Monday 9 September 2013

Top 102 Albums. Minus 8. Curtis

Top 102 Albums. Minus 8. 
Curtis - Curtis Mayfield

With The Impressions Curtis Mayfield had delivered some timeless records, none more so than People Get Ready, who's gentle sound belies the strength of its emotions, a strength which made it an anthem for the civil rights movement in the sixties, and beyond. It' s roots lay in gospel and it's aspirations in some kind of paradise.

He was many things, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, record company owner etc etc... There was change in the air in 1969 / /1970 and Curtis was a leader rather than a follower and took the social consciousness that had been a growing constant in his music and allied it to a funkier, looser more dramatic soundscape, like Gershwin meets James Brown. Songs stretched to eight and nine minutes, although they never feel long.

The album opens with a woman speaking: "Last night I was so depressed"and how she "turned to the Book of Revelations" and suggesting that we all turn to the "good book". I take this as a nod to the fact that signs were being ignored, signs of racial tension and social disintegration.

Then the voice of Curtis enters the fray with a message for us all. We're damned.
"Sisters, niggers, whiteys, Jews, crackers, / Don't worry / If there's hell below we're all gonna go"

Why? Because people are all running from our problems and saying "don't worry". Nixon was saying it, the stoners were saying it. The people who were the problem and the people who should have been trying to solve the problem. Escapism was all too easy and widespread - "Everybody smoke, smoke, smoke, smoke, smoke / Use the pill and the dope, dope, dope, dope, dope" It presages the more generally acclaimed despairing rally cries of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On.

The next song is The Other Side of Town, a vision of ghettoes locked in a cycle of poverty, depression and envy. If you don't belong, stay out. A couple of songs further in Curtis sings directly to "the people who are darker than blue", worrying that the  "Get yourself together, learn to know your side / Shall we commit our own genocide / Before you check out your mind?" But these aren't completely dark, they are driven by pleas for more understanding and tolerance.

And other songs, particularly the classic Move on Up and Wild and Free are more explicitly hopeful and all are sung with a tenderness which is the impression this album always leaves me with, hopeful tenderness. There is always the next generation.
"Hush now child and don't you cry / Your folks might understand you by and by / So in the mean time, move on up towards your destination / Though you may find, from time to time..  complication"


  1. Bought this after your review. Top choice. I love We the people who are darker than blue. Brendan

  2. I need to buy this. Currently the only Curtis in my collection is that sublime swan song 'New World Order'. His was a tragic slow fade...

    1. Apparently he had to lie on his front, suspended in a harness, to record New World Order.

  3. Just ordered this original album series which has his first 4 albums plus a live one; all for @ £12... a steal!

    1. You can't go wrong with that. Even though I have a few of these it looks good value, especially since a couple of mine are on vinyl.

  4. I have this now and am loving it...