Gil Scott-Heron was born on April Fools Day 1949 the son of a Jamaican professional soccer player – the first black player to play for Celtic. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is possibly the most powerful threat of black power against the white American people ever to be released. This is an un-American broadcast.
In the late 1960’s & early 1970’s Gil Scott-Heron became known as much for his African American militant activism as he did a spoken word performer. With hindsight, his most controversial and successful anti white American power onslaught came in the 1974 song – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. On the one hand it’s hard to believe this wasn’t a massive hit for Heron, the voice of a new hardcore black generation. A generation who had seen the Civil Right Movement come and go with the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. On the other hand, this is such a scathing attack on white America, and above all, a warning, no that’s not strong enough, a threat to all those whiteys out there –
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,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because, the revolution will not be televised.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised was released one year before Heron’s first hit single, Johannesburg. But it stands the test of time and still sounds as fresh and funky today as it must have sounded then.
A funky bass line pulls the song along with a beautiful reedy flute leading with a floating freeform style. Heron’s vocal was more tuned than his earlier spoken word releases, but still spoken as opposed to singing. Where Heron’s vocal style must be seen as one of the protagonists and forefathers of rap music; the heavy plodding, seedy funk groove is lightened only by the jazzy flute, floating round the room, above the origins of a deeper jazz funk.
The music is as powerful, aggressive and confrontational as Heron’s vocal delivery; and by the time Revolution was released there was a profound shift in the struggle for equality as the fight for civil rights gave way to the demand for Black Power with organisations such as the Black Panthers. The Civil Rights Movement had lost its focus, being ripped apart by differing interest groups and by and large ignored by an American Government and the American people themselves.
Heron went on to record many albums and tours to this day. The Bottle, Johannesburg, and Whitey On The Moon are all great tracks, but for me, Revolution just takes Heron’s qualities to another level.
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!