Melvin Van Peebles – 1971 – Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
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Breathtakingly unique, just like the movie, and undeniably fascinating. Although Earth, Wind, & Fire went on to have a long and fruitful career full of hits, their music never again sounded as unusual as it did here, which is kind of a shame, because this album has aged like fine wine. Like the film it’s based on, it’s didactic, sometimes bizarre, and very energetic. Melvin Van Peebles’ vocals and spoken word style perfectly synchronize with the rhythms and tones as well.
This album also sounded way ahead of its time, with audio clip samples scattered all over the place immersing you that much further into the music and taking you back to that time period’s harsh reality. Future hip-hop artists such as MF Doom would also go on to mix together several different audio clips to achieve their vision, and coincidentally, MF Doom sampled “Watermelon Man” on “Mm.. Food”. Oh, and did I mention that the last track has the longest song title ever? This is a stellar album that retells the entire movie’s story just as effectively in its own distinct way.
Easily a must-listen.
A1 Sweetback Losing His Cherry 2:45
A2 Sweetback Getting It Uptight And Preaching It So Hard The Bourgeois Reggin Angels In Heaven Turn Around 5:00
A3 Come On Feet 4:15
A4 Sweetback’s Theme 7:36
B1a Hoppin John 2:25
B1b Voices 0:11
B2a Mojo Woman 2:43
B2b Voices 0:15
B3a Sanra Z 3:47
B3b Voices 0:17
B4a Reggin Hangin On In There As Best They Can 2:58
B4b Voices 1:13
B5 Wont Bleed Me 2:41
B6 The Man Tries Running His Usual Game But Sweetback’s Jones Is So Strong He Wastes The Hounds (Yeah! Yeah! And Besides That Will Be Coming Back Takin’ Names & Collecting Dues) 4:25
Melvin van Peebles infamous feature film ‘Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song’ is noted for being the very first so-called blaxploitation flick. The fact that he – together with the help of the legendary Stax label in Memphis – set out to promote the movie through an accompanying soundtrack is another interesting detail.
A very young, rough Earth, Wind & Fire can be heard on this schizophrenic, spooky album. It’s not a pretty LP… far from it. It’s nasty, dangerous, brutally realistic, over the top and ugly.
The overall sound of the record could best be described as a filthy smorgasbord of unwashed funky vibes: a soundscape consisting of coarse movie dialogue, snippets of country church gospel wailings (tremendously authentic versions of “This Little Light of Mine” and “Wade in the Water” are recurring themes here), sleazy after hour jazz bar riffs and the protruding, thick funk of hypnotizing jams.
It’s not a coherent album either… Songs segue into one and another, snippets of dialogue serve as bridges, those ghostly churchy choirs pop up when you least expect it, and the raging voice of Sweetback just keeps on roaring throughout: railing against the police, the bourgeois reggin (reggin – spell it backwards…) the bloodhounds, the Man, the system, everything…
In short, it has the sheer attitude and political cynicism (“Since when are you [cops] so interested in black folk… dead or alive?” -“Progress.”) that elevates this far from beautiful album to the status of hardcore, socio-political funk manifesto.
Another classic by Melvin Van Peebles is the 1974 What The…You Mean I Can’t Sing?! in our back pages here