Melvin Van Peebles

The Melvin Van Peebles Collection

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A double CD that combines the soundtrack to Mario Van Peebles' 1971 movie Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and the original cast recording of his 1972 Broadway production Don't Play Us Cheap. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song was an important film that paved the way for black filmmakers in American cinema in general, and the 1970s blaxploitation genre in particular. Van Peebles is not nearly as well known a musician as he is a filmmaker, but he did compose the soundtrack, which was performed by Earth, Wind & Fire, who had then just released their first album. Heard on its own, the soundtrack is, unlike Superfly or Shaft, not a significant musical achievement. It's serviceable period funk-soul, both instrumental and vocal, sprinkled with some dialogue from the film, although it did make number 13 on the soul album chart. "Hoppin' John" is an obvious James Brown-inspired tune, though sung with considerably less heat than Brown himself would have mustered. "Come On Feet Do Your Thing" is the cut most like Van Peebles' pre-rap excursions on A&M Records, which is unsurprising, as he had already recorded it on his A&M album Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death. Don't Play Us Cheap was originally intended as his follow-up film to Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Although the film was completed, it could not find a distributor, and Van Peebles ended up staging it on Broadway. This is the original cast recording of that production, the music entirely composed by Van Peebles himself. A much more lighthearted endeavor than Sweet Sweetback's, Don't Play Us Cheap featured music centered around gospel, its cast including bass singer George McCurn (who was in the Pilgrim Travelers), Joshie Jo Armstead (an ex-Ikette who wrote soul songs with Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson), and famed actress Esther Rolle. It's good-natured, varied, unexceptional contemporary gospel mixed with Broadway, light jazz, and soul, some of the brief tracks serving mostly to move the performance along rather than standing up as musical pieces noteworthy on their own merit.

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 5:49
2 2:16
3 0:45
4 1:20
5 3:59
feat: Robert Dunn
7 7:11
8 4:19
feat: Joe Keyes
10 1:49
feat: Mabel King
12 4:13
13 3:01
14 3:31
15 5:48
feat: Avon Long
feat: Esther Rolle
18 3:37
19 4:09
20 5:11
21 2:24
blue highlight denotes track pick