The sad death of the great Allen Toussaint earlier this week got me falling down a YouTube hole of records he either wrote, produced, or performed himself. Bouncing between Irma Thomas, Lee Dorsey, Dr John, The Meters, Aaron Neville, and Labelle really brought home what an extraordinary amount of great music he was responsible for. Like this joyous beauty he wrote.
I’ve never seen the 1990 movie The Return of Superfly, and I don’t think many other people have either because it was a total flop and is apparently a bit crap too. Some may even be surprised to learn it exists and is actually the second sequel to the original.
I do, however, have this 12″ single from the soundtrack by the great Curtis Mayfield with Ice-T. Curtis’ career was in the doldrums at the time (he still drew crowds in England though, I saw him live twice in the late 80s) and teaming him up with a rapper was a way of appealing to the kids. Sadly, Curtis’ comeback was derailed later the same year when he had the accident that left him paralyzed.
While this can’t hold a candle to his original Superfly songs it’s a pretty good record. Gangsta Rap owed a lot to Blaxploitation movies so Ice-T is a good fit for the subject and it’s always nice to hear Curtis’ sweet, yearning voice, even if it is for a rubbish film.
For a while in the early 80s the hot musical talk was all about “soul” and “passion” (especially in the NME) and you couldn’t move for bands adding horn sections to their records and referencing Marvin Gaye. I’m not sure where it came from — Paul Weller? Paul Young? Spandau Ballet? — but there was a definite shift to more classic soul influences which was soon exploited by the Levi’s 501 commercials. It was something of a conservative step backwards from post-punk but I still liked a lot of the records.
Even the indie world was influenced by this trend. The Kane Gang were a trio from Newcastle whose first single “Brother, Brother” came out on the small Kitchenware label (home of Prefab Sprout) in 1983. Like a lot of British blue-eyed-soul it sounds a bit weedy next to the records that influenced it and is more “Indie Funk” than Funkadelic but it has a good groove, especially in this rare longer 12″ version.
I once saw Errol Brown coming out of the Gents in a trendy Soho bar in the late 1980s and, while thinking he was shorter than I’d imagined, I just gave him a very cool smile as he walked past me while inside I was all “FUCKING HELL, IT’S ERROL BROWN!” because here was the man behind so many beloved pop hits of my youth — which is why his death upset me more than I imagined it would. While they were only modestly successful elsewhere, Hot Chocolate were a pop institution in the UK, having at least one hit every year between 1970 and 1984. With his distinctive bald head, Brown was as familiar a face on Top of The Pops as the DJs, one of the few regular black singers on the show who wasn’t American.
Hot Chocolate were a difficult band to pin down. Their records contained elements of soul, pop, glam, funk, dub, and psychedelia — sometimes all at once thanks to the production magic of Mickie Most. What linked some of them together however was a surprising bleakness, singles like “Emma” and “Brother Louie” are pretty grim for pop hits your mum probably liked, and even a love song like “Put Your Love In Me” has an edge of dark desperation about it.
They were such a singles band they didn’t release their debut album Cicero Park until several years into their hit-making career in 1974, and shockingly it was a flop despite containing the hit “Emma” and being a terrific album in it’s own right. The title track in particular is a fabulous piece of moody Blaxploitation soul-funk. If Curtis Mayfield had made this record it would hailed as a classic.