Five absolutely perfect albums from the 1970s

The 1970s was one of the more eclectic decades for music.
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The 1972 movie Super Fly (remade in 2018), was a fairly good entry in the early-‘70s Blaxploitation trend that sold urban crime stories to a curious suburban public. It has several good elements but also suffers from some of the stereotypical tropes and over-acting associated with the sub-genre. It also had what may well be the greatest soundtrack of any American film before or since.

Curtis Mayfield had graduated from the R&B group The Impressions and by 1970, was creating his own original music. Super Fly was his third solo album, composed for Gordon Parks Jr’s movie. It yielded two top ten hits – “Freddie’s Dead” and the title track. What is most remarkable about the album is how well it serves both of its purposes – both as a movie soundtrack and as a stand-alone album.

It begins with the expansive “Little Child Runnin’ Wild” which cracks open an entire world. Then Mayfield narrows his vision on the personal characters that inhabit this world. The seductive “Pusherman” and the tragic story of Freddie complete one of the greatest trio of opening songs. Side one concludes with one of two instrumentals on the album – the pulse-pounding, horn-driven “Junkie Chase.”

Side two is where Mayfield could have easily gone off track. The songs branch out in terms so style and subject. But even on the gentler, more poignant tracks, Mayfield’s songs never lose their funk and their energy. Often, he relies on frequent collaborator Lucky Scott and his super-cool bass runs to carry the song. Other times, it is Mayfield’s pure, street-aware tenor. There are saxes and horns and pianos that all seem to appear magically whenever needed. And it all wraps up with the most perfect movie soundtrack closer you will ever find – the title track. “The only game you know is do or die.”