Curtis Mayfield always has a song for trying times, and I hate that this one feels right at home in 2022 as it did nearly five decades ago.
As I’ve said before, Mayfield is one of my musical masters. His music was a revelation for teenaged me, full of power, raw emotion, and soul. Mayfield had an uncanny talent at weaving sound and message together. His early ’70s run was monumental, marked by legendary releases such as 1970’s Curtis and 1972’s Super Fly, albums which were funky, grand, and supremely focused on the joys and struggles of Black America. The music is important, liberating, and still very much relevant.
Following a critical and commercial high with ’72’s Super Fly, Mayfield’s next record, 1973’s Back to The World, isn’t as fondly remembered as earlier works, but this album still contains some standout listens from Mayfield. A concept album focusing on soldiers returning from Vietnam (similarly explored by Marvin Gaye on his legendary ’71 album What’s Going On), Back to The World has potent social commentary on the difficulties and social ills encountered by Black GIs returning to their communities: Poverty, drugs, neglect, crime, and a pervasive. sinking feeling for Black folks that after a tumultuous and progressive decade in the 1960s, things were settling in for a far more muted and downtrodden 1970s.
There is a deep-seated feeling of sadness and despondency at the heart of “Right On for the Darkness,” right from that doleful, haunting guitar lick that opens the song. Mayfield’s falsetto hits your heart, as he sings about keeping a blind eye to a corrupt, greedy, and shiftless society and a nation edging towards the abyss. This listen feels so…so down, downtrodden, and resigned to defeat. The strings, horns, and fast tempo of the song just feels like it’s speeding its way towards the demise, and the break towards the end, dropping into the swell of strings, feels so heavy that it can bring tears to your eyes. A staggering listen.