It’s fair to say that everyone – consciously or subconsciously – knows Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move on Up’, originally released in 1970 on the Curtis album. It truly is a soul classic, but there is so much more to Curtis Mayfield than this – even if commercial radio only plays this particular track. His career began in the late fifties, being asked to join The Impression as guitarist by the groups then lead singer Jerry Butler; Mayfield accepted the offer, and before long Butler had amicably left the line-up and Mayfield had taken up artistic control of the group. Under his direction The Impressions created some truly beautiful harmonies on songs such as ‘I’m So Proud’, ‘Gypsy Women’, and ‘It’s Alright’, whilst the classic ‘People Get Ready’ became a civil rights anthem.
Mayfield left the group in the early seventies to go on and produce several excellent solo albums, and scored the soundtrack to SuperFly one of the first Blaxploitation films released, as well as producing Aretha Franklin’s fabulous yet underrated album Sparkle. As the eighties came around, Mayfield’s output was somewhat sporadic but he continued to reunite with The Impressions and Butler for touring. Then tragedy stuck: in 1990 when a piece of stage lighting fell on top of Mayfield, paralysing him from the neck down. Yet Mayfield persisted and continued to write for himself and the The Impressions, and managed to put out his final album in 1997, New World Order.
The only way Mayfield could record was by lying on his back, recording one line at a time so he could get enough air into his lungs to complete his vocals. Once the vocals were finally laid down they were edited together, and a final, poignant album was completed.
Perhaps the best song on the album is ‘Back to Living Again’, clearly a message about overcoming his paralysis by doing something he loved. The song is touching, poignant, and heart wrenching. Despite his difficulties in recording the vocal, Mayfield sounds good, clearly enjoying the recording process once again; indeed, he was nominated for Best Male R&B Vocal at the 1998 Grammys. More excitingly, the song features a cameo from the Queen of Soul herself, Miss Aretha Franklin, urging Mayfield to ‘sing it’. It’s a brilliant song, and as Mayfield died in 1999, it has special resonance. We recommend you check it out below.