Curtis Mayfield – Super Fly

Curtis Mayfield – Super Fly
Released July, 1972

1. Little Child Running Wild – 0.00
2. Pusherman – 5:24
3. Freddie’s dead – 10.31
4. Junkie Chase – 16.00
5. Give Me Your Love – 17.41
6. Eddie You Should Know Better – 22.02
7. No Thing On Me – 24.21
8. Think – 29.20
9. SuperFly – 33.08

“Super Fly” was Curtis Mayfield’s third album as a solo artist. Before this, he spent 12 years as a member of The Impressions, where as the main singer he wrote timeless songs such as ‘People Get Ready’, ‘Keep on Pushing’ and ‘Move On Up’. In order to understand “Super Fly”however, we first need to address the fact that is the soundtrack to a Blaxploitation film. What’s a Blaxploitation film? I’m glad you asked. According to Urban Dictionary (of all places) we can define Blaxploitation is the morphing of the words “black” and “exploitation”. It is a film genre from the 1970s that targeted the urban african-american audience. The actors used were mainly black and was the first style to use funk and soul music. Although initially popular it quickly disingrated as a film genre critizised for the use of stereotypes. As important as the films in the Blaxploitation genre were the soulful soundtracks. In cases like “Super Fly”, the soundtrack actually outsold the movie. It was ranked #72 by Rolling Stone Magazine on their ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’ list.

The album stands apart from the movie in its own right as a sort of concept album. Whilst there are similar themes throughout both, Mayfield actually explores the role of drugs and the eventual despair in much more detail than the film. The album tells it exactly as Mayfield was seeing it, and at times it’s bleak and downright depressing. The film on the other hand is much lighter and almost glorifies the protagonist. Here Mayfield doesn’t so much as judge as just tell the story that his contemporaries were facing at the time. He makes no excuses or no apologies. Mayfield has been quoted as saying “I don’t take credit for everything I write, I only look upon my writings as interpretations of how the majority of people around me feel.” What he did with this album was to take a snapshot of the world around him and document it in a way that wasn’t overly judgey or preachy, it just is what it is. The album really is a fascinating insight into the socio-political problems faced by African-Americans of a lower socio-economic realm.

On my first couple of listens I didn’t pay so much attention to the lyrics, and was quite caught up in the funk and sheer coolness within. Just listening to the album makes you feel a certain amount of swagger. It wasn’t until a few listens in that I started listening to the lyrics, where the true story was revealed. Mayfield tells the story of these young, flashy men pushing dope for the man. On first appearances it’s all very flashy and one almost feels a bit envious of the exciting and extravagant lives these men are living. It’s not until we look until closer that we see the cracks, and see how thin that façade actually is. These songs come from a place that is very real and this adds a layer of depth to the lyrics. It’s hard not to be impressed by the ‘Pusher Man’ with his “Secret stash, heavy bread / Baddest bitches, in the bed”. However, juxtaposed with this is the real underlying issues “Been told I can’t be nothin’ else / Just a hustler in spite of myself”.

Musically “Super Fly”really is quite brilliant. It’s pretty much as soulful and as funky as music can get. Being a soundtrack afforded Mayfield the liberty of taking it to the next level, embellishing the story with strings, horns and the classic soul sounds of the wah-wah guitar and rumbling bass. It’s very easy to see how Mayfield and “Super Fly” have influenced artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Lauren Hill and The Roots . Whether you want to simply enjoy the album for the music, or to explore a little further with the lyrics, “Super Fly” is a very easy and enjoyable album to listen to. Stand out tracks for me where ‘Little Child Runnin’ Wild’, ‘Pusherman’ and ‘Superfly’, but really the whole album is wonderful.

