This soundtrack to the flash and clever Super Fly is as pleasing and pretty in your living room as it is mingled with the images that it aurally represents. In fact the anti-drug message on the record is far stronger and more definite than in the film, which was diluted by schizoid cross purposes. Super Fly, the film, glamorizes machismo-cocaine consciousness while making a political moralization about the process that keeps drugs illegal yet sees that they are supplied in quantity to the ghetto. The only way that black political consciousness is treated is to make it seem impotent and trivial.
Yet the implied “plot” in Curtis Mayfield’s music and lyrics closely follows the line of the film; each song is readily identifiable with various scenes; the many attitudes and poses that Curtis adopts in his music, whether it be the tough-yet-sensitive persona or a sort of narrative third person, all point to rejection of dope control and self-liberation, the most positive themes of what will be a heavily influential film.
But the greatest quality of any soundtrack is that it can stand alone. Super Fly is not only a superior, imaginative soundtrack, but fine funky music as well and the best of Curtis Mayfield’s four albums made since he left the Impressions. Equal credit of course goes to arranger — orchestrator and long-time Mayfield collaborator Johnny Pate, who’s written charts for Curtis and the Impressions since the “Gypsy Woman” days. The Mayfield-Pate team dipped into three distinct musical satchels to pull out this lovely and energetic song cycle — the established Shaft system of dramatic, heaving chords and souped-up, insectine guitar and synthesizer chops devised by Isaac Hayes; the lyrical power of the song style and orchestration of Marvin Gaye and David Van de-Pitte; and, certainly not least, the amazing emotive skill of Curtis Mayfield, whose technique is honed and carried to strange extremes. “Pusherman,” the major vocal theme of the film, identifying the protagonist (“a man of odd circumstance, a victim of ghetto demands”), is almost scary and perverse, given Curtis’ manner: He kisses the word “pusherman” rather than sings it. The implications are so heavy that this truly amazing song, with its metallic percussion and hypnotic, drugged tone, couldn’t possibly be released as a single. The more conservative “Freddie’s Dead,” which deals with the demise of a sad fat stooge, was doled out instead to a faunching public and is now at the top of everyone’s Hot Hundred.
“Little Child Runnin’ Wild” sets the tone of the whole record — episodic, tragic, hungry and telling tales of psychic misery. The story is that the coke dealer wants to split the scene, leave it clean and is all pent up with conflicts of values. Mayfield’s soothing falsetto purr transforms into an anxious cry during climactic moments in the song/stories — he is a tremendous vocal actor: “Pusherman,” “Freddie’s Dead” and “Eddie You Should Know Better” are crawling with tension; “Nothing On Me” and “Super Fly” are triumphant and wailing, and “Give Me Your Love” is fine accompaniment for the slippery bathtub-fuck scene that makes the whole picture worthwhile for many of its patrons. The moral is that ol’ Super Fly is still badass stuff even if the cops are behind it, and also that this record is currently selling as well as good coke and deserves to do so.