Curtis Mayfield released “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go” in November of 1970. As part of the Soul/R&B vocal group, The Impressions, Mayfield had already given the world “People Get Ready” in 1965, which helped to provide a soundtrack for the civil rights movement. In 1965, JFK had just been assassinated. But there was still hope in the air that we breathed. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “People Get Ready” the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. The song was used to provide solace and motivation to marchers.
The public mood had definitely shifted in the five years between the uplifting Impressions track and “Don’t Worry” in 1970. The US was a mess of social unrest: deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War. The summer of 1969 brought American young people Woodstock. However, the stabbing and death of Meredith Curly Hunter, Jr. in October of 1969 at a Rolling Stones concert had revealed that the dream of “all god’s children” singing and holding hands was yet a ways off.
It was in this environment of social unrest, confusion, and rebellion that Mayfield released his first solo project. “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go” was the first song and first single released from Mayfield’s 1970, debut solo album, simply titled Curtis. The first words people heard from the “People Get Ready” artist, gone solo were: “Sisters, n___rs, whites, Jews, and the crackers: Don’t worry, if there’s hell below, we’re all gonna go.” And then Curtis screams as a fuzzy bassline gives way to a funky explosion of sound.
Like the songs from the 1960s that made the Playlist last week, we can see that Curtis Mayfield was addressing many of the same problems we are still facing today: crooked police, “political actors,” drug abuse, “catcalling, love balling, fussing and cussing.” He also expresses angst about pollution (this was the same year as the first Eart Day) and he namechecks Richard Nixon, who in his first year of office was trying to assure people not to worry. He also went on to – as we all know – do some very corrupt things. His rally cry in the post-JFK, post-LBJ, world was “unity.” In his Inaugural address, Nixon said, “We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.”
While that sounds like really great advice, how did the be quiet let’s all just get along and let the government do what they do approach work out for the American people? How are we here? 50 years later? Same problems!?!?! Now with a pandemic on top!?!?! And supporters of two of the worst presidential candidates in history, want us all to just get in line and choose the brown pill or the red one? How can we be quiet? I don’t know what all the answers are. But I know it starts with love. And I agree with Mayfield, if there’s Hell below, we’re all gonna go. Of course, I don’t believe in a literal Hell. But we all got ourselves into this mess. We have been living a lifestyle that is unsustainable in a multitude of ways for so long. It seems everyone has a hustle from the police and political actors, to the fussing and cussing dealer, pimp or… hustler. #PlaylistfortheApocalypse