One thing I’ll say about Curtis Mayfield’s sound is how distinctive his compositions and arrangements were. He love to structure his generally very funky uptempo songs in very much the folk/gospel/blues form. That would a lot of verse/verse type songs whose choruses don’t differ greatly from the songs melodic content. At the start of the 80’s, most music was geared very much towards singers. So melodic choruses were usually distinctly different from the rest of the song. So how would Curtis,still an active recording artist in the 80’s,cope with the era’s emphasis on traditional pop song structure?
Being aware of music around him as he likely was, Curtis probably noticed how funk of the 80’s was about a stripped down sound. There was the boogie and electro funk sounds-the boogie sound used by folks like Marvin Gaye for their comebacks at the time. Then their was the emerging Minneapolis sound,which created string and horn parts using synthesizers and/or guitar lines. Since groups like the Gap Band also got into this groove, Curtis Mayfield sought to find a way to alter the framework of his music while keeping his songwriting stamp intact. Among the results were his 1983 song “Summer Hot”.
A rocking 4/4 drum beat comes in with some clanking percussion opening up the groove. After a few lines of this naked rhythm,the main theme of the song rolls right in. It’s built on a sustained polyphonic synthesizer orchestration with a snaky synth bass weaving into it. Some tight Caribbean style horn charts play each instrumental statement made by the synthesizers. The horns play less of the role while Curtis is singing. On the bridge of the song, the song strips back down to the drums/percussion Marvin Gaye style with Curtis’s vocal chanting. The orchestral synth leads back into the choral refrain right into fade out.
To be honest, I really didn’t have any conception of what Curtis Mayfield’s music would sound like during the early 80’s. This song helped me to realize the answer: his sound really didn’t change at all. Structurally this song isn’t at all dissimilar to “If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Gonna Go” from his debut 13 years earlier. Aside from the sunny vacation themed imagery of the lyrics, the differences in the songs are the then modern electronic touches that keep it instrumentally contemporary. The fact that is absolutely sounds like a Curtis Mayfield song showcases just how well his musical sound was able to update itself.