The Impressions

The Greatest Hits (MCA ’98) Rating: A
Curtis Mayfield was a great, often overlooked songwriter, and many of his best songs came with the Impressions in the early to mid 1960s. To quote from Adam White's liner notes, "arranger Jerry Pate worked with Mayfield to produce a crisp, punchy, brass-driven sound for the group. With Mayfield's arresting tenor and the gospel-based harmonies of Fred Cash and Sam Gooden, the result was perfect for both r&b and pop radio." Mayfield himself noted “we always seemed to relate to the consciousness of the people,” and this 16-track collection contains most of the band's essential hits. Highlights include "Gypsy Woman," which showed the group's doo wop influence, "It's All Right," which delivered upbeat feel good music the likes of which not even Motown could look down upon (led by the band's terrific three part harmonies), "I'm So Proud," an absolutely gorgeous love ballad, and "People Get Ready," an understated gem that's the best example of Mayfield's spiritual side. Simply put, these are some of the greatest songs of the '60s; "People Get Ready" alone was covered numerous times by vastly different artists such as Aretha Franklin and Vanilla Fudge. Most of these songs are love songs, whether about that special lady ("Talking About My Baby," "Woman's Got Soul") or about God ("Amen"), but Mayfield was also well known for delivering self-empowering civil rights messages (the aforementioned “People Get Ready” and the also-essential "Keep On Pushing"). Only towards the end of this chronologically sequenced compilation, which covers the years 1961-1968, on songs such as "You've Been Cheatin'," "Can't Satisfy," and "I Loved And I Lost," are the lyrics less than positive (pointing the way to his more pessimistic solo career), and most of these spiritual, upbeat anthems are fairly bursting with black pride. Even the group's most powerful political statements were backed by simple pop hooks that made them easy to sing along to, and the only negative I can think of is Mayfield's tendency to recycle himself and others. For example, parts of "Talking About My Baby" and "You Must Believe Me" echo "It's All Right," the lyrics to "Keep On Pushing" and "People Get Ready" appear in several other songs, and "You've Been Cheatin'" and "Can't Satisfy" blatantly rip off The Four Tops' "Can't Help Myself" and The Isley Brothers' "This Heart Of Mine," respectively. I suppose Mayfield's high-pitched voice may take some getting used to for some people as well, but to my ears these are all minor problems, because even when new ideas are lacking the group still sounds so good and their overall message is so uplifting and inspiring that all is easily forgiven. Although somewhat overlooked today, in retrospect The Impressions were immensely influential, almost certainly influencing the Philly soul sound of the '70s, for example, and there's a disarming sweetness and sincerity to most of these songs that gives them a timeless quality. Note: Though this is the album I own (and is therefore the album I’ve reviewed), it should be noted that this collection, one of several Impressions compilations on the market, has largely been made moot by Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions’ 2-cd Anthology, which contains all of these Impressions songs plus more plus a good sampling of Mayfield’s strong ‘70s solo work.

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