The Impressions – “Keep On Pushing”

This is another great hit written by the late Curtis Mayfield, who had to be one of the greatest lyricists of our day.  A song that was famous back in the day, but started a slang among young people. Growing up in a poor family, I can remember how sometimes our vehicle wouldn’t start and we would have to get out and help push it. One day not too far from our home, the vehicle stopped and we had to get out and push it when one of our teenage neighbors saw us and yelled out their door, “Keep on Pushing,” which did not sit well with my mother at all. Mom told us not to pay any attention to the teenage girl and let’s just get our station wagon home so she could call and have someone come take a look at it.

After pushing our vehicle home, it wasn’t too much longer that we heard a knock on the door and it was the teen neighbor and her grandmother coming to apologize.  The young girl who lived with her grandmother didn’t realize her grandmother heard her yell out the door at us and wanted her to apologize, which she did. We soon were able to have the car repaired and never had any more trouble out of it.  This song will forever remind me of that day so long ago when my family was pushing our station wagon home.

The Impressions leader Curtis Mayfield wrote this song, which is about perseverance and finding the strength to get through the tough times. The song was a keystone of the civil rights movement, as African Americans fought for equality at a time when segregation was still accepted.

Mayfield kept the political message in this song subtle in an effort to give it a wider reach. Mainstream radio stations were unlikely to play a song that was clearly about the fight for freedom in the black community, so Mayfield made the lyric ambiguous enough to disguise the intention. African Americans clearly got the message, identifying it as an anthem for their struggle.

Mayfield, who had previously written much lighter songs like “Little Young Lover” for The Impressions and “The Monkey Time” for Major Lance, became the musical voice of the civil rights movement with songs like this one and “People Get Ready.”

Mayfield, who had a deep connection to the church, wrote this as a gospel song. The only thing he did to turn it into a pop song was to change one line, substituting “I’ve got my strength” for “God gave me strength.” Otherwise, the song very easily could be sung in church.

The Impressions started out as a five-piece fronted by Jerry Butler, with Mayfield on guitar and backup vocals. Not long after scoring a hit in 1958 with “For Your Precious Love,” Butler left to pursue a solo career, and by 1962 they were down to a trio, with Mayfield fronting the band alongside baritone vocalist Sam Gooden and tenor Fred Cash. This is the configuration that recorded most of their hits, including “Keep On Pushing.” According to Mayfield, they were stronger as a three-man group because it was easier to lock into the sound and keep track of the other voices.

This song took on a new meaning for Mayfield after he was paralyzed in 1990 when a light tower fell on him during an outdoor performance in Brooklyn. No longer able to use his body, Mayfield still continued to make music and manage his affairs. “I think my spirits are maybe even higher,” he said in a 1997 interview with Goldmine. “It’s like I died and woke up to see this wave of love from so many people I knew and people I didn’t know.”

Mayfield took pride in his ten children and in his ability to provide for them; an astute businessman, he controlled his own publishing, which allowed him to keep his earnings high. His mind remained clear and sharp, but Mayfield’s body gave out in 1999 when he died at age 57.


Song Lyrics –

Keep on pushing
Keep on pushing

I’ve got to keep on pushing (mmm-hmm)
I can’t stop now
Move up a little higher
Some way, somehow

‘Cause I’ve got my strength
And it don’t make sense
Not to keep on pushing

Hallelujah, hallelujah
Keep on pushing

Now maybe some day (mmm-hmm)
I’ll reach that higher goal
I know I can make it
With just a little bit of soul
‘Cause I’ve got my strength
And it don’t make sense
Not to keep on pushing

Now look-a look (look-a look)
A-look-a yonder
What’s that I see
A great big stone wall
Stands there ahead of me
But I’ve got my pride
And I’ll move on aside
And keep on pushing

Hallelujah, hallelujah
Keep on pushing

Keep on pushing, what’d I say
Keep on pushing, well it’s all right
Keep on pushing


Credit: Songfacts

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