Curtis Mayfield: A Musical Journey

Curtis Mayfield first came to my attention as part of the vocal group, The Impressions.

I was only twelve years old when I heard their song Talking About My Baby. I was very taken with the distinctive voice on the track, which I later found out belonged to one Curtis Mayfield.

That inspired me to get one of their albums on vinyl, and the following year I became the proud owner of their latest release, ‘People Get Ready’
The title song was about civil rights, and showcased the voice of Curtis Mayfield perfectly.

By 1970, I was 18 years old, and Curtis had left The Impressions to embark on a career as a solo artist. From his first album, he released the excellent ‘Move On Up’, and I was sure from the start that his new venture was going to be a winner.

1971 brought us his second album, ‘Roots’. This also provided a world-wide hit, with the song, ‘We Got To Have Peace’.
That track showed his distinctive voice at its best.

One year later, he created the award-winning soundtrack for the popular Blaxploitation film, ‘Superfly’, starring Ron O’Neal, with a role in the cast for Curtis playing himself. This was Funk music at its best, and became a huge hit both as a single release, and a soundtrack album too.

Over the next decade, he released an album almost every year. Then in 1987, he collaborated with the English band The Blow Monkeys, on the anti-Margaret Thatcher song, ‘(Celebrate) The Day After You’.
You can see and hear his distinctive contribution in this official video.

He continued to release records, and perform live to sell-out audiences. Then in 1990, he was seriously injured when a lighting rig fell on him during a performance. Paralysed from the neck down, he still managed to record his final, album, with all the vocals sung whilst lying on his back.
Seriously ill with Diabetes, he died in 1999.

Curtis Lee Mayfield. 1942-1999

Operatic Rock: God Gave Rock And Roll To You

I have featured this song here before. But it is worth another look.

I was watching a TV show late last night. It was showing classic performances from 1970s bands performing live on the now defunct BBC music show, The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Rod Argent founded The Zombies. He later met singer-songwriter Russ Ballard, and they became Argent. In 1973, when they released this song, I was still rooted in my love of Soul music, though also a big fan of David Bowie.
But this anthem from Argent swept me away, with Rod’s amazing organ playing, and Ballard’s brilliant guitar skills.

It was a song with scope, one meant to be seen and heard played live, showcasing the talents of all involved.

Forty-six years later, I am sad to hear that many people associate the song with the American band, KISS. Ballard wrote the song, and together with Rod Argent created a wall of sound to accompany it.

This is the original version, and it never gets old for me.

Lyrically Evocative (24)

My wife is a huge fan of the singer Lewis Capaldi. The Scottish singer-songwriter has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame, and has been compared in both style and substance to the world-wide pop phenomenon, Ed Sheeran.

I didn’t take too much notice of him, leaving her to enjoy her new favourite. But then I heard this song.

The lyrics.

Someone You Loved
Lewis Capaldi

I’m going under and this time I fear there’s no one to save me
This all or nothing really got a way of driving me crazy
I need somebody to heal
Somebody to know
Somebody to have
Somebody to hold
It’s easy to say
But it’s never the same
I guess I kinda liked the way you numbed all the pain
Now the day bleeds
Into nightfall
And you’re not here
To get me through it all
I let my guard down
And then you pulled the rug
I was getting kinda used to being someone you loved
I’m going under and this time I fear there’s no one to turn to
This all or nothing way of loving got me sleeping without you
Now, I need somebody to know
Somebody to heal
Somebody to have
Just to know how it feels
It’s easy to say but it’s never the same
I guess I kinda liked the way you helped me escape
Now the day bleeds
Into nightfall
And you’re not here
To get me through it all
I let my guard down
And then you pulled the rug
I was getting kinda used to being someone you loved
And I tend to close my eyes when it hurts sometimes
I fall into your arms
I’ll be safe in your sound ’til I come back around
For now the day bleeds
Into nightfall
And you’re not here
To get me through it all
I let my guard down
And then you pulled the rug
I was getting kinda used to being someone you loved
But now the day bleeds
Into nightfall
And you’re not here
To get me through it all
I let my guard down
And then you pulled the rug
I was getting kinda used to being someone you loved
I let my guard down
And then you pulled the rug
I was getting kinda used to being someone you loved

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Benjamin Kohn / Lewis Capaldi / Peter Kelleher / Samuel Roman / Tom Barnes
Someone You Loved lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

If you have ever broken up with someone, been dumped, divorced, or come off worse in a loving relationship, then you are sure to identify with every word.
And it sounds great too. Here is Lewis performing the song.

