Curtis Mayfield – There’s No Place Like America Today (1975)

AllMusic Review: The title is intended in an ironic way, as illustrated not only by the cover — a grim parody of late-’40s/early-’50s advertising imagery depicting white versus black social reality — but the grim yet utterly catchy and haunting opening number, “Billy Jack.” A song about gun violence that was years ahead of its time, it’s scored to an incisive horn arrangement by Richard Tufo. “When Seasons Change” is a beautifully wrought account of the miseries of urban life that contains elements of both gospel and contemporary soul. The album’s one big song, “So in Love,” which made number 67 on the pop charts but was a Top Ten soul hit, is only the prettiest of a string of exquisite tracks on the album, including “Blue Monday People” and “Jesus” and the soaring finale, “Love to the People,” broken up by the harder-edged “Hard Times.” The album doesn’t really have as clearly delineated a body of songs as Mayfield’s earlier topical releases, but it’s in the same league with his other work of the period and represents him near his prime as a composer. — Bruce Eder

Track Listing:

No. Title Length
1. “Billy Jack” 6:10
2. “When Seasons Change” 5:28
3. “So in Love” 5:15
4. “Jesus” 6:13
5. “Blue Monday People” 4:50
6. “Hard Times” 3:45
7. “Love to the People” 4:07

 

Schill Score: 10/10

 

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Curtis Mayfield – Superfly (1972)

AllMusic Review: The choice of Curtis Mayfield to score the blaxploitation film Super Fly was an inspired one. No other artist in popular music knew so well, and expressed through his music so naturally, the shades of gray inherent in contemporary inner-city life. His debut solo album, 1970’s Curtis, had shown in vivid colors that the ’60s optimist (author of the civil-rights anthems “Keep On Pushing” and “People Get Ready”) had added a layer of subtlety to his material; appearing on the same LP as the positive and issue-oriented “Move On Up” was an apocalyptic piece of brimstone funk titled “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go.” For Super Fly, Mayfield wisely avoids celebrating the wheeling-and-dealing themes present in the movie, or exploiting them, instead using each song to focus on a different aspect of what he saw as a plague on America’s streets. He also steers away from explicit moralizing; through his songs, Mayfield simply tells it like it is (for the characters in the film as in real life), with any lessons learned the result of his vibrant storytelling and knack of getting inside the heads of the characters. “Freddie’s Dead,” one of the album’s signature pieces, tells the story of one of the film’s main casualties, a good-hearted yet weak-willed man caught up in the life of a pusher, and devastatingly portrays the indifference of those who witness or hear about it. “Pusherman” masterfully uses the metaphor of drug dealer as businessman, with the drug game, by extension, just another way to make a living in a tough situation, while the title track equates hustling with gambling (“The game he plays he plays for keeps/hustlin’ times and ghetto streets/tryin’ ta get over”). Ironically, the sound of Super Fly positively overwhelmed its lyrical finesse. A melange of deep, dark grooves, trademarked wah-wah guitar, and stinging brass, Super Fly ignited an entire genre of music, the blaxploitation soundtrack, and influenced everyone from soul singers to television-music composers for decades to come. It stands alongside Saturday Night Fever and Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols as one of the most vivid touchstones of ’70s pop music. — John Bush

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Little Child Runnin’ Wild” 5:23
2. “Pusherman” 5:04
3. “Freddie’s Dead” 5:27
4. “Junkie Chase” (instrumental) 1:36
Side two
No. Title Length
5. “Give Me Your Love (Love Song)” 4:20
6. “Eddie You Should Know Better” 2:16
7. “No Thing on Me (Cocaine Song)” 4:53
8. “Think” (instrumental) 3:43
9. “Superfly” 3:55

 

Schill Score:  9/10

 

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