Seven Conscience Songs
People Get Ready – The Impressions (1965)
King Heroin – James Brown (1972)
Wake Up Everybody – Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (1975)
Johannesburg – Gil Scott-Heron (1975)
Pusherman – Curtis Mayfield (1972)
African Violet – Terry Callier (1978)
Martin St. Martin – Terry Callier (1978)
About The Song and Artists
The American civil rights movement adopted People Get Ready written by group member Curtis Mayfield. The song inspired by Mayfield’s church and gospel roots.
King Heroin started life as a poem. Like the controversial Strange Fruit, a massive hit for Billy Holiday, New Yorkers who were neither professional poets nor professional musician/song writers wrote both. James Brown was keen to contribute music with a social conscience and this did the trick big time. The studio band included Joe Farrell on sax, Richard Tee on organ and Billy Cobham drums. Some think this track was the true route to what later became rap.
The mighty Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff often used their writing skills to hi-light social issues. Wake Up Everybody is produced by the pair but written by Philadelphia International writers John Whitehead, Gene McFadden and Victor Castarphen. McFadden and Whitehead later had a massive dance floor hit with Ain’t No Stopping Us Now. Victor Castarphen remained a Philly writer and sadly died in February this year.
Music is far more powerful than politics and Gil Scott Heron’s Johannesburg helped keep the issue of apartheid in the minds of millions.
The sound track for the movie Superfly was so successful it made far more money than the film. Curtis Mayfield’s song writing skills are the best and his take on the drug world perfect.
Terry Callier was a near neighbour to Curtis Mayfield in Chicago. He told me he would see Curtis from time to time walking down the street with guitar case on his back. This was his musical hero so it is no surprise that on just one album Terry wrote two fantastic conscience songs. I particularly remember the impact African Violet had on my BBC Radio London audience back in the Saturday show days. If you have never heard it now is the time to buy the album Fire On Ice. Martin St Martin is a tribute to Martin Luther King.