Track of the Day: 'We’ve Only Just Begun' by Curtis Mayfield

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Reader Paul joins the popular cover series:

When I first saw your “most transformative covers” thread, Curtis Mayfield’s version of “We’ve Only Just Begun” automatically popped into my head. Not only did Curtis transform the song musically, but he changed the lyrical meaning without altering a word. Many of the compositions in his mighty catalog dealt with the civil rights issues of the day, and in this live setting, he takes a song that was written to envision a newly married couple and gave it a twist. Curtis explains it best in the spoken intro to the song (Rap #2, available on Spotify):

A lot of folks think this particular lyric is not appropriate for what might be considered ‘underground’, but I think ‘underground’ is whatever your mood or your feelings might be at the time so long as it’s the truth. I think it’s very appropriate that we might lend a few words of inspiration about that here.

At the end of the song,  he then segues into the most beautiful reading of one of his most famous songs, “People Get Ready” [on Spotify] to further emphasize the new lyrical spin on “We’ve Only Just Begun.”

Here’s that song in its original, live form:

(Track of the Day archive here. Submit via hello@.)