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Thursday, May 3, 2012

"Superfly"

Curtis Mayfield - "Superfly" (1972)


Who's the black cocaine dealer with a code name that would have made a great nemesis for Spider-Man in the 70s?
Shut your mouth.
I'm just talkin' bout Super Fly!
Then stop parodying the "Theme from Shaft", you're confusing people.
I can dig it.



The song that played over the closing credits of the film Super Fly. Yep, there's a space in the title of the movie, and the album, but not the song. The album is often credited with out-grossing the film it came from. It certainly had a longer last effect. The film was one of the more well known Blaxplotation films of the 70s, which wasn't exactly a long lasting genre. The soundtrack however is Curtis Mayfield's outstanding response to Issac Hayes best selling double album Shaft from the year previous. Both albums are a mix of Soul and Funk, but this track settles more into the Funk category. It does have a distinct melody and chord changes, which is still Soul, but that beat is solid Funk. Big brass hits and heavy landing bass make the sound hit hard and keep you moving, and as happens so often in songs like this, the vocalists decides to make himself heard by taking the song way up into falsetto. Mayfield makes use of this falsetto all the time. There has been a lot of essays written about where the falsetto came from in R&B music and all its derivative forms, including that it made black male singers 'safe' because they were less masculine, and that it was just a question of being heard as the lead vocalist over the multiple lower register singers in a do-wop style group. Here I think Mayfield started singing in falsetto as the lead singer of The Impressions in the late 50s and it became something that set him apart.

This is a really solid track, a non preachy message about how drug dealers are in a terrible business, great bass and brass licks like I said before, and funky fuzzy wah-wah guitar slinking around the corners. What I love is the secondary percussion. The primary drummer is good, lays down a solid hard to ignore beat and that's his job; but what percussionist 'Master' Henry Gibson does elevates the song, and in fact the whole album. Gibson is the conga/bongo performer on the album and he makes the song different. Hayes album makes use of a dozen different instruments, including congas but Gibson's performance on Super Fly really gets heard.  This was the second single released from the album, after "Freddie's Dead", but to me, and many others, the brightest spot on the album is actually "Pusherman".

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