Top 10 Curtis Mayfield Songs

Curtis Mayfield was one of the premiere voices in soul music. Since clinching his first hit record in 1958, Mayfield carved out a unique space in the world of music: taking a stand against the injustices of his era and delivering lilting, radio-friendly ballads.

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The Chicago native’s catalog runs the gamut from gospel to R&B, pop, and soul. From his time spent with vocal group The Impressions to his sprawling solo catalog, find our picks for Mayfield’s Top 10 songs, below.

[RELATED: 25 Songs You Didn’t Know Curtis Mayfield Wrote for Other Artists]

10. “New World Order”

Mayfield befell a tragic accident in 1990 when a lighting rig fell on him at a concert in New York City. The accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. Committed to his music, Mayfield discovered he could still sing if he laid flat on his back. He subsequently released the album New World Order in 1996 with a number of trademark ballads, including the title track. The song sees Mayfield looking out to the world and asking for a better life for its people. Though Mayfield made a name for himself with protest songs in the ’60s, the message in “New World Order” hit just as hard in the ’90s.

9. “Keep On Pushing” (The Impressions)

“Keep On Pushing” introduced Mayfield as a leading voice in the protest song movement. The song works as both a folky political message and a keystone soul ballad. Hallelujah, hallelujah / Keep on pushing, the lyrics read.

8. “Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey)” (The Impressions)

Mayfield discusses the division between races in “Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey).” He asks why those trying to resolve the issue are being killed: We’re killing off our leaders / It don’t matter none black or white / And we all know it’s wrong / And we’re gonna fight to make it right. A searing live version of “Mighty Mighty” appeared on the Curtis/Live! album in 1971. Conversely, Mayfield’s proteges Baby Huey and The Babysitters released a far more buoyant version of the song in 1969.

7. “To Be Invisible”

Mayfield’s music tends to live on the positive side of life. He urges his listeners to “keep on keeping on” in the face of hard times (more on that later) but, he takes the opposite approach in “To Be Invisible.” Just a plain old human being / Today, don’t mean a thing / In a world that’s so mean, he sings. With Mayfield’s honeyed voice singing the reluctant lyrics, the song becomes a celebration of the simple things in life. This song also found success with Gladys Knight and The Pips, proving how universal the message is.

6. “Give Me Your Love (Love Song)”

“Give Me Your Love (Love Song)” appears on the seminal soundtrack for Super Fly. This track is equal parts funky and passionate. Two cover versions came out soon after Mayfield’s proving the song’s appeal—the first by Barbara Mason and another by Motown staples Sisters Love. The song has been covered many times since, but Mayfield’s original and intimate rendition is hard to beat.

5.  “I’m So Proud” (The Impressions)

“I’m So Proud” comes dangerously close to becoming a schmaltzy ballad that feels more cheesy than it does moving. Despite singing lyrics like I’m so proud of you…Believe me, I love you too, The Impressions manage to make the listener sigh with contentment rather than wince at the mushy sentiment.

4. “Pusherman”

“Pusherman” also appears on the soundtrack for Super Fly. While this track is heavily steeped in funk, the braggadocious lyrics hold a resemblance to modern rap. Ain’t I clean? Bad machine / Super cool, super mean / Dealin’ good, for The Man / Superfly, here I stand, Mayfield rattles off in the chorus.

3. “People Get Ready” (The Impressions)

Mayfield knew how to craft a political message while maintaining a song’s surface-level appeal. Look no further for evidence of that fact than “People Get Ready.” The song was written a year after the March on Washington and, for many, the song bottles up the spirit of the day. The song was released to great success by The Impressions and covered by everyone from The Everly Brothers to Bob Marley.

2. “Keep On Keeping On”

Similar to the No. 1 track on this list, in “Keep On Keeping On” Mayfield provides solace for those in hard times. He asks the listener to pass the tune down so that future generations can also find peace in Mayfield’s lyrics: Continue to give, continue to live / For what you know is right. Mayfield’s vocals have never sounded as tender as they do here.

1. “Move On Up”

In 1968, Mayfield released a self-titled record. The project was an ambitious eight-song album that toggled between classic ballads and era-defining commentaries. Among the tracklist was Mayfield’s signature track, “Move On Up.” With this song, Mayfield delivered an ode to progress—a sentiment that was on the hearts and minds of many Americans at the time. For peace you’ll find / Into the steeple of beautiful people / Where there’s only one kind, he sings. The song is just as moving today as it was back in the late ’60s.

Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns

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