Happy 45th Anniversary to Sly & The Family Stone’s sixth studio album Fresh, originally released June 30, 1973.
Fresh is the Sly & The Family Stone album that followed Stand! (1969) and There's a Riot Goin' On (1971)—both of which are considered classics. In this way, there might’ve been a lot riding on on the band’s much-anticipated sixth studio album. One thing Fresh really helps you better understand about Sly Stone is that he's a slick producer, though not in the sense of over-producing.
But in 1972, Sly was presiding over what was at least partially a new Family Stone. Slap bass icon Larry Graham only appeared twice here, and uncredited. The new members were bassist Rusty Allen, saxophonist Pat Rizzo and drummer Andy Newmark. A great example of his slickness is how Sly takes the first song "In Time", with its gritty organ/guitar sound, and gets it all to sound smooth as melted caramel.
The best part about “In Time” is Newmark’s drumming. He helped give the stripped-down groove a percussive rhythm—almost like the sound of an early drum machine—without sounding cold and artificial. Grooves such as "Let Me Have It All,” "Skin I'm In” and "Keep On Dancin,’” (which is something of a reprise of "Dance To The Music" from six years earlier) all share the same style. They’re deep, brooding but funky. And never too slow a crawl as the music was on There’s a Riot Goin’ On. On the hit "If You Want Me To Stay" the absence of Larry Graham comes to the surface as newcomer Rusty Allen takes a more timid bassline, but the song itself showcases an important theme.
Fresh is an album about Sly letting go of the past and creating a new future. Sly tells us that if we "want to him stay," he'll be around but we should let him be himself in the meantime. The same theme extends into Sly's version of "Que Sera Sera,” one of the two tracks Larry Graham actually plays on here. This interpretation takes the frothy melancholy of the Doris Day original and infuses it with pure gospel/blues passion.
The "old" Sly & The Family Stone is best represented on "If It Were Left Up To Me" (the other song Graham played on), with that perky horn style of "Everyday People." Lyrically, it matches up very well with the mildly claustrophobic funk of "Babies Makin' Babies,” a flat-out terrific funk tune that seems to do the improbable. The song manages to be funky and cool at the same time—two things that don’t always go together.
Considering Fresh represents a new beginning for Sly & The Family Stone, it became hugely influential among other musicians. Miles Davis had his musicians listen to “In Time” on a half-hour loop. In his 5-star review published in August 1973, Rolling Stone critic Stephen Davis described Miles’ admiration for Sly Stone as being based on them both being musical leaders of “voodoo musical changes.” And that made all the difference for another practitioner of musical incantation of that time: George Clinton.
It was years of exposure to Fresh that inspired Clinton to convince the Red Hot Chili Peppers to cover “If You Want Me To Stay” on their Clinton produced second album Freaky Styley in 1985. Fresh was also cited by Brian Eno, in his 1983 essay The Studio As a Compositional Tool, as the moment when the bass drum and bass guitar became important instruments in the general musical mix.
So as an album, Fresh lives up to its title by being a refreshing musical experience which draws listeners deep into its grooves and melodies. Taken by fashion photographer Richard Avedon, the cover photo of Sly leaping triumphantly bares out Fresh’s general atmosphere in a visual sense. All this serves to make Fresh its own funky multimedia experience.