This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #424: People Get Ready by Curtis Mayfield.
What a beautiful, powerful and inspiring song this is! An R & B classic, with its roots firmly planted in the Gospel tradition of so many Chicago Bluesfolk, “People Get Ready” tells the story of the importance of Faith when it comes to times of struggle and strife and of always believing in the purpose of one’s journey. Curtis Mayfield was the leader of a musical group called The Impressions. They were based out of Chicago. Growing up, Mayfield was a regular church-goer; consequently, sermons about the power of Faith, accompanied by the passionate singing of Gospel choirs, both became part of his musical DNA. So, it was a surprise to absolutely no one that a singer with as soulful voice as Mayfield’s would write a song such as “People Get Ready”. It is a song filled with references to “The Lord”, to a journey to a better place and to the essential pre-requisite for this journey, which is, Faith. When Curtis Mayfield sings this song, he is often accompanied by back-up singers, which helps create a church-like atmosphere, no matter where the song is being sung.
One person who was moved by Mayfield’s lyrics was another man of Faith…Dr. Martin Luther King. By the time that “People Get Ready” was released, the Civil Rights Movement was fully-engaged in Marches for Justice all over the southern U.S. Dr. King quickly saw that Mayfield’s lyrics spoke eloquently to the cause of Civil Rights; especially, as it dealt with maintaining Faith in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The violent opposition the greeted Black marchers every step of the way was such that it would have been very easy for them to have given up. “People Get Ready” was soon adopted by the Movement and used in hymn-like fashion to help stiffen the spines and steel the resolve of those seeking to integrate schools and bus transportation and restaurants and to expand voting rights and so on. When Martin Luther King was assassinated, “People Get Ready” was one of the songs played at his funeral. It is said that it was sung in the streets of Black communities throughout Chicago and across America as a way of honouring Dr. King, as well as, re-affirming that the fight for racial justice would continue. Having Faith in the purpose of one’s journey is among the most important traits person can have in their life. “People Get Ready” speaks to that as well as any song ever. The power of that message resonates, even today, as the quest for racial equality continues to play out in courtrooms and legislatures throughout the land.
One of the ways that you can judge the quality of a song is the willingness and the ability of others to try and cover it. “People Get Ready” has been covered by the likes of Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Aaron Neville, The Blind Boys of Alabama and a whole host of others, too. My first introduction to “People Get Ready” was by way of “The Tartan Terror”, Rod Stewart, who teamed up with guitarist extraordinaire, Jeff Beck back in the mid-90s. Normally, I am careful about cheering on “white” remakes of “black” songs but, there is an exception to be made in this case. If you ask any of the early rockers about their music roots, they will all state that rock n’ roll is built upon a foundation of The Blues. Both Stewart and Beck follow that line of thinking and, as a result, both have always had an affinity for Blues-based songs and musicians. Both men really liked “People Get Ready” and would perform it in their shows (always giving credit to Mayfield) but, they had never officially recorded it. That changed when Curtis Mayfield became injured during a concert. Stage lighting fell on him, injuring his back and requiring multiple surgeries and much in the way of therapy afterwards. Very quickly, Mayfield’s medical bills reached a point beyond which he was able to pay. Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck approached Mayfield and asked for his blessing to record and release their version of “People Get Ready”. Proceeds from the sale of the song went toward Mayfield’s medical expenses.
I almost hate to say it but, I think I like the cover version by Beck and Stewart better than the original by Mayfield. Rod Stewart has a deep, soulful voice and Jeff Beck’s guitar playing is gorgeous! Regardless of which version speaks to you….they are both good…..you will get to see each one. I will place the original version by Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions first and then, below it, you can find the Beck/Stewart collaboration.
“People Get Ready, there’s a train a-coming.
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board.
All you need is Faith, to hear that diesel’s hummin’.
You don’t need a ticket. You just thank The Lord.”
The link to the music video for People Get Ready by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions can be found here.
The link to the music video for People Get Ready, as covered by Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck, can be found here.
There is a website dedicated to Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. You can access it by clicking on the link here.