Aretha Franklin – Sparkle OST (1976) (with Curtis Mayfield)

Aretha Franklin – Sparkle
1976 Atlantic SD 18176
Produced and composed by Curtis Mayfield
This reissue by 2012 HDtracks

1 Sparkle –  4:13
2 Something He Can Feel –  6:21
3 Hooked on Your Love –  5:00
4 Look into Your Heart –  4:04
5 I Get High –  4:11
6 Jump – 2:19
7 Loving You Baby –  3:48
8 Rock with Me –  3:11

Recorded at Curtom Studios, Chicago
Remixed at Record Plant, Los Angeles

Arranged By, Orchestrated By – Rich Tufo

Backing Vocals – Kitty Haywood Singers
Recording Engineer – Roger Anfinsen
Horns – Lenard Druss
Photography By – Sam Emerson
Producer, composed and arranged  by Curtis Mayfield
Strings – Sol Bobrov

There have been no shortage of eulogies and retrospectives on the life and career of the great Aretha Franklin in the last few weeks.  Some well-done, some shallow and superficial.  But I’ve been happily busy “in the real world” and am well overdue for a blog post, and rather than add my own verbosity to the amen corner praising Aretha, I thought I’d just share one of her under-appreciated gems, a collaboration with the luminous Curtis Mayfield.  These two titans both managed to be pioneers in their field, voices for civil rights and black liberation, and tremendously successful commercially, so they are on the short list of artists who can tick all those boxes.  The first track that really jumps out at you from this album is “Giving Him Something He Can Feel,” which – if I am completely honest with my readers, and when am I not? – I almost definitely first heard as the cool remake by En Vogue in 1992.  They also covered (less memorably) ‘Hooked On Your Love’ from this album.  I’ve never seen the film and am not in a huge hurry to see it: this was the era of soundtracks being exponentially better than their associated films, after all.  Apparently, the film was remade in 2012, which I didn’t even know until making this blog post.

Mr. Palmer’s original review of the record is pretty spot-on so I am including it here (even his observations of Curtis’ production “formula” by the mid-70s is on point — I just happen to still really like his formula.)


Review by Robert Palmer, Rolling Stone, August 12, 1976

The instrumental tracks Curtis Mayfield produces at his Curtom Studio in Chicago always sound a little contrived. There’s a swirling harp every time you turn around, the syncopated horn figures lie just so against the bass and drums, and there is often a surfeit of trebly percussion instruments like bells, chimes and cymbals. But Mayfield understands the gospel roots of the most powerful black pop vocalists as well as, if not better than, any producer alive, and he’s carried this understanding from his earliest sides with the Impressions right on up to his latest work with the Staple Singers and, now, Aretha Franklin. Mavis Staples and Aretha are probably the most distinctive singers in the field, and although Mayfield’s work with them has suffered somewhat from sameness of material and of instrumental sound, he has understood their voices.


Sparkle, which consists of Mayfield’s tunes from the motion picture of the same name and a few extra originals, could easily have been a cheap shot, a momentary deviation from the mainstream in Aretha Franklin’s career. Instead, it is her most consistently exciting album in some time. It never quite scales the heights of the early Atlantic sides, which were recorded in the South and often sounded like off-the-cuff testifying from the back of the church. They weren’t, of course. They were as carefully put together as any great pop records, but the seams didn’t show. Sparkle is more obvious — one often feels a certain tension between the singer and the prerecorded tracks — but ultimately its manufactured sound isn’t very important. Aretha may be singing with tracks which are slick and occasionally overproduced, but she is singing her heart out.


The most satisfying aspect of the spectacular vocal performances that dominate the album is Mayfield’s channeling of their energy. Aretha has always sung with passion, but here, due no doubt to the producer’s directions, the passion rises and falls along carefully plotted curves. When she ad-libs, which is often, the results don’t just mark time between verses, they carry the song further along its developmental path. This may sound terribly calculated for an artist as emotive as Aretha, but the most successful pop producers have always known how to channel excitement. Energy that’s let out at a performer’s whim can dissipate into the air; energy that’s shaped and guided has the power to move an audience like nothing else.


A track-by-track rundown of Sparkle‘s high points would be tiresome, but one Franklin/Mayfield collaboration, “Rock with Me,” deserves special praise. It’s a deliberately paced, walkingtempo tune that avoids most of Mayfield’s songwriting and production clichés and steams along irresistibly, rising several times into the hottest hook Aretha has had to work with in some time. The rest of the album is only slightly less stirring; you can listen from beginning to end without coming upon any inappropriate filler material or lackluster vocal performances. Sparkle, even more than the Staples/Mayfield match on Let’s Do It Again, deserves an encore.


