Title: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (An Opera)
Artist: Melvin Van Peebles; Earth, Wind & Fire
Formats: Vinyl, High-resolution digital
Release date: May 26, 2017
In the February issue we gave a brief preview of Concord Music Group’s year-long celebration of Stax Records 60th Anniversary, including the new compilation CDs paying tribute to the many iconic artists in the Stax roster. Now Concord has released the first of their Stax 60th anniversary remastered vinyl offerings—a 108 gram pressing of the original cast soundtrack album for Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.
As most already know, this landmark independent film was written, produced, scored, and directed by Melvin Van Peebles, who also portrayed Sweetback: “a black protagonist who not only overpowers the oppressive white cops, but he manages to get away with it.” Released in 1971, the film contributed to the creation of the Blaxploitation era and was promoted by the Black Panthers, who filled theaters with members for whom it was required viewing.
The soundtrack album, distributed prior to the release of the film to raise cash and garner publicity through airplay, was also notable for introducing an unknown group by the name of Earth, Wind & Fire. Van Peebles also performs as his alter ego, Brer Soul. Without the Sweetback soundtrack and contributions of EWF, who transformed Van Peebles hummed musical ideas into a funky soul-jazz score, the film may never have made it into theaters. And without Sweetback to pave the way, there may never have been a string of soulful ‘70s soundtracks scored by the likes of Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye, Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, Gene Page, Johnny Pate, James Brown, Roy Ayers, and Willie Hutch. As EWF’s Verdine White noted, “at the time there weren’t a lot of movies that had black music” (Quincy Jones was the only black composer with a string of film scores to his credit).
Concord’s 180-gram vinyl gatefold edition features audio remastered from the original analog tapes and cut on the original Stax lathe at Ardent studios in Memphis. Newly penned notes are provided by Jeff Weiss, who credits Van Peebles with the birth of “badass cinema” via a film “that captured the spirit of rebellion, frustration and the refusal to accept injustice.” Mario Van Peebles, whose 2003 film Baadasssss! chronicled the making of his father’s famous film, also reflects on the film’s profound influence in the liner notes.
Long out of print with the exception of foreign pressings, this remastered vinyl release of Sweetback belongs in everyone’s collection!
Editor’s note: Melvin Van Peebles has recently performed with other bands featured in Black Grooves, including the Heliocentrics.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss