After the rip-roaring success of my first LCAA post (2 likes and a comment!) I’ve let power and fame go to my head and decided to create another one. The premise, unlike Phase 4 of the MCU, is pretty simple: pick an artist and make the best playlist you can by having a maximum of one song from each studio album and having each song in the same position in the running order as it is on the album. You don’t have to choose from all the albums if you don’t want to or if you can’t. This post will choose 11 tracks from poet, writer, soul singer, one of the godfathers of rap and, alongside Stevie Wonder, a man who helped create a formally recognized observance for Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday: Gil Scott-Heron.
1. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised from Pieces of a Man. Gil’s had some great opening tracks (Shut Um Down, Angel Dust, Hello Sunday! Hello Road!) but it would be really remiss of me to not start off a Gil Scott-Heron list without undoubtedly one of his greatest songs and a rallying cry for change. The whole album is excellent and I’ve left out half a dozen wonderful songs (the title track, Home Is Where The Hatred Is, Lady Day and John Coltrane, I Think I’ll Call It Morning) and is definitely worth checking out.
2. Alien (Hold On To Your Dreams) from 1980. Another prescient song from Gil and his amazing musical partner Brian Jackson (who featured on Pieces of a Man and Freewill and then the albums from Winter In America to 1980 were credited to Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson). It’s a tale of crossing the border to safety and finding a piece of the American Dream.
3. Get Out of the Ghetto Blues from Freewill. It’s a bluesy, piano-led tale full of humour and pathos about the struggles and aspirations of an African-American in early 70’s America.
4. Blue Collar from Moving Target. Gil not only fought and sang for rights of Black people in America and around the world, he also consistently fought for the working class of all races. Part of Gil’s brilliance was he recognized a long, long time ago that race was just one part of the system of oppression in America. Here, in America, class warfare is the real deal. If racism is a symptom, classism is the illness itself, and this bluesy, soulful track nails that feeling.
5. The Bottle from Winter In America One of the highlights of this album, The Bottle is a strong anti-alcohol rant with a funky bass hook, Carribean beat and a great flute solo by Jackson. It was a hit in the US and Gil commented about its success at the time that “pop music doesn’t necessarily have to be shit”. This just beat out Gil’s cover of Inner City Blues from the Reflections album,which you also have to check out.
6. Gun from Reflections Released in 1981, this song is as relevant today as it was 40 years ago, as Gil gives his thoughts on the U.S. 2nd amendment. The Ed Brady guitar solo on this is outstanding.
7. Winter In America from The First Minute of A New Day When I think of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, this is the song that immediately comes into my mind. The first time I heard this, on the Old Grey Whistle Test TV show, I was gobsmacked. It was the first Gil song I heard and the tenderness and pain in his voice sent shivers down my spine, and once again Brain Jackson’s flute playing is sublime. It was a truly electric moment that instantly made me want to discover more of his music.
8. Delta Man (Where I’m Comin From) from Bridges Slow, soulful Funk with a tale of revolution at its heart.
9. Work For Peace from Spirits taken from Gil’s only studio album from the 90’s (he quit music for a while after being dropped by Arista Records in 1985,though he did continue touring) and it’s Gil casting his weary eye over the state of the world and rapping, in a vein similar to B-Movie, over a Kraftwerk-esque electronic beat.
10. New York Is Killing Me from I’m New Here The 13th and final studio album released in 2010, by XL Recordings, and was his first release of original music in 16 years, following a period of personal and legal troubles with drug addiction. It’s a departure from Gil’s usual rhythmic, jazz-Funk and soul style and embraces an acoustic and electronic minimal sound. The album features introspective, confessional lyrics expressing themes of regret, reconciliation, and redemption.
11. Enough from Small Talk at 125th & Lenox I’m ending this list with a poem. It has very brutal imagery and is hard to listen to in some places, specially for a liberal white guy like myself but I understand where Gil is coming from and can empathise with the anger.
I hope you enjoyed the music and words of a truly great musician and poet. I recommend any album that has Gil’s name on it and doubly recommend every album with both Gil’s and Brian Jackson’s name on it. Happy listening!