A long time ago…it seems…soul music was just, well, more soulful.
Nowadays “soul” is a term often used to describe some pretty dreadful slow tempo songs written in minor keys for former teen idols or bad boy rappers trying to bring longevity to their careers by appearing more sensitive, introspective and mysteriously intellectual. It doesn’t usually fool many of us…
The term “soulful” has become so misused that it’s easy to forget there was a time when soul music represented the consciousness of humanity.
Soul music went hand in hand with the civil rights movement. It spoke of opportunity for all, peace in our time and a sense of hope for a better tomorrow, often drawing on the sort of biblical metaphors the songwriters had heard in church every Sunday while growing up.
After a few major life changes for me recently, I feel I’m starting all over again in many ways. It’s almost like the last 20 years of my life didn’t exist.
Most of the time I can take the challenge of freshly carving out a new life and a new sense of identity for myself fairly positively, but there are occasions when I feel quite vulnerable, so I need a way to keep myself moving in the right direction.
That’s where…thanks to the magic of Spotify…some of the positive, upbeat soul classics come in.
They remind me that every struggle brings within it the opportunity of redemption…
They remind me that although it feels like I’m taking on the world all by myself that others have trodden that same path before…
They encourage me to summon the strength to keep on going…
They remind me that if I keep going, that it’s possible for things to get better…
They remind me that if I keep my faith, one day I may finally arrive at the place I want to be.
“Move On Up” does all that and more. And as an added bonus it’s accompanied by a smoking hot brass section. Even if you don’t recognise the song’s title, that soulful brass refrain has been used in probably a thousand different ads, movies and TV shows over the years.
At least I imagine “Move On Up” has been featured in lots of places because the song didn’t chart at all in the US and was only a very minor hit in the UK.
Although I’m not old enough to remember the brief appearance of “Move On Up” in the UK charts back in 1971, I can recall it instantly. So I’ve clearly come across it in plenty of other places in the intervening years.
The lyrics and music for “Move On Up” were written by Curtis Mayfield, as well as being performed by him.
Back in the 1960s, Curtis Mayfield was a member of the Impressions as well as the writer of their best-known tunes, such as “People Get Ready” (here if you’d like to remind yourself of one of the classic socially-empowering anthems of the 1960s…https://youtu.be/l04yM7-BWbg ).
When he left the Impressions in 1970, Curtis Mayfield ramped up the socially-conscious side of his work even further.
And there’s no better example of his wonderful songwriting than “Move On Up”…
Hush now child and don’t you cry
Your folks might understand you by and by
Just move on up toward your destination
Thought you may find from time to time
That’s one of the problems when you’re going through struggles in life…and I’m not suggesting for a moment that my struggles come anywhere close to the struggles faced by millions around the world every day, or even the struggles faced as Curtis Mayfield navigated his way through America in the 1960s.
The starting point is that nobody who isn’t going through what you’re going through understands your struggle. It’s often said that to truly understand someone you have to walk a mile in their shoes. But at the start of any journey, there are very few people who want to walk a mile in your shoes…or in fact anyone’s shoes that aren’t their own.
When trouble strikes, in my experience, you don’t see anyone for dust. Rather than walk a mile in your shoes, people tend to want to run a mile in their own shoes to get away from you, just in case a little piece of your struggle rubs off on them.
If a change is going to happen for you, it’s got to come from your own inner reserves of strength, grit and resilience. No-one else will provide it for you.
Even if your faith is strong, it will be sorely tested.
But at the start of the struggle, we just want someone to understand us and accept us. You don’t need to agree with us, and you may not share our diagnosis or plan of action.
Just hearing someone say “I hear you”, and “you matter to me” is enough.
Even then the path won’t be easy…
Bite your lip, and take a trip
Though there may be a wet road ahead
And you cannot slip
Just move on up, for peace will find
Into the steeple of beautiful people
Where there’s only one kind
It’s hard to remember that in the darkest times, the light isn’t far away…that the darkest hour really is just before dawn…and that encountering setbacks just means you’re on the road and making progress in the right direction.
That’s why you need to listen to Curtis Mayfield’s advice…
Take nothing less than the second best
Do not obey, you must keep your say
So you can pass the test
Just move on up to a greater day
With just a little faith
If you put your mind to it, you can surely do it
All you need is a little faith. Just enough to get you through the day. Just enough to keep on going.
Make some progress, however small, every day and you’ll soon get to your destination…
Remember your dream is your only scheme
So keep on pushing
Curtis Mayfield passed away in 1999. But he will always live on as a great songwriter and performer, someone who spoke for the mistreated, the downtrodden and the forgotten.
“Move On Up” is a song I always turn to on those days when the going gets tough. It never fails to lift my spirits, re-focus me on my hopes and dreams and re-invigorate my faith in a better tomorrow.
If things are tough for you, take heart from the fine lyrics of “Move On Up”. Curtis Mayfield wrote them for you, as much as he wrote them for me, and for anyone else who needs support when times are hard.
With a phenomenal brass section, some of the most energetic bongo playing in popular music history and lyrics that bring comfort when you need it most…songs don’t get much better than Curtis Mayfield with “Move On Up”…
The video is below or, if you prefer, you can enjoy the song on Spotify here… https://open.spotify.com/track/1DxjLSO8tQHRzfgrZB8Ggi
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published.