This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #452: Everyday People by Sly and The Family Stone.
I have written this post several times now. Each time I begin, I find myself veering off on a rant about the endlessness of the suffering caused by racial and social injustice that exists throughout all manner of our society. Today’s song is the spark that has ignited my emotions today. The reason for that is because of the nature of the group doing the singing and the subject matter of the song being sung.
“Everyday People” by Sly and The Family Stone was released in the 1960s…..almost sixty years ago! The song was written about racial harmony. It talks about the many similarities that exist within each of us, underneath our skin. It cautions us against letting our superficial differences blind us to the beauty that exists within us all. It is a song that is built upon a foundation of optimism and hope. But, what makes “Everyday People” stand out from among the dozens of other songs about empathy and friendship and respect among races is more than just the lyrics of the song. Sly and The Family Stone didn’t just want to sing words and hope that their message would be received. In addition to their message, they wanted it delivered in a manner that had meaning. The band, itself, was a collective of men and women; each of whom played important roles in the band. The band was, also, comprised of black musicians and white musicians. The idea behind the group was to show the world that different races and different genders could co-exist in harmony. The band was using itself as the example that they were singing about. They didn’t just exhort others to get along, they lived that existence, day-in and day-out and invited the world to watch it all unfold. A final layer of genius that helped, “Everyday People” stand the test of time is in how the song is sung. Many members of the band participate in the singing of this song; black males have lines, white singers have lines, females have lines but, when it comes to the chorus, “I am everyday people”, all band mates sing together as one. It is function and form uniting as one. Which is, after all, the message the band wanted to convey.
“Everyday People” was a #1 hit for Sly and The Family Stone. They had several others such as “Dance To The Music” and “Thank You (for helping me be myself)”. The group is credited with helping solidify Funk as a musical genre. In fact, it was Sly and The Family Stone who made common the guitar technique known as “Bass slapping”. It is a technique whereby the bassist makes a slapping, thumping motion when they hit their strings. A modern example of this would be the music used in “Seinfeld” as they transitioned from scene to scene. “Everyday People”, also, helped introduce two phrases into our cultural lexicon that hadn’t existed before….the phrase, “different strokes for different folks”, as well as, the nonsense line that ended up saying, “Scooby Doo”. The “different strokes” line was the inspiration for the TV Show, “Different Strokes” which, if you remember, was about the races learning to live together in harmony as a family. The phrase “scooby doo” was uttered well before there ever was a cartoon character of the same name.
What makes me sad about this song is that it is sixty years old. Sixty years ago, this band created a blueprint toward achieving racial harmony and then, went one step further, and created a song structure and a band structure that showed how racial harmony looked in action. And yet, here we are, sixty years later, still marginalizing those who look different than us. If you think that still isn’t a problem, ask yourself why Buckingham Palace was supposedly, so worried about the thought of a black baby being brought into the midst of the Royal Family. What a sad moment. What a missed opportunity. There remains as much work today, when it comes to racial justice, as there ever was back in the 1960s, when “Everyday People” was released. But, at least we have this song to guide us during those moments when people throw their hands up in despair and cry, “What can I do?!”, “How can we move forward?” Well, the answer is as simple as the lyrics of this song. We are all just “Everyday People”. All of us. And I am ok with that. Are you?
The link to the music video for Everyday People by Sly and the Family Stone can be found here.
Sly and the Family Stone have a wonderful website that can be accessed by clicking on the link here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP for inspiring me to create this post. A link to their website can be found here.