With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day coming up in a week and a half, I’ve been bustin’ out one of my favorite Black Power albums. This one came out just a couple months after King’s assassination, and is full of songs that give ease and comfort to folks going through troubled times. Though this is largely an album about love and tenderness, it is book-ended by songs declaring the inevitability of the civil rights movement, because blacks have worked too hard in this country “to go second class.”
I’ve read some reviews from Curtis Mayfield fans who find this album to be simply repeating the tried-and-true Impressions formula. I have to admit I’ve only heard a bit of their mid-sixties stuff, but I find this album to be just the opposite–it still has one foot in a smooth, cosmopolitan Motown-esque sound, and it certainly isn’t funky in the way Mayfield and the seventies would be come, but it’s its own thang. It’s beautiful music, with tender harmonies, staccato strings that don’t sound angry or mercenary, and oh, Mayfield’s sweet sweet voice! I love men with angelic voices, whether Carl Wilson, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, or Flo and Eddie. And Mayfield’s got one of the sweetest and warmest of the bunch. Yet they still have the other Impressions in the background, giving him a vocal support that he sorely lacks in his seventies work.
My favorite track on here is not a political one, except in the cultural sense. “Love’s Happening” is a tune about a man telling a hippie girl to dump the psychedelic bozo she’s got. Instead, Curtis is going to “show her the way to love’s happening.” It’s a beautiful song about a real man stealing a flower child from a chump, and the arrangement is so good and so sweet, I always play this first.