Sunday, 19 May 2019

Curtis Mayfield - Superfly (1972)

  

Released July 1972

This is a ground-breaking "blaxploitation" movie soundtrack album that, along with Isaac Hayes' "Shaft" is up there as one of the finest representatives of its genre. While "Shaft" was a musical masterpiece of an album, this one contained more full songs and stands up as a straight-up soul album in its own right, irrespective of being a movie soundtrack. The theme was one of social deprivation leading to drug abuse and tells stories from the perspective of both the users and the dealers. It builds on issues dealt with by The Temptations, The Undisputed Truth, Bill Withers and Marvin Gaye and it goes even further. There is a convincing argument that this is the best "aware" soul album of the early seventies, if not of all time. Also, although both "Curtis" and "Roots" were great albums, this really takes some beating. The sound on it is full, deep and funky, with less string orchestration than on those two albums. It is certainly Mayfield's grittiest, funkiest offering.

TRACK LISTING

1. Little Child Runnin' Wild
2. Pusherman
3. Freddie's Dead
4. Junkie Chase
5. Give Me Your Love
6. Eddie You Should Know Better
7. No Thing On Me
8. Think
9. Superfly                                                    

"Little Child Runnin' Wild" is a hard-hitting, funky percussion-driven magnificent opener, with apparent similarities, lyrically, it would seem, to The Temptations' "Runaway Child Running Wild". However, Mayfield's song is autobiographical (for the movie's character), speaking of his deprived upbringing, whereas The Temptations' one is a narrative take of a young child on the streets. "Pusherman" is a sublime, beautiful piece of rhythmic, bassy funk with Mayfield's iconic falsetto giving us an uncompromising first-person description of the life of a "pusherman", hustling drugs on the streets - himself a "victim of ghetto demands". Mayfield takes a depressingly realistic view of things and, to an extent, the wonderful, atmospheric funk of the song's melody almost glorifies the pusherman, simply because the music describing him is so damn good. Mayfield views the issues from the point of view of the criminal which was a unique thing to do in 1972. Socially aware material had only been around in soul music for four years or so and for Mayfield to sing and compose from this perspective was certainly adventurous and risk-taking in the extreme. The balance is restored, however, in the sad tale that is "Freddie's Dead", about a life snuffed out but not by drugs, but run over by a car. It is all linked though, but you get the impression that the song just shrugs its shoulders at another death on these mean streets. The music is once again excellent - funky flute, shuffling drums, sweeping strings and "chicka-chicka" wah-wah guitars.

After these three stonking openers, we are reminded that this is a movie soundtrack album with the brief funky wah-wah and horns groove of "Junkie Chase". Very Blaxploitation. "Give Me Your Love"  once more features some totally delicious instrumentation. Man, those wah-wahs. The sound is so good as well. Fantastically clear yet deep and warm too. Mayfield's vocal takes a while to arrive and because the music is so good, you don't notice. When it comes it just makes it all even better.

"Eddie You Should Know Better" is a short, soulful song clearly written for the movie. It is excellent, however, full of atmosphere. "No Thing On Me" is a sumptuous piece of funky soul with Mayfield's character in a positive mood, claiming now to lead a clean life - "you don't have to be no junkie....my life's a natural high..." is the admirable sentiment - "sure is funky, I ain't no junkie...". Things seem to be looking up, thankfully. A bit of redemption. That positivity continues in the beautiful instrumental groove of "Think". This features some lovely saxophone near the end.

Finally, we get the barnstorming brassy funk of the title track, a true blaxploitation classic, that appears on every compilation of the genre. Although the album is only thirty-seven minutes in length, every second is dripping with atmosphere. Truly one of the best soul/funk albums of all time. Essential.

A-

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