Family Affair - Sly and The Family Stone

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"Family Affair" - Sly and The Family Stone (1971)

"Family Affair" was very different than other number one hits by Sly and The Family Stone.

It was a somber, Hohner Pianet electric piano based record with a rhythm box (or drum machine) providing the rhythm. It was the first number-one hit in popular music to feature a programmed rhythm track.

Sly Stone and his sister Rose sing lead on the song. The lyrics reflect the good and bad aspects of being family, with Sly delivering his part in a low funk-styled tone instead of his earlier gospel-based shout, sounding off rhythm and off key. Sly's screams are a variation of a child crying.

Partially recorded in a Winnebago trailer in 1971, Sly Stone did not utilize the Family Stone for this recording, with the exception of his sister Rose. His close friends Billy Preston and soul music legend Bobby Womack played the keyboard and guitar lines, respectively, for the song, with Sly playing the bass and programming the rhythm box.

Sly said "Family Affair" was his emotional explanation about the events that surrounded him in his world as they related to his family. He, his brother Freddie and their sister Rose were all members of the group. At the time he wrote this song he was being chopped into pieces by several factions, including his family.

He remembers:

"They may be trying to tear me apart, but I don't feel it. Song's not about that. Song's about a family affair, whether it's a result of genetic processes or a situation in the environment."

An alternative view is that he had written it in response to demands made on him by black nationalist groups, who didn't approve of his integrationist beliefs such as having white musicians in his band.

The composition speaks loudly and true to form about what goes on within every family. No one can't say that there isn't a child who 'loves to learn' and also a child you'd  'love to burn'in your family.

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