That’s not him in the video. It’s his cousin, the famous actor, Peter Capaldi.

Lyrically Evocative (23)

In 1991, I heard a great love song on the radio. It was very much of its time, a ‘Power Ballad’. Great saxophone work, and smooth vocals, I just had to get it. So I bought the CD album, by Curtis Stigers. Playing it over and over, I found that the lyrics of this song were very relevant to some situations in my life.
I haven’t played it for many years now, but I heard it again a couple of days ago, and it all came flooding back.

The Lyrics.

Love is a hunger
That burns in my soul
But you never notice the pain
Love is an anchor
That won’t let me go
I reach out to hold you
But you push me away
You always convince me to stay
And I wonder why
We hold on with tears in our eyes
And I wonder why
We have to break down to just make
Things right
And I wonder why
I can’t seem to tell you goodbye
Yeah, I wonder why
I’m no angel
With my selfish pride
But I love you more every day
Love is an anger
That builds up inside
As the tears of frustration
Roll down my face
Why does love always have to turn
Out this way
I don’t want to fight again tonight
About the little things please baby
I just want to find my way
Back to love
And I’ll meet you there, baby
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Curtis Stigers / Glen Ballard
I Wonder Why lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., The Bicycle Music Company

And here is Curtis performing the song. He plays that great Sax too.

Curtis is still performing and playing, mostly Jazz these days.
He is 53 now, and has much shorter hair.

Guest Post: Thom Hickey

Music and writing, poetry and memories. Thom’s blog has it all. There is NO better music blog out there, believe me, and Thom covers every genre of music with a passion, love, and in-depth knowledge that is apparent from the first word you read. And if you enjoy an Irish connection, he has a wealth of those too.

As much as I am delighted to showcase British blogger Thom, he really doesn’t need too much promotion. His blog is HUGE, with loads of followers, and umpteen views and comments on every post.
But see for yourself, just how good the best music blog can be.
https://theimmortaljukebox.com/

Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Lyle Lovett & Toots Thielmans : Smile

Exploring the genius of Charlie Chaplin featuring :

Chaplin himself, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Jimmy Durante, Lyle Lovett & Toots Thielmans.

Genius is an extremely overworked term when applied to popular artists of the twentieth century.

Nevertheless, without any hesitation I can assert that Charlie Chaplin was a genius.

He was a master of every aspect of film making – writing, acting, producing and directing.

And, he did something only the very rarest artists do – he created an iconic character (the Tramp) who has become part of the very fabric of popular consciousness.

He was a Poet of the Cinema with a deep tragi-comic vision.

A vision whose beauty and truth was recognised and welcomed whatever the age, language and culture of those who encountered his films.

The best definition of genius I know comes from Arthur Schopenhauer :

‘The genius … lights on his age like a comet into the paths of the planets, to whose well-regulated and comprehensible arrangement its wholly eccentric course is foreign.

Accordingly, he cannot go hand in hand with the regular course of the culture of the times as found; on the contrary, he casts his works far out on to the path in front …

Talent is like the marksman who hits a target which others cannot reach; genius is like the marksman who hits a target … which others cannot even see.’

Charlie Chaplin fully meets that definition.

Oh, and in addition to the honour board of talents listed above he was also a talented composer who wrote the music for one of the most affecting songs of his and any other era – ‘Smile’.

Chaplin, of course, thought in cinematic terms so let’s kick off this tribute to his genius with ‘Smile’ in its first incarnation as part of his score to his masterpiece from 1936, ‘Modern Times’.

Every element of this scene reflects the enormous pains Chaplin took to achieve the exact effects he was seeking.

Chaplin knew all about the Fear and Sorrow that beset so many lives.

He knew that a smile was often your best disguise and perhaps your only defence against the sadness that might otherwise overwhelm you.

The Tramp always keeps alive a spark of Hope, of determination to survive – to be present for what, who knows, may, just may, turn out to be a better tomorrow.

