Editor’s Note: Sly and the Family Stone released their fifth studio album on this day 50 years ago. Read Okla Jones’ retrospective essay below, and take a deeper dive into the album with our podcast The Opus: There’s a Riot Goin’ On.
When There’s a Riot Goin’ On was released in 1971 — exactly 50 years ago today, November 1st — America was a nation in transition, feeling the effects of the previous decade. The shadow of Dr. King’s assassination loomed over the black community; and the Vietnam War divided an entire country. What Sly and the Family Stone’s fifth album did was give a voice to a new generation yearning to be heard.
The revolution, as it was referred to by some, was when the hip, twenty-somethings of the world experienced an awakening, so to speak, and pushed the limits of sex, drugs, and entertainment. Sly Stone, who was then still a young adult, was the perfect embodiment of this era. During the infancy stages of There’s a Riot Goin’ On, Sly recorded most of the album alone, heavily under the influence of narcotics.
After Sly and the Family Stone’s legendary Woodstock performance in 1969, there was a change within the group. Differences between Sly and other members — especially Larry Graham — created a rift in the group, but it also laid the foundation for their most important body of work. Sly’s everyday life may have been clouded by drug use, but the Black Panther movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s gave him a new awareness of the social climate that existed.