Mayfield was leader of the R&B group The Impressions before releasing the album Curtis, which was his first as a solo artist. Many of his songs are rooted in gospel music, which is apparent on this track. Here, Mayfield encourages listeners to get the most out of life and try to be the best regardless of any obstacles in the way. Mayfield's songs were often targeted to the black community and addressed their specific problems, but this song is more universal in message.
Mayfield was a rare soul singer who had nearly complete creative control of his music. He was a highly regarded guitarist, and like Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson, he wrote and produced most of his songs, including this one.
Kanye West based his 2007 track "Touch The Sky
" on this song, utilizing the distinctive horn section and keeping the same lyrical theme.
This song was used in 2005 commercials for Toyota vehicles.
Popular covers of this song were recorded by Destination, Trickster and The Jam.
Movies that have used this song include Bend It Like Beckham (2002), Comedian (2002), Semi-Pro (2008), Accidental Love (2015) and Barbershop: The Next Cut (2016).
"Move on Up" was a tribute of sorts to Mayfield's Chicago neighbors, The Staple Singers. "Curtis lived around the corner from us," Mavis Staples told Mojo magazine. "He was like my baby brother. He'd drop by and we'd eat together and he'd talk politics with Pops. One day he came to Pops and said 'I want to write songs like The Staple Singers do, and Pops said 'Curtis man, you're a writer, a poet! Write some of those songs!' The first one Curtis wrote was 'Move On Up' and he came round and played it to us and Pops said, 'That's my boy!'"