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Curtis Mayfield – There’s No Place Like America Today (1975)

There’s No Place Like America Today
Released 1975 on Curtom
Reissue on Charley / Snapper 2001

1 Billy Jack 6:07
2 When Seasons Change 5:23
3 So In Love 5:10
4 Jesus 6:10
5 Blue Monday People 4:45
6 Hard Times 3:42
7 Love To The People 4:06

   Arranged By – Rich Tufo
Bass – Lucky Scott*
Design – Lockart*
Drums – Quinton Joseph
Engineer – Roger Anfinsen
Guitar – Phil Upchurch
Illustration – Peter Palombi
Keyboards – Rich Tufo
Keyboards, Guitar – Curtis Mayfield
Percussion [Congas And Bongos] – Henry Gibson
Producer, Written-By – Curtis Mayfield


(Special Independence Day post for our United States readers…)

It’s hard to pick a favorite Curtis Mayfield album, and my judgment is
surely clouded by the fact that this album was under-celebrated at the
time and still often overlooked.  But as speaking objectively as I can,
this is surely Mayfield at the top of his game.  And possibly my
favorite album.  Clive Anderson’s liner notes on this Charly reissue may
be a bit pretentious, opening up with a citation from Wordsworth, but
they do pretty much nail the album and do it justice.  The album is truly like
an extended meditation on the American underclass, and particularly the
despair in the Black communities of the mid-70s.  He is right to point
out that (unlike previous albums, like his landmark Superfly), this
record “refrains from excoriating Black Americans for their
predicament.”  Gone are the warnings about self-destruction, as well as
the anthems of ‘racial uplift’ like Move On Up or Miss Black America.
It’s as if the utopian optimism born in the Civil Rights movement, and
its counterpart in revolutionary consciousness like that found in the
Panthers, have fizzled out into a resignation to grim realities.
Still, the record may be spare and solemn, but it’s not bleak.  Music
can still get you through the Hard Times, and Mayfield manages to show
us the redemption found in everyday moments and daily struggle, of
turning to the people close to you when everything else has let you

It’s worth pointing out that the song ‘Hard Times’ was
first recorded by Baby Huey on his one and only album, produced by
Mayfield.  And even if it’s one of the funkier cuts on the record, it’s
still downbeat, much more so than the Baby Huey’s frantic version.  Also
there’s no adlib about living on Oreos and drinking Thunderbird.
Further testament to Mayfield’s genius that he could recast his own
compositions into such different contexts and wring two different
stories out of them.

this is also one of the BEST SOUNDING CD’s I OWN.  It makes me want to find the other Charly pressings of Curits’
stuff, because the Rhino reissues sound really harsh by comparison.  I have the vinyl too and this Charly / Snapper is as close as you’ll get to perfection short of that.


mp3 icon  flac button

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The Impressions – Keep On Pushing / People Get Ready (1964, 1965)



Keep On Pushing 2:30
I’ve Been Trying 2:45
I Ain’t Supposed To 2:28
Dedicate My Song To You 1:52
Long, Long Winter 2:48
Somebody Help Me 3:15
Theme From Lillies Of The Field (Amen) 3:25
I Thank Heaven 2:30
Talking About My Baby 2:33
Don’t Let It Hide 2:20
I Love You (Yeah) 2:07
I Made A Mistake 2:31


Woman’s Got Soul
Sometimes I Wonder
We’re In Love
Just Another Dance
Can’t Work No Longer
People Get Ready
I’ve Found That I’ve Lost
Hard To Believe
See The Real Me
Get Up And Move
You Must Believe Me

The Impressions
“Keep On Pushing” and “People Get Ready”
Originally released on ABC Records, 1964 & 1965
This digital compact disc pressing on Kent Records 1996

The Impressions are Curtis Mayfield, Samuel Gooden, and Fred Cash
Arrangements by Johnny Pate

These two gorgeous records show The Impressions at a transition between their more adolescent-doo-wop/pop material to a mature soul vocal trio. Lyrically the tunes are still mostly of the romantic and lost-love variety with only the famous title tracks of both records showing a glimpse of where Mayfield’s writing was headed. Those are pretty notable exceptions, however: “Keep On Pushing,” with its jazz-inflected rhythm section, and the gospel-drenched “People Get Ready,” one of the most recorded tunes in history. Both anthemic and deeply spiritual, and with lovely arrangements from Johnny Pate. In the case of “People Gets Ready” it is really enlightening to go back and listen to this original version. Along with Mayfield’s stripped-down version on “Curtis Live!”, the original is pretty hard to improve on, although I can’t blame people for wanting to record it either. And while the album “Keep On Pushing” contains one song not penned by Mayfield (the hit “Amen”), “People Get Ready” would be the first album where Curtis was in charge of all the writing.

