Of the many artists who define the distinctive sound of Chicago soul, few stand as tall as The Impressions. Varese Vintage has celebrated the legacy of the group with The Best of The Impressions: The Curtom Years. This new, 18-track anthology of earth-scorching R&B spans the period 1968-1976 and features 16 chart hits (including two chart-toppers) and two choice B-sides from Curtis Mayfield, Fred Cash, Sam Gooden, Leroy Hutson, Reginald Torian and Nate Evans.
By the time Curtis Mayfield formed his Curtom label with manager Eddie Thomas (Curtis + Thomas = Curtom), The Impressions were already ten-year veterans who had established a potent blend of sweet harmony soul (with prominent falsetto vocals) and social consciousness. The transition from ABC-Paramount to Curtom would be a smooth one; Mayfield took the name of the group’s final ABC hit “We’re a Winner” as the company’s slogan, and began The Impressions’ Curtom tenure with This is My Country in the same year of 1968.
Two singles culled from that LP are included on Varese’s chronologically-assembled compilation: the brassy waltz “Fool for You” and the title track, a powerful equal-rights anthem with the customarily smooth sound not betraying a passionately-delivered message. The prolific Mayfield then spearheaded sophomore Curtom LP The Young Man’s Forgotten Story from which the relationship drama “Seven Years” and the affecting “Choice of Colors” (“If you had a choice of colors/Which one would you choose, my brothers?”) have been reprised. The latter, a No. 1 R&B hit, was arranged by Chicago session vet Johnny Pate along with none other than Donny Hathaway; it also emphasized the signature tight harmonies of the group sans falsetto. Mayfield’s desire to go in a harder direction, however, was epitomized by “Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey),” a plea to come together from the same LP. The jagged guitar, tight bassline and crowd noises gave it an urgent, to-the-minute feel. The funk was dialed up on the 1970 LP Check Out Your Mind, represented here by the funky psychedelic-soul title cut, the commanding “(Baby) Turn On to Me” and the romantic “Say You Love Me,” sung by Mayfield and Fred Cash. All three boast dynamic, intricate arrangements from another stalwart, Riley Hampton.
“Say You Love Me” even quoted the title of The Impressions’ first hit “For Your Precious Love” (from the group’s days with Jerry Butler before he embarked on a solo career), and the group similarly looked back to cut remakes of their ABC-Paramount successes for the album The Best Impressions: Curtis, Sam and Fred. (The respectable revivals of “Amen” and “I’m So Proud” are featured on this set.) But Curtis Mayfield was done looking back, and soon left the group he founded. Although he ceded lead singer reins to friend Leroy Hutson, he remained with The Impressions as producer and songwriter. Hutson’s first single, the Mayfield-penned “Love Me,” closed out his sole LP with the group, 1972’s appropriately-titled Times Have Changed. (On the album, Hutson paid tribute to a Detroit pioneer of relevant R&B with a new arrangement of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.”)
When Hutson departed the ranks, he was replaced by Reginald Tufian but it was longtime member Fred Cash who sang lead on the group’s Preacher Man album; none of its singles have made the cut for this collection. The addition of Ralph Johnson for 1973’s Finally Got Myself Together made The Impressions a quartet. Richard Tufo and Lowrell Simon’s production of the smoldering, mid-tempo ballad “If It’s In You to Do Wrong” had a slick, seventies sound that moved the foursome another step further, while Ed Townsend’s production of “I’m a Changed Man (Finally Got Myself Together)” earned The Impressions a fresh chart-topper. Townsend returned to helm First Impressions, the title of which aptly referred to the group’s rebirth. Two love-minded tracks from that 1975 set have been culled for inclusion, both from the ascendant Chuck Jackson/Marvin Yancy team: “Sooner or Later” – with an introductory rap – and “Same Thing It Took.” 1976’s Loving Power, however, would prove the last album from the reinvigorated group for Curtom. Its Jackson/Yancy-written title track (which barely missed the R&B Top 10 at No. 11) not only featured a return to falsetto harmony but was recorded in Chicago with Townsend supervising the session with Chicago talents like arranger Richard Evans and guitarist Phil Upchurch. But the rift between the in absentia Mayfield and the group he founded was growing, and soon The Impressions were off to Atlantic Records’ Cotillion imprint sans Ralph Johnson. Johnson’s loyalty to Mayfield was strong, and Curtis enlisted him for the new group Mystique at Curtom.
