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'Superfly' Is Case of More Being Too Much

The Vaults / CD Reissues

January 16, 1998|ROBERT HILBURN

*** CURTIS MAYFIELD, "Superfly" soundtrack. Curtom/Rhino

In the age of increasingly aggressive marketing, it may be time to start asking record companies to put advisory stickers on all multi-disc collections.

One album that could have used a "read contents carefully" warning last year was the fancy Beach Boys "Pet Sounds" album, which turned what was a single-disc album into a multi-disc affair by loading it with everything but the sounds of the crew that cleaned up the studio each night after the musicians went home.

The added "vocal only" or "instrumentals only" tracks may be just what a few historians and cultists want, but they are far beyond the interest or need of the average pop fan, or even the average Beach Boys fan.

Here's another classic album that may have been turned into more than you really want. This two-disc, 85-plus-minute "Deluxe 25th Anniversary Edition" is a handsomely designed affair, but most consumers should read the contents carefully.

The original "Superfly" soundtrack album, which ran around 40 minutes, holds up well. As a singer, writer and record producer, Mayfield stands as one of the giants of American popular music, and "Superfly" carries some of his most inspired work--sophisticated yet street-smart, sensitive yet biting.

You can hear echoes of the musical ideas and social urgency of such "Superfly" tracks as "Freddie's Dead" and "Pusherman" in the works of rap's most acclaimed figures, including Chuck D., Ice Cube and 2Pac.

The 1972 film, which starred Ron O'Neal, told the story of a Harlem cocaine dealer's attempt to make a final score, and Mayfield's R&B-soul music reflected both the lure and tragedy of the "thug life" that is so much a part of today's rap music.

The album, which was a critical and commercial success, is expanded in this new edition to include all sorts of extras, some of which are valuable. There's a demo version of "Little Child Runnin' Wild," originally titled "Ghetto Child" and written before Mayfield was signed to do the soundtrack. Also noteworthy: some alternative versions of songs from the film, a couple of anti-drug radio spots and some recent comments on the film and the songwriting by Mayfield, who continues to make music after being paralyzed in a freak 1990 stage accident.

Yet there isn't enough additional material to justify, for most listeners, a second disc, causing what would be a four-star single-disc package to be docked a star.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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