Friday, July 20, 2007

No. 69: Superfly

Band: Curtis Mayfield
Album: Superfly
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: "Superfly" is the pinnacle, in my mind, of early 70s funk. It's better than Parliament. It's better than Bill Withers or Isaac Hayes. It's nearly as good as it gets, featuring excellent social commentary with low-laid grooves and Mayfield's trademark wah wah guitar.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: In the same way that Led Zeppelin IV is underrated, "Superfly" is underrated. It's simply the best convergence of funk, soul and rock and roll.
Best song: The C# groove of "Freddy's Dead" is among the best in the history of music.
Worst song: Zero. None. Nada.
Is it awesome?: If you do not own this record, you need to go out and buy it right now. Or, e-mail me and I'll lend it to you. I'm not even kidding. You need this album.

In my eyes, "Superfly" is in the argument for "best album ever." It's up there with "Dark Side of the Moon," "Paranoid" and others. It's just plain amazing.

It's a short record with a running time barely over 37 minutes, but Mayfield packs just about everything he needs to in that time. Maybe it just feels shorter because you listen and want more.

The opening organ/percussion of "Little Child Runnin' Wild" is set into motion 16 seconds into the album by Mayfield's signature guitar work and you feel the rhythm in a way that no other record conveys rhythm. Mayfield's sugary sweet voice juxtaposes itself onto bleak, urban lyrics ("One room shack, On the alley-back, Control, I'm told, From across the track"). While the saxophone sounds silly on 60% of rock records, the funky sax solo on "Little Child Runnin' Wild" sounds strangely evocative of a dark urban night. Grid streets, damp sidewalks and the smell of trash is what that sax solo says.

"Pusherman," the record's second track is built around a fierce bassline and a cadre of percussionists building the mood. The song's staccato lyrical style evokes the narrative of the film while also giving a totally different impression. Never mind that "Pusherman" is one of the first popular songs to use "Nigger" in the lyrics (in the third line sung in the song, no less!), just listen to the documentary-ness of the record.

The best song on the album, "Freddy's Dead" is built on a heavy, funky guitar riff. The effects Mayfield's guitar runs through are magnificent, as the lead sounds as much like a bastard accordi-organ as it does like a guitar. The bleak storytelling of the death of one of the film's main characters builds off the accented, majestic strings. It sounds like a weird combination, but it fits perfectly.

The worst songs on the record are the two instrumentals and they're both great. They only suffer because I'd listen to Mayfield read his grocery list, his voice is so amazing. The love song on the record is great, the title track is fantastic and the urban documentary that is "Eddie, You Should've Known Better" is accented by bells! Ballsy, but brilliant and beautiful.

"Superfly" is the only soundtrack to ever outgross its film counterpart and I understand that. I've not paid to watch the movie (I saw it on cable), but I certainly paid for the record and would pay again. It's "Revolver" good. It's "Dark Side of the Moon" good. It's "Nevermind" good.

If not better.


kellydwyer said...

In spite of my weirdness, my parents' house was the party house of my high school class. At one final party, during the last month of high school (ostensibly a birthday party for me), a pickup band I put together with me leading played "Freddie's Dead."

My parents have a giant basement. After about a hundred people left the basement to join the 50 outside, I decided to turn "Freddie's Dead" into a glorious C# jam that probably droned on for ten minutes. And I hated the wah-wah pedal.

Goddamn, I'm funky.

R.J. said...

That riff remains, in my opinion, one of the best.

fft said...

Right on.