Not the Pazz and Jop 1972 – #12

Curtis Mayfield – Super Fly

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blaxploitation film. “Uptown Saturday Night” (a great film, but one I can’t recommend due to the whole Cosby-is-a-sex-criminal element) is probably not one, and the recent “Shaft” remake was a goofy homage rather than a true entry in the field. “My Name is Dolemite” is a love letter to one of the genre’s outsiders, but the film itself is not blaxploitation. “Jackie Brown” slots in similarly, with the usual Tarantino genius in the mix.

Look at the cover photo. A sharply dressed (five years before Travolta, I might add) serious looking dude with a gun and a lady who looks like she stepped off the jacket of a Mickey Spillane paperback. It’s not just wrong that I’ve never watched one of these – I should have seen them all. These films took their soundtracks seriously – in addition to Mayfield, artists like James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye and Bobby Womack were tasked with helping to create the soundscapes for these movies. Think of that list of talent the next time you hear some Diane Warren piece of treacle run over the credits at your local cinema.

The record starts on fire, with three blasts from “Little Child Runnin’ Wild” (with the chorus’ plaintive cry “didn’t have to be here . . . Why couldn’t they just let me be”), “Pusherman” and the solid funk of “Freddie’s Dead”. The middle tune is my favourite, with island rhythms, a gentle bass line and disco-worthy wah-wah guitars. Mayfield uses a lot of strings, and they certainly sweeten things up, but this balances the funk without becoming cloying. He likes horns, too, with the sax on “Little Child” a standout. I’m not as big a fan of side two – it just doesn’t have the same energy – and while I usually find instrumentals on pop records a drag on the festivities, Mayfield nails these, with the adrenaline of “Junkie Chase” (how can you not love a record with a track bearing such a name?) and the unhurried contemplation of “Think”. He ends on another high note with the funky title track, laying on the guitars and horns. There is a strong anti-drug stance in the album’s lyrics, and an even stronger push towards the dance floor in its music. 1972 continues to impress.

(Originally posted on Facebook, July 24, 2021)