Gil Scott-Heron: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Gil Scott-Heron (thedailybeats.com)

Gil Scott-Heron

Introduction

In 1988 I bought the compilation album The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by Gil-Scott Heron. I don’t usually write about compilation albums on my blog, but in this case, I am more than happy to make an exception.

Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron was born on April 1st, 1949, in New York. He was a poet, musician and writer. He was a singer and played piano and guitar.

Scott-Heron’s music was influenced by jazz, funk and soul. His lyrics are political, confrontational and moving. He sympathized with the American Black Power movement.

He started out as a writer in the late 1960’s, publishing the books Vulture and The Nigger Factory, the latter as an immediate reaction to the student protests at the Columbia and Kent State universities.

Gil Scott-Heron - Small Talk At 125th And Lenox, Pieces Of A Man, Free Will (amazon.com/apoplife.nl)

Gil Scott-Heron – Small Talk At 125th And Lenox, Pieces Of A Man, Free Will

But music beckoned also; it would turn out to be his major passion. Scott-Heron rose to fame primarily on the back of his ground-breaking albums he recorded during the early 1970’s. The very first song he ever recorded was his best known throughout the rest of his career: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. That song melts all of Scott-Heron’s influences into one organic work of art and would be a major influence for a vast legion of hip-hop artists. That influence remains palpable to this day.

He kept on releasing albums throughout the 1980’s. He was as militiant and confrontational as he was before. In the song Let Me See Your ID, which he recorded for the Artists United Against Apartheid album Sun City, he demonstrated the similarities between the American racial issues and South-Africa’s Apartheid regime.

Around the time of the rise of hip-hop and rap at the end of the 1980’s/ beginning of the 1990’s, Scott-Heron was proclaimed to be the Godfather Of Rap by his peers. Scott-Heron was a bit ambivalent about that honor. Even though he respected rap and hip-hop, he sometimes had reservations about the message(s):

We got respect for you rappers and the way they be free-weighin’
But if you’re gon’ be teachin’ folks things, make sure you know what you’re sayin’
Older folks in our neighborhood got plenty of know-how
Remember if it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t be out here now
And I ain’t comin’ at you with no disrespect
All I’m sayin’ is that you damn well got to be correct
Because if you’re gonna be speakin’ for a whole generation
And you know enough to try and handle their education
Make sure you know the real deal about past situations
It ain’t just repeatin’ what you heard on the local TV stations

© 1994 Gil Scott-Heron – Message To The Messengers

However, the royalties he started receiving for the use of samples of his songs, brought in a lot of cash. Unfortunately, he used it to pay for his drug addiction for years on end. In 2001 Scott-Heron was arrested for possession of drugs. He was sentenced to two years of imprisonment. While in jail he was allowed to participate in the filming of a documentary on his life entitled Blackalicious. In 2006 he was sentenced to three years of jail for aborting a disintoxication treatment. However, on May 23rd, 2007, he was already released, because the (rehab)clinic refused to supply him with HIV inhibitors. One year later Scott-Heron confirmed he was seropositive.

Meanwhile, Scott-Heron kept on performing, but didn’t tour anymore. He more or less was the ‘artist in residence’ at the New York nightclub South Of Bronx.

In 2010 Scott-Heron (after a hiatus of sixteen years) released a new album: I’m New Here. On the way back home from an international tour in support of that album, he fell ill. On May 27th, 2011, Gil Scott-Heron died at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York. He was 62 years old.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: the song

Gil Scott-Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1974) (maestro-s.nl)

Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1974)

The very first song on the very first album Gil Scott-Heron released was The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. A direct hit. It turned into a monument within (Afro-)American culture, which leaves its mark right up to today.

The lyrics came to him in his dorm room, while watching television. He witnessed social unrest and violence in the streets, yet the television didn’t reflect any of that. Commercials, sport results, corny shows and country music was what the American public was served.

Therefore, the revolution or change wouldn’t come about by watching television (or the news). It all starts with the willingness to think and personally feel and want (the need for) change.

