Autobiographical Order No. 211: Curtis Mayfield – Superfly

You can tell a great musician by how universal their music is, regardless of context. Like Curtis Mayfield, for instance. Context is obviously important in his music overall; his 1970 album Curtis is best understood in the context of the Civil Rights Era, because so much of it is about the Black experience, about empowerment, about struggle and survival and solidarity. And that’s also important to understand in the context of his 1972 album Superfly, a movie soundtrack about a drug dealer, with songs that both touch upon themes of the movie while also dealing in more topical subjects of drugs in the Black community, and their adverse effects on it.

But there’s also the context of the movie. I’ve never seen it. Somehow it’s always been on my list but I never got around to viewing it. Yet I love the soundtrack. It’s utterly essential, some of my absolute favorite music ever recorded.

So on one level, I might not have the context of the movie for which the songs were written, but I do understand to some degree what went into it. Mayfield scored a movie, but he also had his own message, which resonates regardless of whether or not you’ve seen the movie. (Though I should watch it, since its plot devices have become major tropes—the hustler doing one last score before getting out of the game, etc.)

Still, the songs! “Freddie’s Dead,” “Superfly,” “Pusherman,” these are all classics. All essentials. All some of the best psychedelic funk ever put to tape. When I’m in a bar with a jukebox and Superfly is one of the choices, it’s my choice. I don’t even think about it.

The version I bought of this record has a cool 3-D flap thing that opens and sounds great, though it’s definitely been loved over the years, and the sleeve shows. But as always, that’s fine with me. It’s comforting to know that someone spent as much time with this record as I have and hope to continue to do so.

Rating: 10.0

Sound Quality: Good to Great (some crackles, but man, the music itself is cae

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