This two-disc documentary set is being issued in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of The Impressions. Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions were every bit as important in the music scene of the 1960s and 70s as any musician or group of musicians you care to name.
Mayfield wasn’t the glitz and glamour of some of the black pop stars of the day; he was more the gritty reality as opposed to the strawberries and cream, more the philosopher than the jester, and that was his attraction. Mayfield was a pioneer inasmuch as his writing was the musical side of the civil rights story of the day, telling in music what the black political leaders were preaching at the podium. Between his own self-discipline and occasionally with the help of producer and arranger Johnny Pate, Mayfield rode a fine line, keeping his lyrics palatable to both whites and blacks nurturing at least acceptance from most of the US population. Mayfield was the musical persona of Dr Martin Luther King’s talks and speeches.
In addition to writing for his own group, The Impressions, Mayfield had scored hits for Major Lance, Brian Hyland, Jan Bradley, Gene Chandler, Walter Jackson, and the Five Stairsteps, whose music ranged from soul to pop to the 1960s version of funk. He released his first solo album in 1970. Additionally, he owned two record labels and was a partner in a third. He was a sharp businessman as well as a prolific writer.
As far as many people were concerned, 1970-1973 was Mayfield’s zenith. That was the main course, they said, the years preceding and after were the starters and desserts. Solid, substantial “starters,” sure, and the same with the “desserts.” But the year 1972 saw the release of what many consider his best work, “Superfly.” Many consider it one of many masterpieces, including “Check Out Your Mind,” “If There’s a Hell Below …, “Keep On Keeping On,” “We Got To Have Peace,” “We The People …,” “Superfly,” “Freddie’s Dead,” and “Pusherman.” Not to short-shrift those that came before and after, but these were La crème de la crème. And the best part? Not only are they all on these discs, we even get to see two performances of “Freddie’s Dead.”