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Music > Backwash

Treats and Trick

Back-catalogue gems from Curtis Mayfield and Cheap Trick

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Published 5/12/2010

Curtis Mayfield
Curtis
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab

Curtis Mayfield shouts: "Sisters! Niggers! Whiteys! Jews! Crackers!" and then he adds the song's title line, "Don't worry, if there's a hell below we're all going to go," which then kick-starts the badass fuzzed-out bass, wah-wah guitar, honeyed horns, percussive strings and a pre-disco beat based around congas. It's a soul-deep and funked-up "Nixon's-a-liar" tune about civil unrest and urban inertia, a veritable state-of-the-union for 1970 black America in which you can just imagine burnt-orange sunsets dropping on tenement rows, peace signs in Afro'd desperation and swollen eyes stumbling into shooting galleries. That it was the first song of its kind is one thing, but that it's matched song-for-song with tuneful soul beauty throughout this album ("Wild and Free" and "Miss Black America" are heartbreakers, Mayfield's most beautiful moments) is another. Many of Mayfield's proclamations of ghetto blues, race relations, and imagined splendor of a colorblind world — and sampled pieces of the songs — are nearly bromides now, but in 1970-'71, the world shook, and the album's unironic intent still inspires. And what a timepiece!

Overshadowed by his 1972 Superfly, this self-produced debut — after Mayfield left '60s hit-makers the Impressions — should absolutely rank alongside Innervisions and What's Goin' On (both came later) in terms of musicality and the means to transmit heady sentiments of the time.

This music — and Mayfield's gospel-tinged pipes and graceful falsetto — haven't sounded better. Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, an indie that goes to painful lengths for the finest audio, coughed up another lovefest of sonic joy, in a numbered mini-LP gatefold sleeve, a gold CD carefully mastered from the original mixdown source.

Cheap Trick
One on One/Next Position Please
Friday Music/Sony

From the warped Oedipal leanings in "Surrender" to the creepy child molester in "Daddy Should've Stayed in High School," Cheap Trick's wry wit and deceptive lyrical flights put real depth in its arena candy anthems. The quartet extended what it had gleaned from the Beatles and the Move and made it palpable for American high school hallways back in the '70s, and its first four albums (in three years time!) were pretty much brilliant.

These two albums (released after the George Martin 1980 misfire, All Shook Up) shows CT's transition into Reagan-era careerists, for better and for worse, with many of songwriter Rick Nielsen's droll winks replaced by obvious turns-of-phrase, power chords lessened in favor of keys. So, in an idiotic effort to contemporize the band's sound, 1982's Roy Thomas Baker-helmed Onse on One sported that year's trendy quantized and sterile production techniques (too-loud "puuusssshhh" snare drum, blurty snyth parts, etc.) but not without a trio of power-pop winners ("I Want You," "She's Tight" and the soaring slow-burner "If You Want My Love"). If anything, One on One proved how even a crap CT album was better than 90 percent of the era's pop/rock, even if the band was on its third bassist (Jon Brant) in as many years.

Aside from a tune somebody obviously forgot to write ("Won't Take No for an Answer") and an ill-advised cover of the Motors' "Dancing the Night Away," 1983's Next Position Please was a CT return of sorts, a sleeper on par with the band's first four albums. Todd Rundgren's back-to-basics production handily mirrored Nielsen's newly focused songwriting, particularly on "I Can't Take It" (the band's best three minutes since "Dream Police"), "Borderline" and the title song. Why John Hughes ignored "You Say Jump" and "Invaders of the Heart" for any of his films is a mystery.

This two-on-one reissue from vault-digging label Friday Music, features great master-tape sound, original art and brief liner notes.

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