A top-twenty single for the Impressions and an almost instant standard, The Impressions “People Get Ready” is on the shortlist of Prettiest Songs Ever Recorded, Soul Division.
Written by Curtis Mayfield, “People Get Ready” is slow and stately, stopping and starting seemingly at will, powered mostly by Mayfield’s guitar, which spends much of the song walking down the street, looking for other believers.
Because, lyrically, “People Get Ready” is pure gospel:
People get ready
There’s a train comin’
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels hummin’
You don’t need no ticket
You just thank The Lord
The train metaphor that powers “People Get Ready” is so deeply ingrained into the American psyche — especially the African-American psyche — it’s almost shocking to be reminded that the song is only 50 years old, as it seems as timeless as the concept of salvation itself.
It doesn’t seem possible that a song this elemental was actually written, surely it must have always existed? Which seemed to be part of the intent that Curtis Mayfield had when he wrote the song: tying the etherial melody to that metaphor of salvation, both in this world and in the next.
And that’s definitely how The Impressions sing it: trading off lines, randomly harmonizing, as if the song was too big for any single person to sing and too inspirational for anybody not to be moved into joining in.
Hop on board.
“People Get Ready”
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