Sly & the Family Stone

My Own Beliefs: Video Anthology 1968-1986

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Although the image quality of this extraordinary two-DVD bootleg set is uneven, no serious fan of Sly & the Family Stone could fail to be impressed by it, offering as it does an astonishing four hours or so of vintage clips, mostly from television programs. The performances are almost all good-to-excellent and visually dynamic, featuring the band with colorful finery and clever dance moves/vocal trade-offs in an assortment of TV/concert/studio settings. Most of their hits are performed -- in fact, most of them are offered in multiple versions -- and all but a couple of the clips are from their 1968-1975 prime. The very earliest of these (listed as a "studio/promo" clip of "Dance to the Music") shows them wearing almost conventional clothes and hairstyles, but almost immediately they graduate to a presentation about as purposefully freaky as anyone's was in the psychedelic era. In addition to music performances, there are also a few expectedly enigmatic interview clips of Sly Stone on the talks shows of Dick Cavett, and a heated 1974 discussion of race and politics on Mike Douglas' talk show with Stone, Muhammad Ali, and (believe it or not) Congressman Wayne Hays, shortly before that powerful Democratic politician was disgraced by the revelation that a former secretary was on his payroll to be his mistress. A brief '80s TV interview shows Sly in better health than one would expect, but is utterly unrevealing as to why he virtually disappeared from the music business. There's even footage (albeit amateurish) of his 1974 wedding ceremony at Madison Square Garden.

While all this material is very entertaining, and historically valuable, be cautioned that the visual quality is usually not up to the standard of authorized releases, though the vast majority is okay-to-excellent. The fairly lengthy set from the 1969 Texas International Pop Festival, for instance, suffers from subpar audio, and some of the footage has a running time bar superimposed on the frame. The songs performed don't vary as much as you might want or expect, usually being oriented toward familiar hits, with seven versions of "Dance to the Music" (and nothing, unfortunately, from There's a Riot Goin' On). The band's taste for presenting their hits in medleys gets a little tiresome when you see it done several times over. While the early-'70s clips with expanded and different personnel are good, they're not quite up to the level of the ones featuring the original lineup (which comprise about half the material), who had a chemistry subsequent aggregations couldn't match. And for all its length, this doesn't gather all the footage of the group known to exist. Like many other such releases, this ends up emphasizing the need for someone to compile this or similar footage from the best possible sources and give it official release. As of the time this DVD had appeared, however, there was no word of such an official release, making this the best known place to see as much of the band as you can, despite the inevitable shortcomings inherent in not having access to the best source footage.