Hey there Sorry State gang, I hope we find you well and thanks for reading our newsletter.
This week my pick is a record that as an original I have still not secured as part of my personal collection, although I have a reissue and we also have a decent reissue in the store.
Eugene McDaniels: Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse. Atlantic 1971
I’ve seen an OG a few times over the years, but it has always been too expensive for me to snag. A copy in nice shape will easily cost $100 but probably closer to $200. In recent years there have been reissues and you can find those for around $25-$35. My particular copy came out in the late 90s and is probably a “fan club” pressing and possibly a needle drop recording, but it sounds pretty decent. I remember scoring it at a WFMU record fair bargain bin box for $5.
So why all the fuss? How come it’s a difficult record to find and why do we care? Good questions, which I shall attempt to answer.
Firstly, it’s a record which many of you will have heard but not even known about. Reason being, it’s a sample heaven and has been used by hip-hop producers since the late 80s-early 90s. Pretty much every track has a sample. For most of us we would have heard it through its use on records by A Tribe Called Quest, Beastie Boys, Eric B. & Rakim, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Jungle Brothers and more recently Earl Sweatshirt. Of these, Tribe’s use is the most noticeable and high profile and are what caused the record to become sought after in the 1990s during the golden era of sample based hip-hop and the rare-groove scene. As soon as people worked out what record producers used, an entire army of crate diggers hit the streets looking for these elusive gems. Some were easy to find—check your parents’ record collection—others not so much. Headless Heroes was a case in point, and there are reasons for its scarcity.
A bit of back story, all of which you can read about in more detail on-line, of course, so I’ll keep it brief. Gene McDaniels had been writing, producing, and performing music since the late 1950s and had a sizable hit in the 1960s with One Hundred Pounds Of Clay. A solid performer himself, his real strength was in his writing. The protest song Compared To What was his and was made famous by Les McCann & Eddie Harris but covered by many including Roberta Flack and more recently by John Legend & The Roots. Although written in 1966, it still holds up. McDaniels had a close working relationship and respect for Roberta Flack and wrote other songs for her, including her hit Feel Like Makin’ Love. Compared To What put McDaniels on the government radar as an anti-establishment type.
After Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, McDaniels left the U.S. and lived in Scandinavia for a little over two years. When he returned to America, he had renamed himself Eugene McDaniels and went by the performing name of Rev. MC D.
The first record he released on Atlantic in 1970 was called Outlaw, and it features a cover that you just know must have had the old white establishment’s knickers in a knot. A black man in a cowboy hat, clutching a bible standing next to two women, one black, one white, who are holding guns and striking revolutionary poses. Yeah, that’ll do it. The record itself is excellent and has many highlights. Not as good as Headless Heroes, but a companion record for sure.
Our record came out the next year in 1971, and the story goes that Nixon and Agnew had a reel-to-reel playback of the album in the Oval Office and were offended by what they heard, resulting in Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun receiving a phone call from the White House instructing him to kill promotion for the record and to pull McDaniels from their roster. The truth of this story is hard to confirm, but whatever happened it would go a long way to explaining why original copies are so hard to find and why, when they do surface, they are typically promo copies.
Although career wise, McDaniels still had income from production royalties, it would have been interesting to see whether with proper promotion the record could have had a bigger impact when it was first released and how it could have changed the minds of those that heard it then and how those ripples would have changed future heads. As it was, the record slipped into obscurity and remained that way until rare-groove DJs and producers picked up on it almost two decades later.
As for the record itself? My words can’t do it justice. Please listen to it. Lyrically it is so on point and was relevant then and just as so now. Songs about life, love and religion over tasty drumbeats, psychy guitar bursts, punchy bass lines and cool keyboard lines. It’s a Soul-Jazz album par excellence. A tough listen if you are “The Man” or even Mick Jagger. He takes a verbal beat down from McDaniels on the track Jagger The Dagger. This was one cut sampled by A Tribe Called Quest on their People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm album. The song on Heroes is about how Jagger had/was profiting on his borrowing of black culture. Another fave track is Supermarket Blues, which is a proto-rap classic. Definitely listen to that. Last track The Parasite (For Duffy) is a song about Native Americans that starts off in a head nodding groove but takes a darker turn as you listen to the lyrics. Sometimes the truth hurts. It did back in 1971 and it still does in 2021. This is a record for the ages. It has held up and may even be more relevant now.
Listening to the words of the title cut brings that home. Here’s a snippet.
Nobody knows who the enemy is
Cause he never goes in hiding
He’s slitting our throats
Right in front of our eyes,
While we pull the casket he’s riding
Better get it together,
Better get it together,
And see what’s happening
To you and you and you
See what I mean? A perfect example of music and records being like newspapers and books, carrying vital information for those seeking knowledge. Plus, a dope AF cover with duelling Samurai warriors.
Here’s a link to Eugene McDaniel’s website where there is a lot of information about his career and music http://eugenemcdaniels.com/
and I’ll leave a link to a couple of key cuts for you to check out, but I would encourage a full listen to the entire album. Dig it.
https://youtu.be/vk5qT-BYjTY - Supermarket Blues
For those local, stop by and snag the reissue copy we have in the store.
Cheers everyone. Thanks for reading. I love you all.