Super Fly (Curtom Records, 1972)
Arrangements and orchestrations: Johnny Pate
We've been listening to a lot of soul/funk records in recent weeks and one of those albums is the classic that has become a benchmark for both soul as well as soundtracks--Super Fly.
For Gordon Parks' legendary crime movie, Super Fly, Curtis Mayfield of the quintessential Chicago R&B band, the Impressions, recorded the greatest blaxploitation soundtrack ever — and certainly one of the best song-driven scores, period.
The film was a smash hit, but it may not have had such a substantial impact without Mayfield’s soulfully stirring funk score, released on his own Curtom Records. The album's sales outgrossed the movie's box office and launched two hit singles, "Freddie's Dead" (#2 R&B, #4 Pop) and "Super Fly" (#5 R&B, #8 Pop).
Already well known for his socially observant songwriting, Mayfield elevated Super Fly by providing songs that comment on the film’s story. Songs like “Little Child Runnin’ Wild,” “Pusherman” and “Freddie’s Dead” hit hard lyrically and with a melodic groove that never fails to hold one’s attention. Mayfield composed and performed on several other blaxploitation scores, but none measure up to his masterpiece.
Mayfield's not-so-secret weapon on Super Fly was Johnny Pate, another Chicago R&B legend, whose crack arrangements and orchestration give Mayfield's songs a healthy dose of gravitas. Pate went on to score some badass soundtracks as well, including one of the best of the blaxploitation genre, Shaft in Africa... but that's a story for next time.