“Super Fly”is as quintessentially seventies as you can get. Scratchy, wah wah equipped guitars, funky bass runs, big horn sections and brilliant soul vocals. It is 40 minutes of fun. Now, I haven’t seen the film of the same name, but listening to the sound track has definitely piqued my interest. “Super Fly”was never expected to sell well, but due it’s surprise success, Curtis Mayfield went on to compose the soundtrack for more films, but none that I’ve ever heard of. I’m not going to talk about the themes of the album at all, because I’m sure Ang has gone right into it in her main review, but pay attention, because it’s very interesting. There wasn’t much of this album I didn’t like. In fact, what I liked most about it wasn’t even the music, it was the imagery the music evoked. Big American cars flying around the streets, African American guys with big Afros and bell bottom jeans, awesome sideburns and aviator glasses. Isn’t that a great picture? That image is encapsulated perfectly in the instrumental piece ‘Junkie Chase’. Rhythmic bass pumping, scratchy guitars and horns building to huge crescendos make this the perfect companion piece to a chase scene. I think the title, and final, track of the album is the best. It brings together all the elements of soul and funk, and uses them as a climax of sorts for both the album and its accompanying film. It was the second single released from the album and made it to number eight on the Billboard charts. The album that made Curtis Mayfield the widely known influential funk artist is a solid outing. A non stop ride that takes the listener to all kinds of places from start to finish, “Super Fly”is a must listen for, well, everyone.

This was definitely one of the superior concept albums, and indeed film soundtracks, that I have had the pleasure of listening to. I’ve listened to a bit of contemporary nineties and noughties R & B in recent years and from the moment I started listening to “Super Fly”, I could straight away see the influence that Curtis Mayfield’s work had on future R & B musicians. As a whole, the album was pleasurable to listen to, with funky percussion beats, wah wah guitars, and lyrics loaded with meaning and feeling. For me, the highlight of the album was title track ‘Superfly’, with its infectious and highly distinct (and instantly-recognisable) rototom intro, which just has me dancing in my seat every time I hear it. For those of you not in the know, the rototom is a tuneable drum, and was used throughout the album “Super Fly”, to great effect. It’s a corker of a song with an undeniable groove, and has been sampled in pop hit ‘Tilt ya head back’ by Nelly featuring Christina Aguilera, and The Beastie Boys’ ‘Egg Man’ (Legacy, tick!)  I also rated ‘Give Me Your Love’, with its lengthy instrumental intro. Overall, I would say this was a really solid album that obviously took 70’s R & B and Funk to the fore and created a dialogue around social and racial issues of its era. I will definitely be keeping this one in my ipod playlist for future enjoyment.

We’ve listened to live albums, double albums, debut albums, but “Super Fly” is the first soundtrack album we’ve had to review for afyccim. What a cracker it is, too. All the hallmarks of classic blaxplotation film scores are here: the wah-wah guitar, the thumping piano, the bass grooves, the flute, the sweeping strings and the punchy horns. You might have already heard the title track and ‘Pusherman’ without knowing it, as they have both been sampled in songs by the Beastie Boys, Eminem, the Notorious B.I.G. and Ice-T. Whereas the previous year’s “Shaft” soundtrack by Isaac Hayes was mostly instrumental, there are only two tracks on this album without vocals. Be they instrumental or not, all the songs on this record are killer. Though we can deduce plot points from these songs, particularly ‘Freddie’s Dead’ and the romantic ‘Give Me Your Love (Love Song)’, I don’t think you need to have seen the film to enjoy its music. Having said that, I couldn’t resist getting a copy of the film and checking it out, and yes, it’s exactly what you expect it will be. Mayfield even has a short cameo performing (miming) ‘Pusherman’ with the Curtis Mayfield Experience in a nightclub scene! His soulful vocals act as the inner monologue of Priest (the film’s protagonist), as he tries to make one last score before getting out of the business for good. Although the film was seen to be ambiguous in its depiction of drug dealers, Mayfield’s commentary is much harsher, decrying the ‘Pusherman’ who preys on the weak and downtrodden. The seemingly uplifting ‘No Thing On Me (Cocaine Song)’ outlines this sentiment as well: “It’s a terrible thing inside/When your natural high has died/The weaker turn to dope/And put all aside their hope”. I thoroughly enjoyed this album, and I’ve just started to explore Mayfield’s back catalog.

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