Counterbalance No. 137

Curtis Mayfield's 'Super Fly'

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

16 August 2013

 
cover art

Curtis Mayfield

Super Fly

(Curtom)
US: Jul 1972
UK: Jul 1972

Klinger: The early 1970s were, if you ask me, the Golden Age of Soul, a time when giants walked the earth (each giant larger than the last). And during this time, it became de rigeur for the R&B auteurs of the day to bring their compositional talents to the silver screen. The results were generally pretty spectacular. Isaac Hayes won an Oscar for his score for Shaft. Marvin Gaye turned the score for Trouble Man into one of the best albums of his career. Curtis Mayfield scored what may be the decisive victory, though, with his soundtrack for the 1972 Gordon Parks film Super Fly. According to the now-famous bit of music lore, Mayfield watched the film and was appalled by the actions of antihero coke dealer Youngblood Priest, who was at the film’s center. He proceeded to write a batch of songs that shed light on drug dealing’s very real repercussions, which he felt the film presented more or less without comment.

The result is an album that works on every level. As a soundtrack, it becomes an integral part of the movie, practically a character of its own as it acts as a latter-day Greek chorus. As an album, it’s a near-perfect collection of groove and soul, with elements of jazz and traditional film score orchestration. But that’s me. I’ve long been a sucker for Curtis Mayfield’s sweet voice and gift for melody, and for my money he’s one of the all-time great songwriters. (Exhibit A: “People Get Ready”, which is right up there with “Amazing Grace” as far as being a song that it’s hard to believe was written by a mortal human being who lived and breathed and watched TV and cut the cheese just like the rest of us—it’s just too freakin’ beautiful.) What’s your take, Mendelsohn?

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