I was doing some last minute Christmas shopping and came across a copy of Mayfield’s first solo album in a sale bin. I still remember nearly passing it up, as I know it’s bad to buy yourself something before Christmas, but thankfully the price allowed my indulgence and I have been thankful ever since.
Mayfield’s first album, Curtis, is a wondrous affair and for those who haven’t heard it or don’t have it on CD, Rhino’s 2000 reissue of it is a must buy. I am always amazed to see any best of lists without it on there, but considering those lists often ignore soul and funks finest albums I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise.
I was immediately captured by the album and recall listening to it that first time as I was driving over to my mom’s for the holidays. It had snowed maybe an inch but the sun had come out and it was disappearing as my commute from Lexington to Louisville went by as the album progressed. I still remember feeling profoundly sad and defeated as I was driving over due to the events that had struck me in the couple of years leading up to that day, events I won’t go into here, but it was a sober kind of depression that had been threatening to lift. I needed something to help it pass though.
The moment "Move On Up" first began for me was an incredible experience. I literally got goose bumps as Mayfield’s near ten-minute ode a brighter day began to take effect. I believe that the old adage that some music can have a deep healing power is true and that was (and is) the case with much of Mayfield’s music, with Move On Up being near the most curative.
I really needed something that morning to make me believe that everything was going to be okay and Curtis Mayfield’s marvelous track gave me that, and it still does to this day no matter how many thousands of times I have heard it. If I am feeling down, or if everything is just feeling hopeless, I play "Move On Up" to remind myself that not all is lost…the song is the sun suddenly breaking through a string of cloudy days.
I’m really grateful to Curtis for a lot of his music, especially "Move On Up". Apparently I am not the only one as I hear it all the time now, check the endings to both Bend It Like Beckham and the more recent Semi-Pro. The Jam of course did a pretty swell version of it as well and I always appreciated how fond Paul Weller was of the great Mayfield.
I was disturbed and disheartened recently to see ‘artist’ Kanya West pillaging Mayfield’s classic for his "Touch The Sky". It breaks my heart that many young people’s introduction to Mayfield’s rousing track is through this raping of it. Also add on that most of them probably don’t even know its Curtis Mayfield makes it even worst. I only hope Mayfield’s surviving family is seeing some major royalties as I am sure West has made more from his track than Curtis made in his entire career.
The original is still the best and if you have only heard the song courtesy of some soundtracks, pick up Curtis. The album, which was recorded in Chicago in 1970, remains one of the great works of the seventies and it can be found fairly cheaply in stores and online.