I’ve been listening to Outlaw, a wonderful album by Eugene McDaniels a lot in recent months. One song in particular, “Love Letter To America” struck a chord with me. Here are some of the lyrics:
You could have had it
Any way you wanted it
You could have been a real democracy
You could have been free, oh
Could have had me for your friend
And not your enemy
Through your perversion
You insist I have to be
Your enemy, oh
The only thing you can respect
Is violence now
You lost the gift of love
Don’t ask me why
But you’ve lost it now, oh”
And there’s plenty more. McDaniels astutely wrote about subjects such as racial profiling and police violence … and this was back in 1970 when Outlaw was first released. For those in the math class, that was 47 years ago! Considering the sad state of racial relations and the pathetic people running the country these days, that song and the other pieces that McDaniels so deftly composed could just as well have been written this past year instead of in 1970. A very sobering realization. One has to wonder: Has America really “progressed” in the past forty years?
In addition to “Love Letter To America”, Outlaw is packed with plenty of other potent tunes too, including the classic “Silent Majority.” A real gem of an overlooked album, as is his other collection, Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse. Rumor has it that one song on that album so angered President Richard Nixon and Vice-President Spiro Agnew (back in 1971), that they tapped McDaniels’ phone and asked Atlantic Records to pull the album from circulation! Ain’t that America, indeed!
If you are a fan of the late great Gil Scott-Heron, Eugene McDaniels is also someone you need to hear. One review I read called his music “a boundary-defying fusion of funk, jazz, rock, and soul.” Throw in protest folk and a bit of psychedelia, and you have a wonderfully vague idea of what this guy was all about. Any way you label it, this was impressive stuff.
McDaniels was also a gifted producer and songwriter for many decades, and many of his songs have subsequently been sampled by various hip-hop artists. He wrote “Compared To What?”, which was a Top Forty hit for Eddie Harris and Les McCann, and “Feel Like Makin’ Love”, which was a hit for Roberta Flack. In his earlier years he recorded under the name Gene McDaniels, enjoying a minor hit himself with “A Hundred Pounds of Clay.” Sadly, he is seldom mentioned among the greats of music, a distinction he most certainly deserves. He passed away in 2011.