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music friday: sly and the family stone, “qué será, será”

At the 1956 Academy Awards, the Oscar for Best Original Song went to “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Qué Será, Será)” from Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Man Who Knew Too Much. The title has many variations … I’ve seen it with and without accented a/e/á/é, I’ve seen it called “Que Sera, Sera” with “Whatever Will Be, Will Be” in parentheses, I’ve seen it called simply “Que Sera, Sera”. In the movie, it was sung by Doris Day:

It was later used as the theme song for the TV series The Doris Day Show:

In 1965, Australian pop band Normie Rowe and the Playboys had a big hit in their home country with a version of the song:

Many artists covered the song in the 60s, including Connie Francis, the Shirelles, Mary Hopkin, even Alvin and the Chipmunks:

In 1971, Sly and the Family Stone released one of the greatest albums of all time, There’s a Riot Goin’ On. That album itself deserves a few posts of its own. To be brief, after several years of middling success, Sly and the Family Stone hit it big with the album Stand!, which included many of the group’s most popular songs: “Stand!”, “I Want to Take You Higher”, “Sing a Simple Song”, “Everyday People”, and “You Can Make It If You Try”, along with the rather remarkable, 13 minute and 45 second “Sex Machine”. They then appeared at Woodstock, and gave one of the best performances in the subsequent film, released in 1970.

Sly and the Family Stone was noted particularly for the all-inclusive nature of its members, a mixture of black and white, men and women that looked a lot like what Prince offered up early in his career. They had crossover appeal, and they made great singles that were inspiring both in their message and in the fevered, gospel-like delivery.

But then, Sly Stone developed a drug problem. He missed a lot of concerts and feuded with some of the band members. The record company put out a greatest hits album that remains one of the, well, greatest. When There’s a Riot Goin’ On finally came out, it is safe to say people were ready for it, and it hit #1 on release. Except what they were ready for wasn’t what was delivered. There’s a Riot Goin’ On lacked the inspiring singalongs and danceable music of Sly’s earlier music. The music, in fact, was stripped down to its basics … it was also slowed down, and Sly’s vocals sounded very druggy. Sly took their earlier hit, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”, a pop-funk classic, slowed it down to a crawl, and sang from beneath the grave, in the process letting the audience realize what they were really singing about in that hit (“looking at the devil, grinning at his gun”). That track, now titled “Thank You for Talkin’ to Me Africa”, closed out the album. At the end of Side One was the title track … its running time was 0:00.

The follow-up album, Fresh, from 1973, was a fascinating blend of what had come before, with more upbeat songs attached to the stripped-down production of Riot. It featured their last great single, “If You Want Me to Stay”, and, on one track, it featured band member (and Sly’s sister) Rose Stone singing, yes, “Qué Será, Será”.


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