Eugene McDaniels: Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse (1971)

eugene_headless

Executive branch pimpslap.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: 1971. Post-hippie America was fracturing under the twin weights of the Vietnam Conflict and the harsh social policies of the soon-to-be-impeached President Richard Nixon. Gene McDaniels was a moderately successful smoothed-out R&B singer-songwriter whose growing political awareness had started to blossom on his 1970 album Outlaw. Reclaiming his given name of Eugene McDaniels he set his angry, humanitarian ideals to music and recorded the groovalistic Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse.

Stirring up a Molotov cocktail of blues, rock and free jazz Heroes set the sonic and lyrical blueprint for conscious rap decades before it existed. The luscious gravy-thick groove of “Jagger The Dagger” was wholly sampled by A Tribe Called Quest at the beginning of their first album, and mirrors Tribe’s approach to positivity and questioning of the music industry.

Armed with a musical posse of Roberta Flack’s sidemen, including both acoustic and electric bassists, McDaniels tunes snap like dry twigs in a bonfire. Their prickly grooves are a match for his cactus-sharp insights. The slow genocide of the American Indians in “The Parasite” is smoothly supported by a blanket of downtempo melody that slowly devolves into a smallpox of chaos.

McDaniels looks for answers to painfully clear social inequities. “What is the connection between racism and mob violence” he asks in his only-funny-in-retrospect “Supermarket Blues”, where his attempt to return a can of peas results in a personal beatdown. “How much ass will Jesus kick when he returns” is the subject of the rockin’ “The Lord is Back”. His razor-sharp voice evokes preacher-like rage when he sings of impending divine payback:

The Lord is mad
His disposition’s mean
He’s traveling the road to mass destruction
Poor hearts be glad
Y’know your troubles have been seen
He promised he’d make power reductions
Revelations tells us the time is near
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
Better pay attention to the warning voice you hear.
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)

There was a payback all right, but not what McDaniels expected.

THE FALLOUT: It’s hard to conceive of it now, in a post-hip-hop universe, but in 1971 there were no angry, government-criticizing Black artists on a major label. In fact, Heroes enraged sitting Vice-President Spiro Agnew so much that he personally called up Atlantic Records and demanded to know why they had released such a disturbing and seditious record. From that point on Atlantic stopped all promotion and the album died. Although Heroes lived a secondary life in hip-hop, baked into songs by The Beastie Boys, Organized Konfusion and Pete Rock, McDaniels didn’t release another record under his own name for thirty-three years,

Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Muzzled by the powers that be, yet sampled by a future generation, the social rage of Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse is eerily current and prophetic.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Just in time for Yom Kippur, the music of Ugandan Jews.

7 thoughts on “Eugene McDaniels: Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse (1971)”

  1. Thanks for putting me in the know. I’ve been looking for the origin of the samples from several songs on A Tribe Called Quest’s first album, and Eugene’s name came up on a few obscure blogs. Either the weed was ESPECIALLY strong in the early Seventies, or people still gave a good care about the music they made. “Headless Heroes…” is a Stanley Kubrick film on wax! Thanks again for introducing me to good music! I’m also glad to see that you haven’t abandoned this blog.

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