Curtis Lee Mayfield (June 3, 1942 – December 26, 1999) was an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and record producer, and one of the most influential musicians behind soul and politically conscious African-American music. He first achieved success and recognition with The Impressions during the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s, and later worked as a solo artist. Mayfield was paralyzed from the neck down after lighting equipment fell on him during a live performance at Wingate Field in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York, on August 13, 1990. Despite this, he continued his career as a recording artist, releasing his final album New World Order in 1996. Mayfield won a Grammy Legend Award in 1994 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. He is a double inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as a member of the Impressions in 1991, and again in 1999 as a solo artist. He was also a two-time Grammy Hall of Fame inductee. He died from complications of type 2 diabetes at the age of 57 on December 26, 1999. Here are all of Curtis Mayfield’s songs ranked.
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10. Blue Monday People (There’s No Place Like America Today, 1975)
“Those ‘few listeners’ may well be the focal point of the anguished, subdued “Blue Monday People”. Another low-fi soulful tune, sparsely orchestrated, that actually has Mayfield singing ‘…I’m so tired, it’s a shame…'”
9. We the People Who are Darker Than Blue (Curtis, 1970)
“We the People Who are Darker than Blue”. Curtis knows there is no point in pondering what could have been of Africa had it not been ravaged and he knows there is no use in lying about black people coming on top. There is no black and white, there is only poor or rich and lucky or unfortunate. “
8. P.S. I Love You (Give, Get, Take and Have, 1976)
“Curtis seemed more engaged with his soundtrack work and collaborations with Aretha and the Staples in the mid 70s. ‘there’s no place’ being the last of his truly satisfying albums. But man that run of albums from 70-75 is among the best in soul music.”
7. Superfly (Superfly, 1972)
“Quite exceptional single from Curtis from his equally exceptional soundtrack album of the same name. The intro bristles with intent before settling into a beat as insistent as a dealer’s petition. Curtis’ vocal floats above, narrating and commentating as his band funks out, never more than the final half-minute as the song builds up to its climactic anti-climax.”
See more: Curtis Mayfield Albums Ranked
6. So in Love (There’s No Place Like America Today, 1975)
“So in Love”, the album’s sole hit, might sound unbelievably out of place on a first listen. Nonetheless, it soon becomes clear that being ‘in love’ may actually be the only redeeming factor in a life burdened by worry. The mildly funky ballad is an oasis amid Mayfield’s more gloomy descriptions of America A.D. 1975.”
5. Pusherman (Super Fly, 1972)
“This is the album that introduced me to soul music. The song I first heard was Pusherman; it came up on my iPod whilst on shuffle (mind you, this was years ago in the days when I just discovered torrents and went absolutely crazy all over Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest album list, we’ve all had unfortunate streaks, but that meant I hadn’t listened to 75% of the things on my iPod) and it rocked my world. “
4. (Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below We’re All Going to Go (Curtis, 1970)
“This severely edited version of the + 7 minute album version dispenses with Curtis’s doom-laden spoken prologue and drops you straight into that fat synth-bass groove. Just behind Neil Young (and in front of John Lennon) with a lyric calling out Nixon by name, to borrow from another of his songs it keeps on keeping on with the dramatic dovetailing of percussion and strings heightening the apocalyptic lyric, the paranoia reinforced by an echoing vocal of Mayfield’s universal warning.”
3. Move on Up (Curtis, 1970)
“Tempestuous, oceanic soul funk. The way Curtis’s voice, so lush and agile, grips and maneuvers the melody while holding the arrangement on a long leash makes for a wild but deeply focused banger. It’s a subtle emotional maelstrom, an expansive poem about the anxieties of a major beginning, of things becoming suddenly different, of the starkness of change, the panic, the seething potential for bliss. Move on up.”
2. The Makings of You (Curtis, 1970)
“On that ever present debate over Mayfield’s balladry, let’s concede that he does drip the honey on with fearful abandon on perhaps the only the clunker present, ‘The Makings of You’, diabetics should be given one of those PMRC warning stickers before listening, his tenor enriching a cinematic arrangement almost make it forgivable.”
1. Freddie’s Dead (Super Fly, 1972)
“A brutal and bare title for this the first single from the “Superfly” soundtrack and what a belter it is.
Boasting a simple but effective subtly-varied three note riff, Mayfield vividly relates the street-corner demise of a petty drug-dealer, letting the story itself be the warning rather than resorting to sermonising, turning up the squalor factor when the brass really wails about two minutes in and he messes with the key changes, the strings all the while weeping in the background.”