Family Affair

Album: There's A Riot Goin' On (1971)
Charted: 15 1

Songfacts®:

  • Sly & the Family Stone was indeed a family affair, with Sly Stone's younger siblings, brother Freddie and sister Rosie, all part of the band. The rest of the group, including bass player Larry Graham, were like family, at least in the '60s, when they rose to the top with the hits "Everyday People" and "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)."

    But in the '70s, the group came apart as Sly Stone battled drug addiction and became rather unreliable, causing the band to miss a number of shows. It also took a while for them to produce an album to follow up their 1969 release Stand! When they delivered There's A Riot Goin' On in 1971, it was a lot darker and angrier than their previous material. The first single, "Family Affair," wasn't a celebration of family but a look at how it can go wrong, with these memorable lines that check in on the nature vs. nurture debate:

    One child grows up to be
    Somebody that just loves to learn
    And another child grows up to be
    Somebody you'd just love to burn


    The song was a huge hit, their third #1 in America, but it signaled an end of an era. Graham and drummer Gregg Errico left soon after, and they never landed another big hit.
  • Sly Stone's manager told Rolling Stone that "Family Affair" was the story of Sly's own life, which was being cut up by the factions that surrounded him in his stardom. Chief among those factions, label executive David Kapralik hinted, was Sly's own family. Sly denied this. He told the magazine, "Song's not about that. Song's about a family affair, whether it's a result of genetic processes or a situation in the environment."

    There was a rumor at the time that Stone had written it in response to demands made on him by black nationalist groups that didn't approve of his integrationist sensibility.
  • It was rumored that Sly Stone played all the instruments on this track himself. Larry Graham confirmed that Sly played at least the bass part himself - you can tell because it's played with a pick (Stone's method) and not plucking and thumping like Graham.

    When asked what parts of the song he played, Stone answered, "I've forgotten, man. Whatever was left."
  • The song's rhythm was provided by a drum machine (a Maestro Rhythm King MRK–2), making it one of the earliest hit recordings and the first #1 single to use such a device.

Comments: 9

  • Faye from New YorkWasnt this song featured in a movie about a black man and a vietnamese woman? I was a kid but remember watching this movie and hearing this song performed.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn October 31st 1971, "Family Affair" by Sly and the Family Stone entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #50; and just four weeks later on November 28th, 1971 it peaked at #1 {for 3 weeks} and spent 14 weeks on the Top 100...
    And on the very same day it peaked at #1 on the Top 100 it also reached #1 {for 5 weeks} on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
    Between 1968 and 1975 the San Francisco-based sextet had seventeen Top 100 songs; five made the Top 10 with three reaching #1; their other two #1 records were "Everyday People" for four weeks in 1969 and "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)" for two weeks in 1970...
    They just missed having a fourth #1 record when "Hot Fun in the Summertime" peaked at #2 {for 2 weeks} in 1969; the two weeks it was at #2, the #1 record for both those weeks was "I Can't Get Next to You" by the Temptations.
  • Felix from New York, NyJust joined; Does anyone know what Sly's song "In Time" is about? The lyrics are smooth but fragmented. Greatness!
  • Kirsten from New York, NyDoes anyone have the lyrics? I love this song but I have trouble making out some of them. For example I wanted to make sure he was singing, "What of it?" in the line, "It's a family affair - what of it?"
  • John from Nashville, TnSly Stone was one of the first artists to use a drum machine in his recordings. A song he produced for Little Sister (1970's "Somebody's Watching You"), became the first top-40 hit to feature a drum machine.
  • Jeff from Chicago, Ga"nobody wants to blow" i've always thought that meant leave. "blow" is a sometime slang for leave as in "we're gonna blow this joint" I assume Sly means that newlyweds and nobody wants to leave the other.. but they aren't sure
  • Scott from Palm Desert, CaIt is a shame drugs destroyed his life because he was one of the most talented muscians.
  • Kevin from Brooklyn, NdTo me this song is the greatest song ever written.It speaks loudly and true to form about what goes on within every family.No one can't say that there isn't a child who 'loves to learn'and also a child you'd 'love to burn'in your family.This man knew how to write songs as every song he wrote we found ourselves shaking our heads in agreement with the things his lyrics stated.The man wrote'killer' hooks and in my opinion he is one of the greatest singer/songwriters of all time.


    he said in his songs.
  • Guy from Woodinville, Wa"Newly wed a year ago, just still checkin' each other out, hey. Nobody wants to blow. Nobody wants to be left out." Gee. I wonder what that's about!
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Have Mercy! It's Wolfman Jack

Have Mercy! It's Wolfman JackSong Writing

The story of the legendary lupine DJ through the songs he inspired.

Danny Clinch: The Art of Rock Photography

Danny Clinch: The Art of Rock PhotographySong Writing

One of rock's top photographers talks about artistry in photography, raising funds for a documentary, and enjoying a County Fair with Tom Waits.

dUg Pinnick of King's X

dUg Pinnick of King's XSongwriter Interviews

dUg dIgs into his King's X metal classics and his many side projects, including the one with Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam.

Susanna Hoffs - "Eternal Flame"

Susanna Hoffs - "Eternal Flame"They're Playing My Song

The Prince-penned "Manic Monday" was the first song The Bangles heard coming from a car radio, but "Eternal Flame" is closest to Susanna's heart, perhaps because she sang it in "various states of undress."

Jack Blades of Night Ranger and Damn Yankees

Jack Blades of Night Ranger and Damn YankeesSongwriter Interviews

Revisit the awesome glory of Night Ranger and Damn Yankees: cheesily-acted videos, catchy guitar licks, long hair, and lyrics that are just plain relatable.

Lajon Witherspoon of Sevendust

Lajon Witherspoon of SevendustSongwriter Interviews

The Sevendust frontman talks about the group's songwriting process, and how trips to the Murder Bar helped forge their latest album.