The song is a huge source of inspiration for generations to come, particularly within hip-hop. Its lyrics are oftentimes quoted in songs and the name Gil Scott-Heron is often name-checked.

The song and its lyrics are a powerful statement. The flow of the lyrics and the way they are spoken and the way they rhyme, has been invaluable to the development of rap:

You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and
Skip out for beer during commercials
Because the revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
Blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
Hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary

The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Wood and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
Thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother

There will be no pictures of you and Willie Mays
Pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run
Or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
Or report from 29 districts

The revolution will not be televised

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
Brothers in the instant replay
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
Run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkins strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the right occasion
Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so Goddamn relevant, and
Women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
Will be in the street looking for a brighter day

The revolution will not be televised

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
News and no pictures of hairy armed women
Liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb
Or Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, or Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth

The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be right back after a message
About a white tornado, white lightning, or white people
You will not have to worry about a Dove in your
Bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl
The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised
Will not be televised, will not be televised

The revolution will be no re-run brothers
The revolution will be live

© 1970 Gil Scott-Heron

The song was also part of the second Scott-Heron album. This version was much richer and jazzier when compared to the stripped down version on this first album.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: the compilation album

Gil Scott-Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1988) (youtube.com)

Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1988)

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised was also used as the title to the first compilation by Gil Scott-Heron. It was released in 1974 , after Gil Scott-Heron had released his first 3 albums.

Thus, the compilation consists of songs from those three albums: 1970’s Small Talk At 125th And Lenox, 1971’s Pieces Of A Man and 1972’s Free Will.

Even though this album is a compilation, and compilations are rarely regarded as being essential, this album is arguably Scott-Heron’s most important release within his entire career. It really does contain the best of the best and it has grown into being a standard work wityhin jazz (to which Scott-Heron initially belonged).

Also, the timing of the release was essential. In 1974 the first steps werde made in the development of hip-hop and rap, when the influential DJ DJ Kool Herc had audiences listen to his ‘percussion breaks’ for the very first time. MC-ing became a major part of enjoying and listening to this type of music. Scott-Heron was a major influence on the way that was executed.

But, Scott-Heron was (way) more than just its title track. He sang as well and he did it beautifully and (often) moving. The impressive Home Is Where the Hatred Is, Did You Hear What They Said?, and less political songs like Lady Day And John Coltrane satisfy listeners to this day.

The 55 years between the first release of these songs and today have done nothing to diminish their intensity, humanity and (sad to say) actuality.

Songs

All songs written by Gil Scott-Heron, unless stated otherwise:

  • The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
  • Sex Education: Ghetto Style #
  • The Get Out of the Ghetto Blues #
  • No Knock
  • Lady Day and John Coltrane
  • Pieces of a Man #
  • Home Is Where the Hatred Is
  • Brother
  • Save the Children
  • Whitey on the Moon
  • Did You Hear What They Said?

The 1988 re-release contained the following bonus songs:

  • When You Are Who You Are #
  • I Think I’ll Call It Morning #
  • A Sign of the Ages #
  • Or Down You Fall #
  • The Needle’s Eye #
  • The Prisoner #

#: Gil Scott-Heron, Brian Jackson

The version of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (the song) on this compilation is the second version that was released, stemming from Scott-Heron’s second album Pieces Of A Man.

Gil Scott-Heron - Live (thefindmag.com)

Gil Scott-Heron – Live

Musicians

  • Gil Scott-Heron – piano, vocals
  • Ron Carter – bass
  • Brian Jackson – piano
  • Jerry Jemmott – bass
  • Burt Jones – guitar
  • Eddie Knowles – percussion
  • Hubert Laws – saxophone, flute
  • Pretty Purdie – drums
  • Charlie Saunders – percussion
  • David Spinozza – guitar

In closing

What do you think about Gil Scott-Heron? Do you know this compilation? Leave a comment, it is highly appreciated!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Gil Scott-Heron: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.