Friday, 20 June 2014

Curtis Mayfield album by album

Needs finishing...... March 2019

Hugely influential singer, songwriter and guitarist. I was aware of him from Superfly and Move On Up, but nothing much other than that. On looking into Marvin Gaye, and the reason for the acclaim given to the man and his What's Going On album, I became aware of Mayfield as a significant influence on Gaye, and when comparing the two, found Mayfield much more interesting, so wanted to learn more. I have been surprised to discover just how influential Mayfield has been through his career, and - even though successful and acclaimed - that he remains largely in the shadows.

Jerry Butler & the Impressions - For Your Precious Love (1958)
He Will Break Your Heart - Jerry Butler (1960)

The Impressions (1963)
An impressive debut; ten of the 12 songs are written by Mayfield. Includes the 1961 hit single, Gypsy Woman, which was the first release for the reformed band after Butler's departure, and the 1963 hit It's All Right. These singles, along with the bulk of the album, reveal Mayfield's distinctive vocal style, and his subtle but telling guitar work that was an influence on a number of guitarists, including Jimi Hendrix.  Other good songs on the album: Twist and Limbo, Sad, Sad Girl and Boy, and I'm The One Who Loves You. Rating: 5

The Never Ending Impressions (1964) 
Written and recorded a few months after the debut, this is not as strong as the first album. I'm So Proud is the best track. Rating: 3

Keep On Pushing (1964)
This was the band's most successful album, and had a huge impact on other musicians, including Bob Dylan and Bob Marley. Rating: 5

People Get Ready (1965)
Continues the same trend as the previous albums, though this feels more balanced and secure. There are fewer weak tracks, and Mayfield's voice is sublime and the music arrangements are confident and engaging. The title track, "People Get Ready",  is one of the greatest songs ever recorded. Musically it is perfect and transcends the ordinary. Though there is nothing explicitly political about it, it is firmly in the gospel and Negro spiritual tradition which while praising God also subversively encourages dissent and political freedom  - it is that subtle subversive dissent that made it work so well for the civil rights movement. Rating: 6

One By One (1965)
Mostly a covers album, with just three Mayfield songs. Lead vocals are shared with the other two singers, creating a disjointed and uneven feel. The standards are pleasant enough, but this is not an album to waste time on. The Mayfield song, "Falling In Love With You" is the stand out track in Mayfield's inimitable style, but it's not worth listening to the rest of the album just for this. Rating: 2

Ridin' High (1966)

A pleasant album of confident and easy sounding songs. Nothing really outstanding, but nothing really bad or boring either. Best tracks are "Need To Belong", which has a "People Get Ready" feel, and "Man's Temptation", which is in an early Psychedelic soul groove. Rating: 4

The Fabulous Impressions (1967)
Below par. There's some OK tracks, like "I'm Still Waiting", but there's a loss of confidence and inspiration about this album. Rating: 3

We're A Winner (1968)
Another album which shows no development. Title track and "We're Rolling On, Pt. 1 & 2" are the best tracks, but even they feel second best. Rating: 3

This Is My Country (1968)
Though the opening track and the album cover gives the impression this is going to be a bold step forward, it is mostly more of the same, though leaning a little more on the Motown Sound than on previous albums. Best tracks are first and last, "They Don't Know" and  "This Is My Country" - more openly political statements than Mayfield had previously made, though if the directness makes the songs stronger or weaker is open to debate. For me, I prefer the oblique and more expansive approach as typified by People Get Ready. Rating: 3

The Young Mods' Forgotten Story (1969)
The formula is wearing thin now. There's the political songs (at this point lacking in subtly or ideas, and simply clich├ęd and/or straightforward complaints or lectures), which start and end the album, and in the middle the well worn and unimaginative love songs. As with previous albums the opening and closing political songs are the best, "The Young Mods' Forgotten Story" and "Mighty Mighty (Spade & Whitey)" which just about save the album, but are both a little lumpen and simplistic. The third political song on the album, "Choice of Colors", is regarded by some writers as the best song on the album, and is the only one usually selected for compilations. Rating: 3

Check Out Your Mind! (1970)
Despite being patchy and all over the place, this album is a significant leap forward; it's as if Mayfield had suddenly woken up and realised he'd been treading water for years. This feels fresh and modern. The music is more complex and adventurous, and has regained some of the confidence and enthusiasm of the early recordings. There's a big feel of Sly Stone, and some Isaac Hayes, and while there's less echoing of the Motown Sound, there's awareness of the work Whitfield was doing with the Temptations. However, while the album does feed off those others, it is distinctively Mayfield, and does pursue its own course - boldly letting people know that he was there first, and the others were actually copying from him. This is the start of Mayfield's classic period. Rating: 6

Curtis (1970)
Developing further the more blatant lyrics and muscular sound which was emerging around This Is My Country and The Young Mods Forgotten Story, this is Mayfield's first solo album. The opening 7:50 track was edited down into a 3:56 single, "(Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below We're All Going To Go", which had a modest success in America. The 8:45 track "Move On Up" was edited into a single just for the UK market. My preference is for the album version of If There's a Hell, but the edited UK version of "Move On Up".

Regarded by some as his classic album, at times the lyrics feel leaden and obvious to me, and I miss the magic created in the spaces of his more oblique earlier protest songs. such as the classic "People Get Ready". However, the music does have a sublime power. The best track is "Move On Up" - the extended album version has a groove that is quite compelling. Rating: 6

Curtis/Live!  (1971)
Double live album with material from the Curtis album, the Impressions period, plus some new songs. While it was poorly received by Jon Landau in 1971, modern retrospective reviewers Wilson & Alroy and Allmusic have been almost deliriously enthusiastic. While there are weaknesses, this is a great album, and an almost perfect summary of Mayfield's talents and his weaknesses. If getting only one Mayfield album, this is the one to get.

Rating: 7

Roots (1971)
A subtle and varied album - very assured, with more upfront guitar playing than usual. A decent all round album, with a solid feel and sound of Mayfield throughout, but the lack of focus detracts from the impact, and gives a sense of lack of importance. Rating: 5

Super Fly (1972) 

Back to the World (1973) 
Got to Find a Way (1974) 
Sweet Exorcist (1974) 
There's No Place Like America Today (1975) 
Give, Get, Take and Have (1976) 
Sparkle (with Aretha Franklin) (1976) 
Never Say You Can't Survive (1977) 
Do It All Night (1978) 
Heartbeat (1979) 
Something to Believe In (1980) 
The Right Combination (with Linda Clifford) (1980) 
Love is the Place (1982) 
Honesty (1983) 
We Come in Peace with a Message of Love (1985) 
Take It to the Streets (1990) 
New World Order (1997)








Star quality

Emotional appeal


Wilson and Alroy
Best Ever Albums
*The Impressions
*Curtis Mayfield
Rolling Stone

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Mr Moo

Kitchen Table Music Blogs
Best Of The Best

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