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Chicago Blues

TBT – Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” is an Inner City Manifesto

June 04
15:03 2015


There are poets that write beautiful prose. There are poets that give witness to the truth, and the beauty of their writing is in the stage they set, and the images they paint. Sometimes, the truth yields an ugly portrait, leaving us to shake our heads in dismay, and consternation. Even Leonardo Da Vinci understood this, finding beauty in the grotesque, and the macabre.

Gordon Parks understood this, and used the mediums of film and photography as vehicles for his explorations. Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield also understood this, and their music provided the world with masterpieces that documented and illuminated the struggles of people of color, and those living in the inner cities of America.

Mayfield’s 1972 masterpiece Super Fly was a stunning realization of the unrest, violence, hopelessness, and the struggle to survive for many. With titles like “Pusherman,” “Freddie’s Dead,” “Little Child Runnin’ Wild,” and “Junkie Chase (Instrumental),” Mayfield presents life where there is a constant struggle against “the man,” and a sense of inevitability that life will continue to present obstacles filling inhabitants with dread, and a sense that the ability to overcome the deck stacked against them is a dream on it’s deathbed. This album was validation of what they faced every day.

As brilliant as the lyrics are, it is the music that brings these stories to life. This isn’t the Motown sound, or Memphis soul, or even the Philadelphia sound; this soul is funky, gritty, and real.

Issued on the Curtom record label, the original album, which is the soundtrack to the movie of the same name, contains nine tracks, with a running time just over 37 minutes. Not only did this album document the desperation of the lives being lived in the inner cities of America from the perspective of those living them, it spawned a whole new genre of soul.

In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Super Fly number 69 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The title track has been selected for inclusion in he Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”.

Here is a work as masterful as anything Shakespeare ever wrote, remaining as relevant today as when it was written. Great art, like the truth, always endures, never becoming passé.


About Author

Barry Kerzner

Barry Kerzner

For as long as I can remember I have loved music, especially Blues & Jazz. Now I write and share that love of music with others. To see my photoart, visit

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