The Impressions

TrackAlbum
Choice Of ColorsThe Young Mods’' Forgotten Story
Gone AwayThis Is My Country
Fool For YouThis Is My Country
It’'s All RightThe Impressions
People Get ReadyPeople Get Ready
So UnusualThis Is My Country
The Girl I FindThe Young Mods’' Forgotten Story
This Is My CountryThis Is My Country
We'’re A WinnerWe'’re A Winner
You Want Somebody ElseThis Is My Country

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Contributor: Ceri Taylor

Well they certainly made a good one on me!

This list has been chopped and changed over and over and I don’t think I’ll ever get it to fit into ten, so this is a permanent draft for me! The material from The Impressions is fantastic. As you can see the list is a little top heavy on the This Is My Country album but I don’t think that is necessarily a crime; it is arguably their best work and moreover one of the best and most consistent soul LPs you could own.

The list only contains the tracks from the Curtis Mayfield years (the core years). I retraced and relistened to the earliest tracks with Jerry Butler on lead. For Your Precious Love is great but a little less “Impressions” sounding compared to the material that they really became known for – It’s All Right being the beginning of that Chicago sound. I also went beyond the Mayfield era but even though there is some great soul and attempts at disco plus anything to keep up with the times (they had quite a few hits post-Mayfield), for me it was under Mayfield’s leadership where they were truly outstanding.

I love The Impressions. My Dad, whose records I grew up with, loves The Impressions. We seem to like the same things about The Impressions – but our top 10’s would be quite different because we come at it from different perspectives. I’m able to look back and have all the results in front of me compared to growing up and seeing them unfold at the time.

I was first introduced to The Impressions by my Dad; a soul compilation was playing It’s All Right and I thought it was great. Then he brings out the heavy artillery – Fool For You absolutely blew my mind. Possibly I was having “girl problems” or something at the time but it struck a chord – a record that had probably been out for 25 years or so (at the time) had guys singing about the same problems I was having. You grow up a little, and I emphasise a little, because you’re still a fool for the next one (and the next one) but you realise that it is some sort of rite of passage for a young man and that it has been going on since the dawn of time. However, what had not being going on to my knowledge was somebody writing it down and singing about it so poetically until I heard that record.

But I digress, this isn’t about my teenage angst, this is about The Impressions! As I said, my perspective is different to those hearing these records at the time so some of my choices may not impress (and everybody likes a pun!) Certain key records have been omitted; they are fantastic tracks like Gypsy Woman, Keep On Pushing and Woman’s Got Soul. All brilliant records, and had I grown up around them they may well have made the list. I can listen to them again and again but they don’t strike that chord like the listed ten. Although I would like to mention how I love the literal take on LP covers back then – Keep On Pushing, a record about the Civil Rights Movement, has Curtis and the boys literally pushing a car on the cover! However, by the time This Is My Country came out, this was not the case – the LP cover is beautifully ugly, an image of the group standing amongst the rubble and desolate waste of modern America as if the title was asking a question.

I would also like to add that my love of soul music leans more towards the romance side than the socio-political – not always but a lot of the time. As you can see from my selection, the split is fairly even. However, a few lesser known tracks have crept in as they capture or evoke a certain feeling, and moreover they are fantastic records! That said, it is sometimes those lesser known tracks tucked away on an album that we like the most, so hopefully, if nothing else, this Toppermost will put readers on to tracks with which they weren’t so familiar. For example, I had only heard The Young Mods’ Forgotten Story album about a year ago (it wasn’t in my Dad’s collection to pilfer!) to discover it is one of their best.

I won’t include a full history of The Impressions, it is fairly easy to find. I would suggest checking out a great Omnibus Curtis Mayfield documentary now available on YouTube called Darker Than Blue. It covers The Impressions years and more. Simply put, after a few personnel changes, the core years (1963-70) saw Curtis Mayfield, Fred Cash and Sam Gooden have numerous hits and really define a sound that epitomises 60s soul. For some this was seen as a dry run for Mayfield’s successful solo career. However, I think they are two different entities with similar themes. The group is potentially more soulful but by the time the 70s dawned, funk was getting into soul and certainly influenced Mayfield’s direction – regardless of the fact that he had more soul in his little finger than the average guy has entirely!

For me, The Impressions were a 60s group that set up 70s soul for everyone else, its own members included. Groups like The Temptations and Four Tops joined in with the more socio-political and “paranoid soul” going into the late 60s and I’d suggest this came from hearing Mayfield’s writing and playing. I would like to mention however that it is not one way traffic – tracks like Can’t Satisfy and You’ve Been Cheatin’ are the reverse – The Impressions being the Four Tops. But this seems commonplace on 60s albums; demands from the label usually led to a lead single being surrounded by cover versions on most albums. The Impressions covered tracks like It’s Not Unusual, Mona Lisa and Up, Up And Away early on and it wasn’t until Mayfield took more artistic control that the music really started to develop a sound. Most of my choices come from the albums released on the Curtom label which backs this notion up and conveniently brings me on to the music in question.

As previously mentioned, It’s All Right is a brilliant track and really set the tone for The Impressions; a Chicago sound that was very much their own. Its simplicity is what makes it so good, it really is a call and response record but with its horn stabs, carefully picked guitar and hand claps it’s full of soul. It still sounds great. It also makes use of the three voices to full effect, something that would pass in later years. The same album contains Gypsy Woman but for me It’s All Right just has a sound I like more. That said they are both great records.

