Wednesday, July 25, 2012

40 Year Itch: Hustlin' Times And Ghetto Streets

This dude is bad. And he ain't just fly. He's Super Fly.

Has any album captured inner city life better than Curtis Mayfield's #1 charting soundtrack? Tho' the movie has been criticized for glorifying drug dealers, the songs on the soundtrack couldn't be more critical. In his cool falsetto Mayfield sings of  ghetto princes pushing drugs and bedding the "baddest bitches", dead and dying junkies trying to get their next fixes,and children living in one room shacks and runnin' wild in the streets. All set to gorgeous string sections, funky bass lines and a cool conga player( Master Henry Gibson). 


It was 1972 --a year after Gordon Parks's Shaft grossed $13 million on a budget of $500,000. Now his son Gordon Parks Jr hoped to recreate the Blaxploitation magic with Super Fly, the story of Youngblood Priest, a cocaine dealer trying to quit the business and go legit. 

  Part of what made Shaft a hit was the Issac Hayes soundtrack which topped the Billboard charts,  won a Grammy and featured the inescapable Oscar Winning single "Theme From Shaft".

    In a documentary on the making of Super Fly , called One Last Deal, writer Phillip Fenty says someone suggested Curtis Mayfield do their soundtrack. As a member of the Impressions and in his solo work, Mayfield had already become a reporter of life in urban America. (Think "This Is My Country").

We had a lot of ideas and Curtis was certainly on our A List but whether we could get Curtis to do it for no money and all the rest of the stuff you know was something else.

Producer Sig Shore sent Curtis the 45 page screenplay and Curtis loved it.Nate Adams, who played the dealer and supervised the wardrobe for the film, says Curtis was a natural fit.

   He has an affinity for this drug hustler scene. He went back to Chicago and he had "Pusherman" in the can. He had "Freddy's Dead" already composed. he just didn't have it as Freddy's dead you know. When he came into the equation I knew we had something .

The movie achieved cult status. But The soundtrack was an even bigger deal --out-grossing the film thanks to two million selling singles "Freddie's Dead" (#2 RandB/#4 Pop) and "Superfly" (#5 RandB/#8 Pop).

The critics heaped praise on the album. Billboard wrote "This LP is not only great but will put the Curtis Mayfield name where it belongs -- at the top." Rolling Stone's Bob Donat wrote "Superfly is not only a superior, imaginative soundtrack, but fine funky music as well and the best of Curtis Mayfield's four albums made since he left the Impressions since the "Gypsy Woman" days."

 Other R and B artists would follow Hayes's and Mayfield's lead. 1972 saw the release of Bobby Womack's Across 110th Street  soundtrack and Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man. James Brown's Black Caesar soundtrack and Willie Hutch's The Mack both came out in 1973.

But by 1979, the year Disco Godfather came out, the days of Blaxploitation films were pretty much over.

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