Review #275: Curtis, Curtis Mayfield

Karla Clifton
3 min readMay 18, 2022

#275: Curtis, Curtis Mayfield

A year ago, I started looking into buying new apartments with my boyfriend, and this is the record we put on while looking online.

It actually felt very cheesy, to have “Move On Up” soundtrack our interstate househunt, but we embraced it, danced to it a bit (because it would be stupid not to dance, if the record is on anyway). It’s impossible not to be excited for your future when you’re listening to Curtis Mayfield egg you on into it. The guitar part at the end goes on forever, and it could have lasted even longer.

We last saw Mayfield at #76, Super Fly, a soundtrack record that paints a cinematic picture even unaccompanied. That was his third record; this is his first, fully written and produced by him. It’s not as gritty but its every bit as ambitious, maybe more so. Not only does he tackle murky issues like sinfulness and inequity, but there is just so much music on this record. I don’t know how else to describe it. So many moving parts, so many instruments, so many dynamics and phrases and crescendos, so much to grab on to.

Mayfield is widely regarded as one of the first musicians to talk about African American issues in his music, but that wasn’t the only way he made efforts to be transgressive. Case in point: The lead SINGLE was the song “(Don’t Worry) If There Is A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go.” So, you know, a comforting ditty. I’m being facetious but there is a level of comfort in that, a dark, scary, shared-misery type of comfort. I do love the way he tells me not to worry. I almost believe him.

But Mayfield isn’t some misanthrope wishing brimstone on all of us — his other songs have some genuine warmth and love for his fellow man. “The Other Side of Town” bathes impoverished communities in lush strings and horns and harps, even while he acknowledges that depression lives on the other side of town, too. “Miss Black America” starts out with a sweet little girl’s voice, and it stays just as sweet throughout, even as the rhythm leaves her behind. And he tackles these subjects with such poetry. Just the name of the song “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue” is so vivid I can feel it in my face.

I’ve also become used to the fact that every single record that’s ever existed will have at least two love songs. I used to be a big baby about this, but I’ve since matured, because “The Makings of You” is a gorgeous song and a gorgeous poem. Is it a love song for a woman, or for the world? And “Give It Up” moved me even more when I learned that it’s not a love song at all, but a breakup song. Why does he sound so warm if he’s leaving her? But I guess all love songs are about the world, and all breakup songs are love songs.

I was driving around doing errands the day I listened to this album. Driving to albums is always my favorite way to experience them, because you can turn them up as loud as you want and you can’t do anything other than listen. (And, well, drive.) Every time I heard “Wild and Free,” I felt exactly that, as cheesy as it sounds. And it was during this song that I remembered finding the apartment I live in now, and smiled to myself, because now that memory will always be tied to this music.

Move! On! UP! Curtis Mayfield sang. And I did!

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