a schoolyard. Will our kids even be in schoolyards this year?

The song casts the drama of the adult world into a parlance kids can understand. The opening verse puts the world in a singular tub, straight from a nursery rhyme: "the butcher, the banker, the drummer and then/makes no difference what group I'm in."

The bridge is basically childhood taunt (na na na na): "there is a blue one/who can't accept the green one/for living with a fat one/trying to be a skinny one." (Did The Teletubbies ever do a show encapsulating this great idea? It would fit my theme here. However, I can't confirm. I just don't want a Teletubby search on my computer.)

The chorus is basically the impassioned group yell, as if all the kids on the schoolyard raise their voices at the same time: "IIIIII am everyday people." It's a collective that should scare the hell out of every capitalist everywhere.

Finally, there are the cultural references that will carry on through my childhood: "and different strokes for different folks/and so on and so on and scooby doo doo." Scooby Doo, Where Are You would premiere within a year of "Everyday People," while Different Strokes, with its very conscious presentation of an integrated family, would come almost two decades later, our first indication that our children were not growing up to see each other as "everyday people."

Much like I noted with "Papa Was A Rolling Stone," the brilliance of "Everyday People" is the taking advantage of multiple singers to provide different textures to the song, thus reinforcing how each band member in essence has added to the collective.

My favorite picture of Sly And The Family Stone is this one. The group looks so happy, so idealistic, so full of the promise that the freaking 60's had (and the fashion is to die, or if in color, perhaps to dye, for). Maybe it is my cynicism of being a child more of the 70's, but in some ways Sly And The Family Stone here look as cartoonish as The Partridge Family or The Archies.  And it's really too bad if some of their legacy is lost because of that idealism. My favorite Sly And The Family Stone song, in some ways, is not even a song:
"There's A Riot Goin' On," timed at 4 seconds of silence as the title track to There's A Riot Goin' On. Sly said it had no actual running time because "there should be no riots."

Or if there are riots, there is no music.

I pray Portland, Oregon, finds its lost chord.

"Everyday People." Sly And The Family Stone. Stand! Epic. 1969. Link here.

Day 132: Fatboy Slim. "Praise You."

Day 134: The Waterboys "She Tried To Hold Me."->

See complete list here.