Riff: Curtis Mayfield – “Billy Jack”

Mar 15, 2018

Sad bloody mess/Shot all up in his chest, shot in his chest/One sided duel, gun and a fool, ah/What a way to go

from Billy Jack lyrics by Curtis Mayfield

With jams like “Pusherman” and “Superfly” under his belt, Curtis Mayfield is unfairly categorized as a someone who glamorized street life. Truth is (and upon closer analysis of the lyrics), he did anything but. He admonished hustlers, and the story of Billy Jack is another cautionary tale that warns listeners of the potential pitfalls. It’s a later effort, but all the elements are in play: the choppy wah-wahs, the dense and dramatic bassline, and of course Mayfield’s otherworldly falsetto. He’s explaining the circumstances behind BJ’s death, and how pitiful he looked on the ground all shot up. The difference is that Mayfield holds him accountable, explaining that if you play with fire you’ll most certainly get burned.


Riff by Jeff Min

Jeff Min is a Chicago-based writer at SONGLYRICS. His work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, Hi-Fructose, Wax Poetics, SLAM, and HOOP.

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