Sunday, August 28, 2011

August 28: The Impressions, "People Get Ready"

Artist: The Impressions
Song: "People Get Ready"
Album: People Get Ready
Year: 1965

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Though many may try and paint it otherwise, the reality is that a majority of pop music can be traced back to roots in traditional religious hymns and other "spirituals."  While within the current music scene, any group that makes a purposeful effort to incorporate religious themes into their music are pushed into their own category, one can find such overtones present in some of the most pivotal songs in the history or music.  While some may assume that these instances are far more subtle in nature, when one examines the history of soul music, the two virtually go hand in hand.  The names of the luminaries of this style can be easily rattled off, and yet there is one group that seem to be omitted from this list more often than not.  Whether it is due to the fact that the group was responsible for two of the most important figures in all of music history, or the fact that their songs remain some of the most beloved of all time, there are few acts in history that can compare to the impact and importance of The Impressions.  Riding a wave of hits throughout the early and mid-1960's, the trio set the standard for the "Chicago Soul" sound, and it was also their distinctive instrumentations that set them so far apart from their peers.  Though the group had a handful of songs that have become standards, few recordings from any genre or era can match up to The Impressions magnificent 1965 single, "People Get Ready."

To refer to "People Get Ready" as a melodic over-achievement is actually an understatement, as one would be hard pressed to find a more soothing and outright beautiful moment from any point in music history.  This mood would become much of the definition of the sound of Curtis Mayfield, and few can argue that "People Get Ready" remains one of his most impressive compositions.  From the moment that the track begins, there is an almost ethereal tone, and this matches the similar feeling that one can find on the groups' impressive debut single.  However, it is the way that "People Get Ready" seems to sway gently back and forth, creating a completely unique groove that makes the song stand so far apart from other recordings.  Whether it is the sparse guitar pattern or the almost non-existent percussion, there is no question that finding a predecessor to this sonic structure is absolutely impossible.  The small nuances like bells and descending string and horn sections almost lulls the listener into a blissful state, and there is simply no other song that sounds quite like "People Get Ready."  Furthermore, the fact that such an unforgettable musical moment was created within such an unorthodox, if not revolutionary arrangement is a testament to the exceptional talents of Mayfield, and it would be this recording that would set him on his now-legendary path.

Yet it is also the way that the vocals fuse so perfectly into the arrangement that have cemented "People Get Ready" as one of the most iconic songs in history, and this is not only due to Curtis Mayfield, but fellow-legend Fred Cash as well.  Along with Sam Gooden, the way that the vocals are deployed throughout the song seem to transcend all vestiges of culture, standing as something purely and beautifully "human" at their core.  The amount of conviction and emotion deployed at every line remains absolutely unparalleled, and even if one does not follow the same religious beliefs that are referenced throughout the song, one cannot help but stand in awe of the stunning vocal performance.  Furthermore, while there is no question that the overall sentiment of the song is that of religious conviction, there is a positive, uplifting feeling that runs throughout, and can easily carry away any listener, regardless of spiritual affiliation.  This in itself is the perfect representation of the power of music, as "People Get Ready" easily breaks down all societal barriers, proving that music in itself is something that knows no borders or dividing lines.  This would also be the first sign that Curtis Mayfield's music would carry with it messages that reached far beyond such limitations, and whether he was singing of religion or racial oppression, throughout his career his voice became one of the most revered and respected all across the globe.

Soon after its release, "People Get Ready" rose into the top five on the singles charts, and yet few could have predicted just how long-lasting an impact the song would have.  As the decades have passed, "People Get Ready" has become one of the most heavily covered songs in history, with everyone from Bob Dylan to Aretha Franklin to The Doors to Prince all putting their own touch on the song.  However, even with this myriad of covers, there is not another that even comes close to the power and presence of the original, and this in itself is the most telling reality of what a special moment lives within The Impressions recording.  Yet the tributes go beyond just covers, as many of the lyrics of the song have been lifted and placed into other musical works.  Perhaps most famously, Bob Marley took the lines, "...there ain't no room for the hopeless sinner whom would hurt all mankind just to save his own..." for his legendary recording that in modern times has taken on the dual title of  "One Love/People Get Ready."  As all of these elements come into play, the fact remains that at its core, "People Get Ready" is as perfect a pop song as one can find anywhere; with both the musical arrangement and the vocals being executed at an unprecedented level.  Though he may be better known for his later solo work, one simply cannot overlook the brilliance shown by Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions on their monumental 1965 single, "People Get Ready."

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