There are a lot of reasons that Sam Cooke is still remembered, but there was no finer moment in his songwriting career than “A Change Is Gonna Come”, a song that became a watershed moment for the Civil Rights Movement. Inspired in part by Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind”, Cooke took to writing his own protest song, one that would be much more ambitious and striking.
At the outset of the seventies, Curtis Mayfield became more than just the former co-leader of The Impressions with his first solo record Curtis, further cemented his success with Roots and would enter the soul and pop music stratosphere with Superfly. But I consistently find myself going back to Curtis Live!, a record that largely came from a couple night performances in January 1971 at The Bitter End in New York City.
Perhaps it’s because this record is ostensibly his previous work’s polar opposite. Curtis Live! is remarkably lean and intimate, where the scope of Curtis and Roots were cinematic and lush affairs. In truth, Mayfield always possessed this melodic minimalism, hell, “Move On Up” is a treatise on the subject. There are maybe a handful of great live soul records; Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club, Donny Hathaway’s Live and this one, and part of the magic of listening to this visceral cut of an Impressions song is just how well the band swings it. The band had maybe played together for two days before the time of the recording and they’re about as tight as any band might hope to be.
“Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey)” is a great introduction to the record, as the band works into the groove for the first thirty seconds before those backing vocals bring the song home. Mayfield had written “Mighty Mighty” as social commentary in 1968, and he does a nice job integrating James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” in the middle of this version of the song. Also, those drums…that’s some serious pocket, and the drummer Tyrone McCullen deserves all the credit in the world.
Other favorites on this record are “We’re A Winner”, another reworked Impressions song, and “We’ve Only Just Begun”, which is a beautiful rendition of a Carpenters song. I know, but Mayfield sings it with all the conviction in the world.
The end of summer always comes way too quickly for my liking but luckily for everyone summer puts its last gasp into Labor Day weekend, a weekend reserved for high school kids to deal with the after shock of being back at school and one last summer barbecue for family and friends together. To celebrate I’ve put together a sweet soulful compilation of some of the best soul the fifties, sixties and seventies had to offer. Punchy, bright, supple and warm, these numbers will put a little kick into your afternoon and bring you into the night. Remember, all the tracks listed here are free (just right-click on the link and save target/link as), but please, if you like them, support the artists. The mix after the jump
The original was a disco meets new wave stylized single, this cover breathes new life into the melody and arrangement with mandolins banjos upright bass and a sublime guitar solo. I’d never thought I’d hear a man cover Blondie so well.
I found this band by way of covers its lead singer (Eef Barzelay) had done. Yet this original shows they are capable of more than just cover band fare, like a less grating R.E.M. with some vintage Rolling Stones guitar thrown in, this song builds and builds, your enjoyment growing along with it.
Most of you might recognize this song as being in the Fender myTouch commercial, and its a sweet song. Clapton made a career of sunny eyed blues numbers like this, the hook is undeniable and the lyrics are heartfelt.
This song starts like a behemoth, the harmonies and organ and guitar providing an airy landscape, one of those songs meant for headphones, where you can be in your own world.
The guitars draw you in, the vocals keep you, and the arrangement keeps it interesting for multiple listens. Don’t sleep on this one.
It’s a cover of a Ritchie Valens song, but this reading is so beautiful that it goes far beyond the label, the arrangement conveys heartbreak and the lyrics break your heart.
Theeere Back! I just can’t get enough of this band, with their endlessly endearing vocals, creative and ever changing arrangements and strong hooks.
Both are masters of the laid back acoustic vibe, so its no surprise how the arrangement plays out, whats special is their harmony, tight and organic, you can tell these guys really respect each other and they play off each other really well.
I’m not one to give DMB credit where they’re not due but this song is great. The melody is classic, its sung beautifully, soft and understated with lyrics to match.
Phoenix covering one of the greatest songs Bob Dylan ever laid to tape, a late night brood of a song, they stay faithful to the original but its nice to hear someone else take it on.
Swagger, this band has it, from the arrangement to the singing down to the lyrics. Think of an updated version of Some Girls era Rolling Stones, except straight from the heart of NYC.
The Kooks had so much energy on their debut that it was no surprise success caught on quickly, but the Kooks aren’t a flash in the pan, their melodies are tight their dynamics are perfect and they single-handedly carry guitar rock on their backs with the riffs in this song.
Culled from the Curtis/Live album, MM S &W is a lesson in band dynamics with the drummer so deep in the pocket of the groove he makes Mitch Mitchell seem like an amateur, the harmonies are wonderfully placed with the guitar and this whole track just moves. The beauty of Mayfield isn’t that his melodys go to crazy places, its the movement and inspiration within them, and on those terms theres no one better.
Why this one in particular? In terms of its dreamy psychedelics and melodic fluidity, this song was the Holy Grail Pink Floyd chased their entire careers.
Weighing in at a little over a minute, its one of the catchiest songs The Beatles ever wrote.
Why this song? Well Martin Luther King Jr. using it as inspiration for his civil rights goals is a sure good reason, and Curtis Mayfield greatly inspired Jimi Hendrix’s playing style on guitar, if you even needed another one.
Before Kanye West released Touch The Sky, there was the original song, the horns bright, the rhythm breakneck and the melody unstoppable. Pure inspiration at its finest.