Released in 1970 to fill the gap between Stand! and There’s a Riot Goin’ On, Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits compiles many of the top tracks from the band’s early years. While every song on this album is also contained on the later Anthology release along with selections from their later catalog, this is in most ways a superior album.
In the interim between albums, Sly and company’s early optimism began to fade alongside the idealism of the 60s and into Sly Stone’s increasing drug problems. Because Anthology fails to mark that change, it feels haphazard, like a mere collection of random songs. Greatest Hits on the other hand shares the common themes of joy and optimism that characterize both the albums that these songs are drawn from as well as the times in which they were made. The only inexplicable omission is "Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey" from Stand!, an album which contributes several other songs. I suspect that this was just a matter of playing it safe and avoiding controversy on an album that by design would appeal to less hardcore Sly Stone fans. It’s a shame, because the song, like several others which use that very emotional word, is incendiary, but fighting the good fight, not perpetuating stereotypes. Oh yeah, it’s amazingly powerful too. Its absence doesn’t hurt this album, so much as knowing the song just makes me wish it had been included.
While it doesn’t take into account the second part of Sly and the Family Stone’s career, which produced great music in its own right, and it backs down from righteous controversy by omitting a great tune, Greatest Hits is an amazingly cohesive collection of songs from the first few years that the band graced us with their music. The only real argument against owning this is that you should already have the records from which this was culled. There isn’t much of a step down from the singles to the album cuts and that’s even more amazing still.