Gene McDaniels, US anti-war songwriter, dies

This video says about itself:

Compared To What

The song was recorded in 1969 by pianist Les McCann and saxophonist Eddie Harris for their album, Swiss Movement, recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

By Hiram Lee in the USA:

Gene McDaniels, soul singer and songwriter, dead at 76

30 August 2011

Singer and songwriter Gene McDaniels died July 29 at the age of 76. McDaniels is perhaps best-known for having composed the protest song “Compared to What,” made famous by jazz musicians Les McCann and Eddie Harris, and the R&B standard “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” recorded by numerous performers, most notably Roberta Flack. He was a talented composer and an even more impressive singer. …

As interesting as much of it was, McDaniels’ early pop music only hinted at what he was capable of. By the late 1960s, his music would undergo a dramatic change as he embraced radical politics and began to experiment with a fusion of jazz, soul and rock.

This dramatic change of direction was certainly not exclusive to McDaniels. The experience of civil rights struggles and the anti-Vietnam war protest movement, of the immense social crisis then underway, had a radicalizing effect on many musicians and artists of the period. One began to see works in which popular musicians took up significant social and political themes for the first time—Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On being a prime example. But even for those artists who did not create explicitly political works, one felt a musical complacency being challenged.

McDaniels’ best work of the late 1960s and early 1970s came to life with a new confidence and ambition that would have been unthinkable without the social upheavals of that period.

In 1969, jazz musicians McCann and Harris recorded “Compared to What,” a hard-driving, soul-jazz composition by McDaniels, and the first to give a sense of his new direction. The song articulated McDaniels’ disgust with the Vietnam War. McCann’s gruff voice sang the angry lyrics:

“The President, he’s got his war
Folks don’t know just what it’s for
Nobody gives us rhyme or reason
Have one doubt, they call it treason”

Recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, the audible excitement of the audience only made the recording that much more powerful.

McDaniels’ 1971 album Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse is most representative of his work from this period. The album has become something of a cult classic, particularly for a younger generation of listeners who were first introduced to the recording by the many hip hop artists who sampled it.

Listening to Headless Heroes, one is struck by its audacity. McDaniels is trying and taking on everything. There are songs about racism, colonialism, consumerism, as well as a few gospel-tinged parables, and even a tribute to Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. In some ways the album is a mess, far too eclectic. But there are inspired moments.

Among the more interesting songs is “Headless Heroes,” in which McDaniels sings of his disgust with the forces who foster and exploit racial and national divisions, using ordinary people as “pawns in the master game.” In one remarkable moment, he sings, “Get it together and see what’s happening!”

“Susan Jane,” the amusing but not unsympathetic story of a middle class hippie girl, “beautifully insane, standing barefoot in the middle of the muddy road” provides the album with one of its gentler and more delightful moments.

Songwriter Nick Ashford who, along with his wife Valerie Simpson, wrote several significant hits for Motown records in the late 1960s, has died at age 70: here.

Prolific songwriter Jerry Leiber dead at 78: here.

Bands like Odd Future and Iceage are sparking debate about why musicians should take racism and sexism seriously: here.

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