Though I listened through a number of full Beatles albums this week, the artist that truly stole my heart was Curtis Mayfield, who I’ve been re-discovering through My Morning Jacket guitarist Jim James’ 2010 playlist of his favorite songs from the underrated soul man. With two solo tracks (and another as a part of The Impressions), he takes top honors this week, but not without being accompanied by my two favorite Beatles songs.
- “Jesus” – Curtis Mayfield
There are a few Curtis Mayfield songs that I’ve listened to and loved for years, but I’ve significantly extended my familiarity with his music this week. If I was Jesus, this would be what the churches were singing rather than all of those ancient hymns. Despite its heavily religious subject matter, its musicality is universally inclusive. You know, like the guy the song is named after.
- “Helter Skelter” – The Beatles
As great consistently great as The Beatles were, I find much of their music to be qualitatively interchangeable despite their immense diversity. But “Helter Skelter” is and always has been an outlier. Probably their most polarizing song ever, they Fab Four were clearly completely out of their gourds when they recorded it. Featuring intentionally out of chord instrumentation and a shockingly violent vocal delivery from the typically serene Paul McCartney, it remains a truly shocking piece of music. For my money, they never topped it.
- “Choice of Colors” – The Impressions
Typically, I prefer Curtis Mayfield’s solo material over his work with The Impressions, but there can be no denying the impeccable racially-charged imagery (and harmonies between the group’s three members) on this horn-laden gem. I’d take it over “People Get Ready” any day.
- “Long, Long, Long” – The Beatles
George Harrison songs are a mixed bag for me. Some are overplayed (“Here Comes the Sun”), some are borderline irritating (“Love You to”), and some are just downright bad (“Think For Yourself”). But there were also those occasions where he just hit it out of the park. His peak was this underrated classic from the white album featuring a gorgeous chord progression with Harrison’s melancholy voice floating over the top. It’s “Helter Skelter’s” only true rival on the record, and the two songs’ completely disparate compositions only speaks to the strength and diversity of the landmark double LP.
- “Move on up” – Curtis Mayfield
Everybody knows that horn hook whether its from this song or from Kanye’s “Touch the Sky.” Personally, I knew this song first, but somehow I missed out on the extended 9-minute version that appeared on Mayfield’s debut solo album which is, by far, the essential cut. That bongo player probably needed new hands after this one.
For more playlists, including my master Burnes’ Turns playlist that contains over 2,000 songs, search for Andrew Burnes or Burnes’ Turns on Spotify.