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Not that anyone is expecting you to take the scores at the end of the review as anything more than one person’s assessment of the record’s quality and their role at advancing rock’s creative development, but looking at the reviews of Percy Mayfield to date reveals that he’s rather surprisingly the frontrunner when it comes for best career as it stands now.

He’s had fifteen sides reviewed prior to this one, thirteen of them earn a lofty green number and six of those are the bright green scores of (8) or above. The two that miss are hardly unworthy of praise themselves, one was perfectly average for the time it was released and the other was actually deemed above average, so that’s hardly a slight.

Eventually we’ll have to ask ourselves… WAS he in fact among the greatest artists in rock history, or at least in the upper echelon of the elite within his own era?

Furthermore since so many other legendary artists we’ve covered to date have had their fare share of substandard sides in their catalog showing just how hard it is to be consistently good, that leads to another more pertinent question… how much longer can Percy Mayfield keep this up?


Time Has Passed Me By
Before we get into today’s record, we probably need to elaborate on the possibility that Percy Mayfield might just be rock’s most unheralded all-time great artist.

The obvious reasons his name doesn’t get brought up much, if ever, is because his heyday was before rock ‘n’ roll crossed over to white America and unfortunately – up until recently anyway – the people responsible for writing almost all of rock music’s history fell into that myopic demographic.

Ignorance is an explanation, not an excuse, but in an attempt to be fair to those who feel this historical oversight was not affected by the cultural shortcoming of its assessors, we’ll turn our focus to Mayfield’s statistical résumé which obviously does NOT include scores handed out on a website of fairly recent vintage.

He’s got an impressive chart topper which is considered one of rock’s ultimate message songs and that does keep him from being completely ignored, but not even two years into his prime recording career he’s just scored his seventh Top Ten hit with The Big Question, the top side of this release, making him successful enough to at least be considered for the roster of all-time greats.

So what then is his problem when it comes to garnering widespread recognition?

Maybe it’s this… at the time of his greatest achievements he was a soft-spoken balladeer who specialized in downbeat songs that were often lacking in musical flourishes that would turn anybody’s head.

No matter how good his records may be they’re records you need to study closely, not jam along with in passing.

It’s possible he’s even starting to become aware of the downside of that perception because while The Hunt Is On still probes much deeper into real-life meditative issues centered around his quest for the right woman, he and Maxwell Davis take small but meaningfull steps to give this just a little more casual appeal for those not inclined to consider what Mayfield actually has to say.

Call it pandering to the uneducated masses if you want, but you can’t say it’s not reasonably effective in its attempts.


Sure Don’t Want A Square
When discussing, analyzing or otherwise breaking down any Percy Mayfield composition the thing that will invariably take precedent are the lyrics.

His entire style is that of somebody musing about personal problems that often relate to the larger world around him. Although he’s melodic in his singing, he seems far more intent on conveying his thoughts as clearly as possible, which tends to mean going easy on the accompanying musical touches.

In producer Maxwell Davis he’s got the perfect accomplice for that, somebody who is a master of understatement when it comes to arrangements, content to add color to the song without feeling the need to draw undue attention to instrumental parts whose main goal in other records seems to be competing with the vocals for your attention throughout the track.

In other words, Mayfield’s records are not the place to look for excessive solos… or in some cases solos period.

Which is why the backing track for The Hunt Is On is so surprising. Davis isn’t overhauling Mayfield’s entire sound with wild breaks, or adding new exotic instruments into the mix, but he is letting the ones there stretch out a bit and for the first time take on a more prominent role which brings added textures to the record allowing it to stand apart from his previous songs.

He knows he’s got one musician he can trust to use solid judgement on bringing a little more to the table without tipping the balance too far in the other direction… namely himself. To that end Davis’s solo is dependably catchy, judiciously played and entirely fitting for the increased musical focus of the song in general while being just gritty enough to play off the laid-back vocals.

Content-wise the theme is typical Mayfield contemplation as he feels he’s getting up there in years – he was 31 at the time – and is looking to settle down with a wife but has no suitable prospects and fears that the longer he waits, the worse his chances will be.

It’d be easy to send this up and turn it into a joke, as he claims that “If I don’t get one soon, I’ll be too old to try”, and there are a few lighthearted moments to be found, joking about wanting a woman who doesn’t snore in bed for example, or the way in which he emphasizes the word “sooooon” brings a smile as well, but for the most part he’s serious when he suggests that time may be running out.

Of course it helps to remember the average marrying age in 1952 was 23 years old for males (compared to 29 today) while a man’s average lifespan back then was just under 66 years. So I think we can take his premise as being sincere, especially since he seemed to dwell on the lack of a soul mate in so many of his songs.

Yet despite this it lacks the deeper psychological ramifications that made the majority of his work so special, as he’s unable to find a consistent relatable mood to keep you fully invested. Which is why so it’s reassuring to find everything else about the record coming to his rescue for once in an effort to keep his winning streak alive.


Tryin’ To Get Somewhere
It’s interesting that this side might make the ideal case for why Percy Mayfield’s legacy as an all-time great is hardly assured and perhaps unwarranted, yet at the same time also push the argument that he still belongs in the discussion despite his lack of wider recognition.

As to the former, most people when offering up candidates for a measure of musical immortality in rock will point to an artist’s stylistic versatility. The ability to effectively render songs with far different approaches over time, changing tempos, instrumentation, and utilizing a wide array of themes and worldviews in their music.

Clearly Mayfield falls a bit short in those areas. A greatest hits collection played all at once can get a little tedious, as he’ll rarely venture into uptempo cuts while his tendency for minimalist arrangements to suit his semi-spoken introverted vocals further gives him the appearance of being a one-note performer, even if that one note was pitch perfect for years.

But the opposing argument, one that The Hunt Is On seems to support oddly enough, is that even when his usual gifts are running a little low, the foundation they’re built on remains strong and his records continue to be easily enjoyed and appreciated for what they still are capable of doing.

This manages to balance genuine concern with a dry wit and contains a subtle melodic appeal that is bolstered by his interplay with the band. It may be far from his best but if this is the worst he could do that bodes well for his artistic legacy.

Point and counterpoint as it were.


(Visit the Artist page of Percy Mayfield for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)