Song 224: Sly and the Family Stone, “Qué Será Será” (1973)

Sly__the_Family_stone-_freshI first heard Sly and the Family Stone’s version of “Qué Será Será” on “Eric in the Evening,” a jazz show on WGBH hosted by Eric Jackson. (It’s since been neutered from a nightly show to a weekends-only affair, but I’m glad he’s still around.) The song was on one of Jackson’s Martin Luther King Day shows, and it fit in nicely with songs that were more overtly focused on the fight for civil rights.

There’s an ironic sadness to this version of the song, especially when compared to the original, sung by the eternally sunny Doris Day. I like how Rose Stone’s disaffected vocals contrast with Sly’s anguished counterpoint, offering two understandable reactions to racial injustice: believing that it won’t ever get better (whatever will be will be), and crying out in anger. Or maybe those reactions aren’t so different.

In my opinion, this song is an example of Sly and the Family Stone’s greatness. Though they were capable of some masterful funk, they could also pull off moments of great subtlety. Fresh was an important chapter in the band’s history; Brian Eno reportedly cited the record as prompting a shift from guitar-centric pop to rhythm section production. I’m not familiar with the whole record, but on “Qué Será Será,” you can certainly hear the bass—loud, intimidating, and mournful—loud and clear.

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