The Keep On Pushing album is worth a listen and the title track is superb, it just couldn’t squeeze into the top ten. Similar albums followed – The Never Ending Impressions and One By One (there is a great track called Lonely Man hiding amongst cover versions) but it was 1965’s People Get Ready LP that saw some great new numbers, this time the title track making my ten but the album also has great songs on it like Woman’s Got Soul and I’ve Found That I’ve Lost.

A couple of albums later they released what is for me their two best sets, This Is My Country and The Young Mods’ Forgotten Story, both released on Curtom. They are superb and are two must-have albums that any soul fan should own. They were re-released on a single CD set by Charly a few years ago and can be picked up really easily, so there is no excuse!

This Is My Country plays like a greatest hits. I could easily have just picked tracks from this album, as you can see I nearly did! Barely missing the ten were gems like They Don’t Know, Stay Close To Me and Love’s Happening. They Don’t Know in particular was hard to omit, it’s a great track and one of the best political songs The Impressions released, however I included This Is My Country instead – it has a similar theme and possibly bigger message.

For me though, the stand out track is Fool For You. From its big crashing drum opening punctuated by horn stabs it rolls in like the devilish female which they sing about. It’s got everything going on; soul, funk and pop but it’s also so well produced – the ups and downs match Mayfield’s falsetto riding the rhythm in a neat little three minute bundle.

Closely following it are three more tracks of love and woe – So Unusual, Gone Away, You Want Somebody Else – whatever Curtis was going through at the time you can feel it. These tracks still sound great and deserve a few listens. So Unusual really cuts through you; the haunting falsetto sits upon a very lightly orchestrated track, totally emphasising Mayfield’s lyrics and adding to the depression of losing the girl! Gone Away shows the other side of the coin, losing a girl through infidelity, and in the middle of those schools is You Want Somebody Else, where you can’t keep the girl in the first place. The Impressions had it all covered!

In between the two Curtom albums, ABC put out We’re A Winner, a decent album but not as good as the Curtom releases sitting either side of it. The title track makes my top ten. Driven by a hand clap and chants of “Move On Up”, the blueprint was being laid for Curtis’s later work.

Following this was The Young Mods’ Forgotten Story album, another fantastic record. So many tracks could have been in the ten and they are just edged out by the superior This Is My Country set. It is great from start to finish and has another cool cover – the group, trench coated up, kicking around the back streets of America. I picked the fantastic Choice Of Colors, another message record, plus a lesser known track but one I’ve always liked, The Girl I Find. There is something about it, from the bizarre bird-like cooing in the background to the soft string arrangement driving the record along and of course Mayfield’s fantastic vocal. Again, it is a blueprint of what would follow.

This album has the most near misses. I could easily have picked My Deceiving Heart, Seven Years (both released as singles), Jealous Man and Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey) – all great tracks. Mighty Mighty was recorded later by Baby Huey (also on Curtom) and Jesse Anderson among others and I slightly prefer these more funked up versions, even though the track saw The Impressions at their most funky also. A great album though, well worth owning.

As things started to wane, and it seemed Curtis was ready to go it alone, the group’s output never got back to the heights of the 60s material. The final album featuring Curtis, Check Out Your Mind, is worth a listen. It’s a little samey in places, tracks like You’re Really Something Sadie, We Must Be In Love and You’ll Always Be Mine are good but with better material preceding them they don’t make the top ten.

As I’ve said, The Impressions without Curtis did score some hits including a R&B chart number one with Finally Got Myself Together. They also did some soundtrack work but it really didn’t sound like the same group by then, only in name. The core years with Curtis Mayfield are fantastic and it’s worth checking out the back catalogue for them. If nothing else, dig out or order online the combo CD of This Is My Country/The Young Mods’ Forgotten Story; it is nigh-on perfect soul and still sounds fresh.

Of course, the rest is history, Curtis went on to solo success and changed the sound of the 70s but that is another Toppermost (see TopperPost #116 … Ed.).

 

Curtis Mayfield official website

Toppermost #116 Curtis Mayfield

The Impressions biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #140

1 Comment

  1. Peter Viney
    Dec 4, 2013

    I enjoyed your perspective on this, Ceri. To me, The Impressions were at their peak in 1964 / 1965, which is when I’d be looking first. Oddly for their huge impact, they never had a British hit in the pre-1970 line-up. This comes down I suspect to recording for ABC-Paramount, which was issued on HMV in Britain, rather than being on a dedicated label like Atlantic or Tamla-Motown. But all the soul bands covered them, with a focus strongly on that period’s material, and everyone knew the American singles … we’re definitely in a singles market back then for soul. My first choice of all is You Must Believe Me which was never bettered, though the Spencer Davis Group did a significant cover, as did unrecorded Bournemouth local favourites the Palmer-James Group. I guess their most covered song is People Get Ready and I had a playlist of this song after a flurry of recent covers by Aaron Neville, Seal and Russell Watson suddenly all appeared close together. Vanilla Fudge did a massive “deconstruction” version back in 1968. Again, none touch the original. I’d find room for Gypsy Woman (you need it for Curtis’s guitar), Keep On Pushing, Woman’s Got Soul and I’m So Proud from the same era.

    The other most-covered would be Amen but great as The Impressions version is, I probably heard it too often by cover bands in the era, invariably ending the show too. Apart from the essential greatest hits, I left the Impressions other tracks ignored for a few years, till a friend said his two favourite compilation CDs ever were The Definitive Impressions, and The Definitive Impressions Part Two (both on Ace). They only go as far as 1968 and We’re A Winner, i.e. the ABC sides, thus missing Fool For You, Mighty Mighty and my other gem, Choice of Colours, which are on Mayfield’s own Curtom label.

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