Curtis Mayfield was never shy about speaking up.
When he left the Impressions and unveiled Curtom, his very own record label, he fired away with masterful songs that only elevated his musical messages further, including "The Other Side of Town," "We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue," "Beautiful Brother of Mine" and "Miss Black America."
So it came as no surprise when the King of Conscious Soul was tapped to create the soundtrack for the 1972 blaxploitation film Super Fly as a new wave of black directors stepped forth to steer the direction of contemporary cinema. As the film's star, Ron O' Neal, expressed in an interview, “Super Fly is about people who don’t believe in the American Dream at all.”
The resulting soundtrack, Super Fly, marked Mayfield's third studio album as a solo artist. The soulful, political and raw collection of nine songs, produced and performed by Mayfield, quickly earned its reputation in its ability to bridge the gap between commercial entertainment and conscious truth with integrity, earning both critical acclaim and millions in sales. Tune in below for four funky facts about the landmark album.
4. On the Marvin Gaye influence on the album
Marvin Gaye had released his immortal album What's Going On the year prior, speaking directly to the hearts and minds of American society - including Mayfield.
“I was very influenced by Marvin [Gaye’s] ‘What’s Going On’ album,” Mayfield recalled years later. “When they asked me to do ‘Superfly,’ I was worried because I thought Marvin had already covered all the social commentary and soul music bases.”
3. On the soundtrack's top hits
The album spawned two million-selling Top Ten pop and R&B hits: “Superfly” and “Freddie’s Dead." continued the tradition of social commentary in popular black music and served as a subversive dissonant--a counter story to the story being played out on the screen.
“Superfly," the celebratory closing track to the album quickly made its name in the music world, further launching the trajectory of the blaxploitation genre as it dared to push forth conversations about hustling, blackness, pain and poverty. As Mayfield triumphantly sang about fortune and the supposed fast route to riches, the funk jam rose to No. 8 on the pop charts, No. 5 on the R&B charts and sold more than a million copies.
"Freddie's Dead" emerged as Super Fly's first single, giving the world a funk-filled view of the film that would soon hit theaters. And it wasn't pretty. Mayfield lyrics comb through the disturbing effect of systemic injustice in the states as he sang about commonality of Fat Freddie's in the American class system: “Everybody’s misused him / Ripped him off and abused him / Another junkie plan / Pushing dope for ‘the man." In the movie, the song began playing when a character put the record on a turntable.
2. On Mayfield's "Freddie's Dead" fury
In his book, “Traveling Soul the Life of Curtis Mayfield,” Mayfield’s son, Todd, revealed that his father was enraged when “Freddie’s Dead” lost out on a Best Original Song Academy Award nomination. The song was ruled ineligible because the version featured in the film didn’t include Mayfield’s vocals.
1. On the Mayfield effect on the film
Super Fly became a cornerstone in blaxploitation cinema, even replacing The Godfather out of the No. 1 spot on Variety's acclaimed Top Grossing Films List. The film initially grossed over $20 million dollars and became the highest-grossing blaxploitation film at the time. Super Fly, the soundtrack, would inspire the likes of Bobby Brown's Across 110th Street, James Brown's Black Caesar and more.