It had to be a great one tonight to rouse me from my
death sick bed and type, let’s not beat around the bush here this cold I have would probably have slain a lesser man; in fact my continued survival has baffled medical science – the best explanation offered was by Professor Trixie Hotenoff who proffered the learned opinion ‘Hot damn, he’s one awesome specimen of manhood’, I can only concur.
As I said it would take a stupendously excellent slice of awesomenessosity to celebrate my Lazarus-like recovery, Curtis Mayfield Superfly fits the bill damn easily; released into the world in 1972 like all the greatest things in creation. I’ve never seen the film it soundtracks, but no matter Curtis is so amazing you don’t need to, listen to the first 42 seconds of ‘Pusherman’ and you’re there in glorious Technicolor HD. The rhythm swaggers like only a man wearing a jacket with a faux leopard skin collar can, there’s a glorious elasticity about the drums (Tyrone McCullen) and then there’s THAT voice. I declare a bias here, along with Al Green, Curtis Mayfield just had the best voice on the planet as far as I am concerned, it just sends me into raptures.
I’m your mama, I’m your daddy,
I’m that nigga in the alley.
I’m your doctor when in need.
Want some coke? Have some weed.
You know me, I’m your friend,
Your main boy, thick and thin.
I’m your pusherman.
Ain’t I clean, bad machine
Super cool, super mean
Dealin’ good, for The Man.
Superfly, here I stand.
Secret stash, heavy bread,
Baddest bitches in the bed,
I’m your pusherman
The whole song is quotable, the whole song is amazing, the whole song just sounds so tight and right delivered in Mayfield’s fallen angel falsetto. It’s an astonishing creation and one that lesser men copied and hung whole careers on further down the line.
I’m not a big one for soul music as a rule and I’m certainly not a big funk fan, in both genres it’s the rawer stuff that catches my ear but there is something I really love about the late 60’s early 70’s flowering of Ike Hayes, Mayfield and Gaye that can be pretty irresistible even for a gnarly old soul like me, it’s music made without any restraint at all and that really appeals to me. This is ultra-calculated, beautifully played and written stuff, lush and layered but still with that touch of grit inside its oyster shell interior. It’s that which keeps me coming around, that and the fact that I knew every song on this LP years before I ever heard it through almost every hip hop record I owned, so much so that sitting down and spinning Superfly for the first time was more of an act of recognition than exploration*.
It’s all a highlight. Check out the outrageous bass and keys on ‘Little Child Running Wild’, Mayfield resigned and defiant, but above all compassionate – listen to it, I tell you! Forget the lyrics, he could be singing the instructions for installing a new wireless router** and you’d still get the whole script through his tone and expressiveness. Add a little instrumental melodrama to bring the sucker to the boil and you’ve got a sonic banquet for all the family to enjoy.
Okay so the two instrumental tracks are good, rather than great and despite the genius title, ‘Eddie You Should Have Known Better’ is comparatively forgettable fare. But I’m here to praise Superfly, not to trade in tawdry, turgid reality. So let’s cut to ‘Freddie’s Dead’ and ‘Superfly’ itself. The former a cautionary tale of the consequences of a street life that swings a little too gleefully to rack up too much sorrow and the latter a great glistening pimp roll of a tune, all brass and ‘tude. What’s not to love here? this isn’t real street life, not even in NY in the 70’s, its a mythic celebration/deploring of a badder than bad idea.
Given how perfect the playing is on this album I was pretty surprised that none of the musicians even merit a mention on the cover of Superfly, other than a cursory ‘My special thanks to Sol Bobrov and all the musicians on the sessions’. I had to go to the net to find out who played on this sucka, which as I expected, were a seasoned class of ultra-experienced sessioneers, the type of guys who end up with 1200 LPs and no real credits under their belt – real sonic sweatshop stuff.
I wonder if there’ll be any takers for my latest blindingly brilliant idea of certification of Free Range Records? this would be awarded to any LP with more than 6 instrument players where it can be proven that the record has been produced without any cruelty to them and where they are given due credit on the sleeve. This would of course be the thin end of the wedge, my Vegetarian Approved Grooves certification scheme would quickly follow for LPs which have been constructed without any consumption of meat having taken place – this would be handy so even hardened non-meat eaters such as myself could pick them out and ignore their anaemic grooves, unheard. Vote 1537!
But in the meantime, I’m off to take part in a superfly junkie chase, because if you ain’t heard, word is, Freddie’s dead.
*anyone who hears the beginning of ‘Superfly’ and doesn’t think of eggs isn’t on the same page as me.
**Spoiler Alert: He isn’t.