Monday, December 30, 2013

Best Blaxploitation Music Soundtracks: Curtis Mayfield's "Super Fly"

Greg Boraman (2002) reviews Curtis Mayfield's soundtrack Super Fly for BBC Music -- Curtis Mayfield was a rare American poet, one of the few social commentators who was equally capable of delivering well aimed jibes at the US authorities or, more controversially, often asking difficult, probing questions of his own community. From his 'doo-wop' work in the 1950s through to the spiritual, message laden soul of 60s both as part of the wonderful quartet called The Impressions, Curtis established a reputation for well crafted music laden with meaningful lyrics no matter what the framework or situation.

Superfly was the vehicle for Mayfield to make more of his acutely observed, incisively written, and gently phrased observations on black life in the early 1970s. Aside from the poetry and social commentary, there is obviously the music to accompany the film, one of the better-made and received 'blaxploition' movies of the time.

The original Superfly soundtrack was lauded as a huge step forward for black music by the white music press, as to them, it seemed to equal the maturity of rock concept albums prevalent at the time (even though Marvin Gaye's' Whats Going On? and other similar projects were streets ahead of what noodling prog-rock was offering up in terms of realism)

This special edition of the album is a must for collectors as it contains not only the original track-listing but an entire second CD of demo cuts, different mixes, and instrumental versions of the classic songs therein.

The gems contained include a curious version of the classic tale of street life - "Pusherman" that initially doesn't strike the listener as different - until some meandering horns weave their previously unheard lines into this well known classic. In this particular version it's easy to understand how this version ended up unreleased, especially when a frantic, warbling trombone tries to steal the limelight from Curtis in the breakdown section.

FULL LP: Superfly by Curtis Mayfield (1972)

That said the second CD gives those listeners a little over exposed to this classic LP another chance to appreciate it from a slightly different perspective all over again. Curtis' music was always punchy and rhythm driven, which often made his plaintive, falsetto voice even more startling and urgent in its appeal, and his message of black pride and spiritual awareness amidst the troubled times of the early 1970s.

Perhaps the most curious additions are the two 'radio spots' where to instrumental backing Curtis urges listeners to 'stay clean, away from drugs, remember Freddy's dead' - a message repeated by many black stars of the time but rarely lived up to...only Curtis walked it like he talked it.

This special edition CD allows a glimpse to a soul/funk classic from a slightly different angle...and it is a great view too. (source: BBC Music)




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