Top positive review
3 people found this helpful
on May 21, 2017
Curtis Mayfield's score for Superfly was not only his greatest album but is one of the greatest soul albums of the renaissance of black music in the late sixties and early seventies. It ranks right up there with Hot Buttered Soul, What's Going On and Innervisions. It sold millions, produced two gold singles and was musically very influential just as the film itself was stylistically influential. Curtis had already left the Impressions and had made two albums in his solo career, Curtis and Roots. Backstage at a concert at New York's Lincoln Center he was approached by producer Sig Shore and screenwriter Phillip Fenty to write the score for their new film about a Harlem coke dealer. The time was right for it: black films were just getting going after Cotton Comes To Harlem (1970) and Shaft (1971). Isaac Hayes had done really well with his score for Shaft and Curtis was very enthused about the project
Hayes score for Shaft and Marvin Gaye's for Trouble Man (which would be released in late 1972), were almost entirely instrumental except for a song or two. Curtis took a different approach and wrote a full song-score for the film with only a couple instrumental tracks; although in the film itself many of the song themes were played instrumentally as background and Freddie's Dead was never sung in the film at all, only appearing as an instrumental, thus denying it an Academy Award nomination. Curtis also wrote most of his songs as commentary on the main characters of the drama. In doing this Curtis dealt with his main conflict with the film, that it could be seen as glorifying drugs and crime (it received many accusations of this by important organizations in the black community). Curtis Mayfield was a very positive, optimistic person who had been active in the Civil Rights Movement and who generally wrote inspirational songs. Here he wrote highly critical songs where financing is all the Pusherman understands, you get "Two bags free for a generous fee, and even for Superfly (Priest) "time's running out and there's no happiness". And of course Freddie's dead. No Thing On Me was a totally anti-drug anthem that preached a natural high.
The music itself is somewhat at odds with the gritty scenes on the screen. Mayfield wrote beautiful music for this film and it was remarkably well-orchestrated. This is why you really need the album to appreciate it. In the film much of it is so in the background or appear only partially and only really listening to it brings out full power and intensity as well as the brilliant scoring. Little Child Running Wild is my favorite Mayfield song of his solo career. it's opens with organ and bongos and a screaming urban guitar, then staccato bursts of brass, mournful strings and a blues sax that underscore its tragic tale. It climaxes with a long fade with the sax and strings commenting on he hopelessness of the song. He had already written this song when given the film score commission, but he felt it worked perfectly and it did. Pusherman, which follows is pure minimalism, a quiet backdrop of guitar and percussion as Mayfield impersonates he pusherman himself. Everyone knows Freddie's Dead with its dynamic rhythm. Give Me Your Love, the film's love song is a masterpiece of scoring with its funk/jazz mix of electric guitars, piano, strings and harp and Curtis' voice soaring above it all. And that's just a few of the highlights.
The album was conceived all as a piece, not as a mix of singles and B-sides, so everything flows together. It not only captured a moment in time but has stood the test of time as a classic. This CD is the same as the one Rhino released in 1999. Both contain the same tracks and the two bonus tracks of the shortened single versions of Freddie's Dead and Superfly. In its original release it had an 18-page booklet with stills from the film, lyrics and commentary. That edition sold at a mid-price of $13.00 to $15.00. In this new edition the tracks and remastering are the same but the booklet has been shortened to the inside listing tracks and personnel (including Johnny Pate, Curtis' long-time friend and arranger. The two had a major falling out over credits on this album which everyone involved said was sad to see, since both were good men). The old booklet is nice but not necessary. The music is all here and really beautifully remastered and at the moment at a practically giveaway price. Get It.