Though this anthology is dedicated to The Curtom Years, it closes with the catchy Top 40 Cotillion single “This Time,” a breezy slice of soul-pop by McKinley Jackson and The Jones Girls’ Shirley Jones, arranged by Jackson and the great Gene Page. “This Time” (1976) introduced new lead singer Nate Evans, who would remain with The Impressions even though they wouldn’t remain long at Cotillion. Future albums arrived on 20th Century Fox, and though the group ceased existing as recording artists in the early 1980s, it still functions today with Sam Gooden and Fred Cash still carrying the torch.
Varese’s collection – tracing the development of these soul pioneers through shifts in both personnel and the sound of popular music – features comprehensive liner notes by A. Scott Galloway in a beautifully designed color booklet by Steve Stanley. Steve Massie has remastered all tracks for superb sound. The Best of The Impressions: The Curtom Years is available now – and we want YOU to take a copy home!
To enter to win ONE OF TEN COPIES, simply LIKE our Facebook page, and head over to Varese Sarabande’s FB page and do the same! Just leave us a comment on the IMPRESSIONS post on our FB page. Let us know: What’s your favorite Impressions song or memory? Once you like both pages and comment anything you’d like to share about Curtis Mayfield and/or The Impressions, you’ll automatically be entered to win!
If you’ve entered our previous giveaways and have already liked BOTH The Second Disc and Varese’s Facebook page, you can still win: simply enter a comment on our thread to be entered! Only one entry per person. Remember, BOTH FB pages must be “LIKED” and a comment left on our page in order to win!
Don’t have Facebook? We’re not leaving you out in the cold! Just send an e-mail to theseconddisc AT gmail DOT com with the subject line “THE IMPRESSIONS” plus your name and mailing address, and you’ll also be entered to win!
The contest ends at 11:59 p.m. EST on the evening of Monday, May 2, at which time 10 random winners will be selected. Contest open to all. Only one entry per person either via Facebook or email. All winners at sole discretion of The Second Disc. U.S. residents only, please. This contest is NOT affiliated with or endorsed by Facebook. Winner will be notified on Tuesday, May 3 via Facebook and The Second Disc, so remember to check back! Good luck!
The Best of The Impressions: The Curtom Years is available now from Varese Vintage at the links below!
- Fool for You (Curtom 1932, 1968)
- This is My Country (Curtom 1934, 1968)
- Seven Years (Curtom 1940, 1969)
- Choice of Colors (Curtom 1943, 1969)
- Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey) (Curtom 1943-B, 1969)
- Say You Love Me (Curtom 1946, 1969)
- Amen (1970) (Curtom 1948, 1970)
- Check Out Your Mind (Curtom 1951, 1970)
- (Baby) Turn on to Me (Curtom 1954, 1970)
- Ain’t Got Time (Curtom 1957, 1971)
- I’m So Proud (Curtom 1957-B, 1971)
- Love Me (Curtom 1959, 1971)
- If It’s in You to Do Wrong (Curtom 1994, 1973)
- Finally Got Myself Together (I’m a Changed Man) (Curtom 1007, 1974)
- Sooner or Later (Curtom/Warner Bros. 0103, 1975)
- Same Thing It Took (Curtom/Warner Bros. 0106, 1975)
- Loving Power (Curtom/Warner Bros. 0110, 1975)
- This Time (Cotillion single 44210, 1976)