There's no doubt about it- Sly & the Family Stone is one of the greatest R&B/soul groups in history. After an extremely successful run of pioneering soul music in the 1960's, Sly fell to the pressures of fame and became an addict, which contributes to the fact that their catalog is relatively brief. The album this was pulled from- There's a Riot Goin' On- captures Sly's slow descent into drug addiction and hallucination. It's also by far their most criticially acclaimed album- a perfect balance of genius and, unfortunately, the effects of hard drugs on creativity. The song was a huge hit- #1 on the pop charts, which is strange because of all my years listening to classic radio, the song tends to be overlooked compared to say, his other #1 hit, Everyday People.
THE SONG ITSELF:
The song is notable for being the first #1 single in history to use a looped drum machine, so technically it could be considered the first electronic #1 song ever. The most interesting thing about the song "A Family Affair" is Sly's vocal delivery. He simply seems out of it, slurring words and appearing slightly off beat, which would prove influential. The strange vocal delivery is especially puzzling to me given the context of the early 70's, especially given it was a #1 hit. At the time, Sly was so hot that he probably could have turned anything into a major hit. This song would come to be Sly's last huge song. After this, he continued his downward spiral and stayed out of the public spotlight.
The song has been countlessly sampled by R&B and hip-hop artists over the years, most notably by the Black Eyed Peas on the song Weekends. (this is pre-Fergie and before they lost their credibility) And I'm sure Mary J Blige's monster hit of the same name (the song never says "Family Affair"- why not "Hateration" or "Dancery"?) wasn't named out of the blue.