Melvin Van Peebles and Earth, Wind & Fire - Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song Soundtrack
Stax/Concord Music Group
180-gram LP in gatefold jacket, high-resolution digital audio
This is the original soundtrack recording to the 1971 film of the same name, and while the film may not be the best-known of the era's cinematic works, it is considered groundbreaking to the extent that it opened the door for the genre known as Blaxploitation.
What we're concerned with here though is the music, and there's a significance to the soundtrack that will be especially interesting to fans of Earth, Wind & Fire: the band was unknown at the time that they hooked up with Van Peebles (on vocals) to record this album.
Side One begins with "Sweetback Losing His Cherry" where a woman moans with pleasure to a music bed that cuts quickly and repeatedly from a gospel choir to '70s-style urban funk. This is a true soundtrack to the extent that what you hear is actually in the movie, so the songs feature dialog that is either spoken or sung, by the Sweetback character or those addressing him, with "Sweetback Getting it Uptight and Preaching it so Hard the Bourgeois Reggin Angels in Heaven Turn Around" being so cacophonous that what initially seems to be random editing ends up being a trippy delight.
The lengthy instrumental "Sweetback's Theme" closes Side One though, and here Earth, Wind & Fire stretch out with a groove that's driven by a handclapped rhythm and featuring solos from the sax, keyboards and guitar players.
Side Two begins with "Hoppin John," a funky cut that's clearly influenced by James Brown. For most of Side Two the spoken words come between the songs as opposed to within them, and album highlight "Mojo Woman" is an excellent slice of R&B that features uncredited female vocals. More gospel, angry spoken word, the Santana-esque "Won't Bleed Me" and the trippy and funkadelicized "The Man Tries Running His Usual Game But Sweetback's Jones is So Strong He Wastes the Hounds (Yeah! Yeah! and Besides That Will be Coming Back Takin Names & Collecting Dues)" close the soundtrack.
The theme of racial injustice and social unrest that the film portrays comes across fairly well here but the majority of fans who dig this album will probably be listening for the quirky genius of the music rather than the work's message, which unfortunately still resonates today. No matter what listeners take from this album, one thing is for sure; it is indeed baadasssss. Order your copy here