ABSTRACT

During an episode of Soul Train that aired two weeks before Richard Nixon’s second inauguration, the show’s creator and host, Don Cornelius, makes the following proclamation:

What more can I say about probably the most prolific lyricist and songwriter alive today? Except that I purposefully neglected to mention that he also delivers a very magnificent vocal performance to make his exciting score for the movie Super Fly quite complete. His name is Curtis Mayfield.

Cornelius enunciates these last four syllables in a staccato manner that rhythmically bleeds into the opening drumbeat on Mayfield’s blaxploitation classic “Pusherman,” and the image cuts from Cornelius to the electric glamour of the Soul Train studio set where Mayfield stands on a circular platform, mic in hand.1 This televisual moment evokes the iconic scene from Super Fly (1972) where the Curtis Mayfield Experience (as the band is credited) perform “Pusherman” at a dealer’s bar and Mayfield lip-syncs his first-person account of the song’s titular pusher, pimp, and Super Fly protagonist, Youngblood Priest—a “ghetto prince” existentially adrift in 1970s Harlem who grows disenchanted with his own drug-dealing enterprise. On Soul Train, Mayfield similarly begins to lip-sync the song’s familiar opening lines: “I’m your mama / I’m your daddy / I’m that nigger / in the alley / I’m your doctor / when in need—” but at this point we suddenly hear the line “Superfly / here I stand” cut out from elsewhere in the song and spliced into this verse. The inelegant edit awkwardly breaks the rhyme scheme but also the audiovisual synchronization because Mayfield clearly mouths the original lines: “want some coke / get 56some weed.” Perhaps he forgot about the change or simply slipped up. Or maybe it was a subtle act of protest against the Spiro Agnew-influenced FCC remix.2 Whatever the reason, this seeming mistake momentarily draws our attention to the song’s recorded material and we hear the Super Fly soundtrack album at work where the visual and aural economies of mediation in the culture industry meet.