I don’t mean to give short shrift to a good old-fashioned love song either, because there are plenty of great ones on these two records. “I’ve Been Trying”, the second cut here, really stands out. It sounds incredibly fresh to my ears and very “modern” for 1964, in a good way. It doesn’t hurt that these records were recorded and mixed immaculately, and that Kent Records did a very nice job in remastering them. The other song sample I’ve given here below is the tune ‘Emotions’, which was actually recorded in 1962, is another favorite of mine. The liner notes allege that the song sounds out of place but I love it. It’s also a good example of the Impressions sweetening up a blues arrangement with their vocal harmonies while still retaining enough ‘grit’ to keep it from being too saccharine. The songwriting gets a little repetitive across these two albums, but I still consider these essential listening, especially for fans of Curtis Mayfield.

On a related note, the liner notes from some ABC Records suit on both of these albums are completely ridiculous, and go out of their way to depict The Impressions as “gentle” and accessible, in contrast to “the loud, unintellgible sounds that can hardly be understood through the overpowering beat of much of today’s popular music.” While this is certainly hilarious and entertaining, I am thankful that Kent saw fit to contract Peter Burns to write NEW, more informative notes for this collection.

Enjoy these two albums of classic Chicago soul!


    (320 kbs


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Baby Huey – The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend (1971)

baby huey

Baby Huey & The Babysitters
“The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend”

Original release Curtom (LP CRS-8007) 1971
This pressing Water Records 2004 (WATER 142)

1. Listen To Me 6:35
2. Mama Get Yourself Together 6:10
3. A Change Is Going To Come 9:23
4. Mighty, Mighty 2:45
5. Hard Times 3:19
6. California Dreamin’ 4:43
7. Running 3:36
8. One Dragon Two Dragon 4:02

Produced by Curtis Mayfield


I came across this album from James T. Ramey, aka Baby Huey, due to digging into the Curtis Mayfield discography and finding that he had produced this sole album by the Chicago soul heavyweight (*cough*). It’s heavy deep soul that does not disappoint for a single moment. (The last track here is a bonus track tagged on to the original album, and is pretty disposable.) The original LP is damn near impossible to find, so big props to Water Records for making it available again. In fact this is also the best-sounding reissue I have yet heard from that label, whose remasters often sound a little harsh to my ears. But not this — Mayfield’s trademark tight production sounds full, warm, and punchy as always. The vibe runs the changes from party, to strung out, to menace, and back to party again. I always wonder what Sam Cooke would have thought of Huey’s take on his civil rights anthem “A Change is Gonna Come.” The liner notes hit it pretty much on the head when they describe this tune as “epic, stoned, silly and heart-wrenching.” Turn it up loud enough and the room will fill with the purple haze of Vietnam-era exhaustion, conjuring images of ghettos overrun with smack and people knodding off to deep funk while King’s dream grew sour and white people retreated to the suburbs. Hell it is actually kind of blood-curling by the time it gets to the final chorus, Baby Huey’s screams drenched in echo-plex giving way to a final bar of nothing but a feedback loop of delay.

“There’s three kinds of people in this world. That’s why I know a change has gotta come. I said there’s white people, there’s black people, and there’s my people.”

“Might Mighty” is a Curtis Mayfield tune first recorded by The Impressions and would also appear on the “Curtis Live!” album. Here, it’s almost an instrumental with Baby Huey rapping over it, foregoing Mayfield’s lyrics of interracial harmony. “Hard Times,” one of the most sampled tracks ever cut, just scorches. It’s another Mayfield tune, one that he wouldn’t record himself until the album “There’s No Place Like America Today” where Curtis takes a decidedly more laid-back approach than this version, which is ferocious and frantic. “California Dreamin'”… goddamn a lot of people recorded that song. Do we really need another interpretation of it? Well, in this case, yes. It’s breeziness between these heavier songs is something of a counterweight but with the nagging feeling that it’s not to be entirely trusted — The Babysitters are just giving us a little breathing space before taking us on one last trip. That would be “Running,” which will leave blisters on your synapses. The bass guitar is pushing so hard it is only a decibel or two away from blowing the speaker in the Ampeg amplifier (I will bet my right arm its an Ampeg..). There is enough freak-flown swagger on this tune to make Funkadelic look like a bunch of amateurs. These guys were cued up to lead the congregation in Hendrix’s Electric Church if only both Jimmy and Huey had lived long enough. And only Curtis Mayfield could have produced this song — all the instruments are played hard and rough, no bullshit, all heart — drums, bass, guitar, organ, horns, all pushing the VU needles into the red and saturating the tape with funk, yet EVERYTHING comes out in the mix crystal clear. Who the fuck pulls that off? Oh that’s right, Curtis Mayfield. Mayfield, Huey, and the Babysitters were a perfect match. It is a damn shame that Huey died of a heart-attack at the age of 26 in a Chicago hotel while working on this record. We all missed this the first time around. Don’t miss it now.

