Meaning of People Get Ready – The Impressions

This composition, written by Curtis Mayfield for his band The Impressions, has had the honor of being covered by many legendary artists. It became a civil rights anthem and has been regularly performed in American Protestant churches for several decades. This article is devoted to the history of the song “People Get Ready”.

It is commonly believed that Curtis composed “People Get Ready” under the influence of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Several hundred thousand people took part in that protest action, demanding cardinal changes in the socio-political life of the country. She is also remembered for the magnificent speech of Martin Luther King, which went down in history under the title “I Have a Dream” (“I have a dream”).

True, Curtis himself claimed that he wrote the composition under the influence of gospel music and the Christian traditions in which he was brought up. Mayfield sang in the church choir from the age of seven, which could not but be reflected in his work. Here’s what he had to say about “People Get Ready”:

It came from my church or my upbringing with church ideas like “nowhere to hide”, “get on board” and so on in a similar spirit. I must have gotten very deep into religious inspiration when I wrote this song.

Synopsis for The Impressions anthology disc

He also recalled the stories of his grandmother, who herself preached in the church:

This is a perfect example of what… was deposited in my subconscious from the sermons of my grandmother and most of the priests when they quoted the Bible.

National Public Radio, 1993

The composition became the title track of the band’s self-titled album The Impressions, released in 1965. The song was released as a single, which peaked at number three on the Billboard R&B chart and number fourteen on the pop chart.

Subsequently, it turned into a humanistic anthem. It has been performed in demonstrations by civil rights activists for half a century.

“People Get Ready” has been featured in several rankings, including lists of the top 500 songs by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Rolling Stone. According to a poll conducted by Mojo magazine among famous songwriters, it is one of the ten greatest tracks of all time. In addition, she is a member of the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Cover versions of “People Get Ready” have been recorded by Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Vanilla Fudge and many other musicians.

Interesting Facts

  • Soon after the release, many Chicago churches included the song in their songbooks. Interestingly, in such versions, individual lines turned from spiritual to protest. For example, the phrase “Everyone wants freedom” often appeared.
  • Bob Marley used a guitar riff and a few lines from “People Get Ready” in his legendary “One Love”, which earned Mayfield credit as co-writer of the song.
  • Martin Luther King called it his favorite song.

People Get Ready LyricsPeople Get Ready LyricsPeople get ready, there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith, to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord
You don’t need luggage – just get on the wagons
All you need is faith to hear the sound of an engine
You don’t need a ticket – just thank the Lord So people get ready, for the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board ’em
There’s hope for all, among those loved the most
Already picking up passengers on the way from coast to coast
Faith is the key that opens the doors to the cars
There ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner
Whom would hurt all mankind, just to save his own, believe me now
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
For there is no hiding place, against the kingdom’s throne
Ready to hurt everyone to save himself, trust me
Have pity on those whose chances are illusory,
After all, it will not be possible to hide from the Kingdom of God

Song quote

When we do “People Get Ready” we usually get a standing ovation.

Carmine Appice, drummer for Vanilla Fudge

…it’s a song that touches people to the core… It’s actually a song about faith – faith that transcends racial barriers and invites everyone to the train. The train that takes everyone to the promised land.

Peter Burns, author of Curtis Mayfield: People Never Give Up

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