Video Savant: Curtis Mayfield's “(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below, We're All Going Go”

Categories: Video Savant

When the news gets especially grim, as it has in the last couple of weeks (another Great Depression looming? Environmental disaster on the horizon? Jack Johnson headlining Coachella? We're fucked, people.), I turn to Curtis Mayfield's mellifluous voice and uplifting funk/soul symphonies for relief.

However, the tune under review for this week's Video Savant actually reflects the darkness of America's early-'70s socio-political climate (especially the racial tension), and forces us to realize that today's conditions haven't really improved—in fact, they may have worsened (compared to Bush 43, Nixon seems rather beneficent). Same old shit, new flies... Nixon's presidency is justifiably hated, but his reign did result in a lot of awesome music. Maybe it was worth the pain, hardship and scandal after all.

This is one of Curtis Mayfield's greatest songs (which is saying a helluva lot, as his canon abounds with some of the most exciting and soulful music ever conceived). “(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below We're All Going to Go”—which appears on the 1970 LP Curtis—promises a misery-loves-company (or is it company-causes-misery?) scenario. The track finds Mayfield at his most ominous and socially aware; it's shot through with a subliminal paranoia and sorrow that strike me as particularly zeitgeisty.

The fuzz bass riff, humid congas and irreverent roll call of peoples that open the song hint at its fraught momentousness. The wah-chicka guitar, soaring strings and wistful horns suggest optimism amid the panoply of problems detailed in the lyrics. These conflicting forces result in a timeless song, regardless of its era-bound references. That's genius, folks.



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