Chaplin’s whole cinematic persona – in the delicacy of his facial gestures and the gamut of his physical pantomime amounts in a sense to an alertness to the promise of Life – no matter how dire the circumstances.

With his mastery of mime and the balletic grace of his movement he was able to convey more nuances of emotion than a hundred lines of dialogue could convey.

His genius was both to acknowledge the Fear and Sorrow but not to surrender to it – to grandly and magnificently literally laugh in the face of it.

And, if Charlie can survive so might we.

As cinema goers, a spring anew in their step, left a Chaplin film they were reassured that light and laughter could outshine the darkness.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you ….

The lyric and a title for Chaplin’s melody came from John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons in 1954.

The Premier recording was by a peerless balladeer of Golden Age American Song – Nat King Cole.

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just Smile.

There is no grandiloquence in Nat’s performance.

Knowing that he had a rare treasure here he simply presents the song allowing the beauty of the melody and the poignancy of the words to travel into the hearts and minds of the audience.

‘Simple’ for Nat King Cole because of the burnished gold of his voice which makes us all gladly share any emotion he is evoking.

If I imagine an exhausted couple slow dancing to Nat’s version in the sanctuary of their home I can only imagine the next take as a solo dance underneath a waning Moon.

Judy Garland.

If ever an artist was born to sing a song it was Judy to sing, ‘Smile’.

Fear and Sorrow and Heartbreak surrounded her all her days.

And, those circumstances were fully incarnated in her voice when she sang – especially when she sang, ‘Smile’.

Her Version is filled with tears and sadness – the gladness and the smile is in the going on, the going on.

I am going to repeat something I wrote about Garland before because I don’t think I can say what I mean to say any better.

Her singing on this song seems to me to be almost miraculous.

It’s as if her singing really came from secret chambers of the heart all the rest of us keep under guard.

No wonder she has such a deep impact on us – we know she is expressing a profound truth about the human condition – our need to love and know we are loved.

Judy Garland paid a high price in terms of personal happiness for living her life and art with such an exposed heart and soul but she fulfilled a vocation given to very few and left an indelible mark on her age and will surely do for aeons to come.

There are hundreds and hundreds of versions of Smile but not a single one sounds anything like the depths that Judy Garland does.

And now for something completely different!

Jimmy Durante brought his own very real magic to Smile.

A straight from the shoulder, Hey Bud, have one on me, growl that’s surprisingly affecting.

Lyle Lovett knows songs having written many fine ones himself.

There is always consideration and deliberation involved in the way he approaches a song.

So, his Smile is ruminative, baffled and melancholic.

To conclude here’s something really special.

The great Jazz Harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielmans, at 90, bringing a lifetime of craft and experience to bear on Chaplin’s insights into the changeable weather of the human heart.

In a previous feature on, ‘The Third Man’ I noted that it had one of the great endings in the Film Canon.

Well, Charlie Chaplin was a supreme master of ending a Film in a highly memorable and emotionally satisfying way.

The melody plays, the camera rolls and our hearts are uplifted.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just Smile

If you just Smile.

Now I think you will agree that this is how to write about a song!

The Jamiroquai effect

Regular readers since 2016 will be aware of me writing about this blogging phenomenon. In that year, I posted about the once-popular British band, Jamiroquai.
https://beetleypete.com/2016/09/04/whatever-happened-to-jamiroquai/

This was just a thought on my part, and one that I didn’t really expect anyone to be that bothered about. Despite a few top ten hits, and a loyal fan base, the band and its front man, Jay Kay, had stopped recording and performing some time back, and I was just wondering what they were up to.

I could never have guessed that this would become one of my most-read posts, with views currently in excess of 5,000. I continued to write posts about how the subject was attracting world-wide interest on my blog, and then in 2018, they finally released a new album. It wasn’t well-received, and vanished almost without trace. So, once again, they were ‘gone’.

Despite this second disappearance, the post continues to be read every day, without fail. Just this morning, I noticed it had already been read five times since I logged on, and since 2016, not one day has passed without someone somewhere reading that post.

So the next time you hesitate to publish a post, thinking it might be too much of a ‘niche interest’, remember Jamiroquai. 🙂