baby huey

 in 320kbs em pee tree

Baby Huey – The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend (1971) in FLAC Lossless Audio Audio Audio

This share comes with a free can of SPAM, a box of Oreos, and a bottle of Thunderbird.

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Jerry Butler – Sings Assorted Songs with Assorted Friends and Relatives (1971)

Jerry Butler
Sings Assorted Songs with Assorted Friends and Relatives
Mercury Records ST-61320

A1 How Did We Lose It 3:03
B. Butler , C. Jones
A2 How Does It Feel 3:45
A. Miller, B. Butler
A3 Special Memory 3:08
J. Butler/B. Butler , L. Wade
A4 Built My World Around You 2:38
C. Jackson
A5 Going Back To My Baby’s Love 2:25
C. Jackson
B1 If It’s Real What I Feel 2:38
C. Jackson
B2 Strong Enough To Take It 2:08
B. Butler , J. Jones , J. Blumenberg
B3 What It Is 3:00
J. Blumenberg
B4 Why Are You Leaving Me 3:30
J. Blumenberg , J. Butler , J. Jones
B5 Do You Finally Need A Friend 3:20
C. Jones , L. Wade , T. Callier

Ignore the chimps who write for the AMG (I have pictures!) who have dissed this album and enjoy this classic piece of early 70s Chicago soul. It sprung from the famous songwriting workshop he ran, it has arrangements by Donny Hathaway and Gerald Sims, and a song contributions from Terry Callier (What Color Is Love?) and Chuck Jackson (later of The Independents). In fact Jerry contributes very little writing to the album, instead letting his then-unknown collaborator/students shine through with their material. And the results pay off. Do I really need to give you the hard sell on this, what more do you need? Okay, I would almost bet you $20 that is Curtis Mayfield holding a guitar on the cover, who may have appeared uncredited as a favor to his old friend and colleague. But that`s just speculation. The truth is there is a scarce amount of information out there about this album that I`ve been able to find. The songwriting is top notch throughout, some of it a bit funkier than what I`m used to from Mr.Butler, and the band is tight. Another great album that is still somewhat in the same vein is The Sagittarius Movement, released the same year, for which I also did a vinyl rip but seems to have gotten lost somewhere before locking all must things in the Kayman Islands vault. Which leads me to my

CAVEAT! This is not the best vinyl rip you will see on the site. For one, the source material — I have a well-played copy with substantial surface noise. From a sound engineering standpoint it’s best to leave that stuff alone unless you have access to a CEDAR mastering suite, which I don’t. I ran a basic ‘declicking’ process on it and that is all the processing that was done. At least there are not skips. Secondly, this was ripped on what I am calling my “ghetto rig” before I made some substantial upgrades in turntable, preamp, and recording device. Still sounds good, just as not as good as it would if I could redo it today. The Sumiko cartridge I am using for transcriptions at the moment is much more forgiving for rough “well-played” vinyl than the Goldring, for example. But alas, this record be locked up in my Kayman Islands vault so this will have to do.

If anyone can help me pin down the exact lineup of session players on this badass record, including the name of the poodle on the front cover, I would be much obliged.

VINYL RIP – Technical Specs

Music Hall MMF.5 Turntable with Goldring 1012GX cartridge, Gyger II diamond stylus, and MK II XLR Ringmat –> Pro-ject Speedbox II -> Parasound Z Phono Preamp -> Marantz PMD 661 digital recorder at 24/96khz .Declicked on very light settings with Click Repair -> DC Offset and track splitting in Adobe Audition 2.0 Dithering to 16-bit in IzoTope RX Advanced using M-Bit algorithm. Converted to FLAC and mp3 with DbPoweramp. Tagged properly with Foobar 2000.

Jerry Butler – Sings Assorted Songs with Assorted Friends and Relatives (1971)

Jerry Butler – Sings Assorted Songs with Assorted Friends and Relatives (1971)