Gil Scott-Heron’s 1971 timeless debut album, Pieces of a Man, is a staple of powerful genius, a commentary that still proves as relevant almost fifty years on from its release. Scott-Heron’s statement of well-crafted intellect was built on a recipe of jazz, soul, funk and spoken-word that ultimately gave him the alias ‘The Godfather of Rap’. What is remarkable about Pieces of a Man is that Scott-Heron was only 21 when he recorded this, after releasing his live album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, a compilation of spoken-word material, which featured mostly on Pieces of a Man.
Heron’s background in writing had been evident from a young age, writing poetry from the age of 12 onwards, eventually dropping out of high school to focus on his writing. This writing led to the publication of The Vulture, his debut novel in 1970. Scott-Heron’s debut album is often considered the sandwich layer of the 71’ protest albums, not the humble quest of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On; not the drug-fueled sermon of Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin On. Pieces of a Man changed the focus of protest albums from the content to the nuances of music composition; how music composition itself could be the element of cultural change. Heron’s social commentary isn’t meant to be for its own sake, rather, his commentary is slick in its delivery, especially in tracks like ‘Lady Day and John Coltrane’ and ‘Home is Where the Hatred’ is.
The opening lyrics to the album’s thought-provoking opener ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ are a call to civil arms. The slogan was etched and echoed throughout the Black Power movement. But the slogan’s wider impact alludes to the age where America’s consumerism was transmitted from a world of black and white to full colour.
America in the early 1970s saw life through a new lens on the television screen. With Vietnam, the women’s liberation movement and the Black Power movement, they felt less like landmark events of the 21st century; more like the listings for a night’s T.V. schedule. Scott-Heron’s commentary in his spoken-word epic is clever in its ability to use the stream of consciousness through the medium of the media. The focus of the audience’s relationship with the T.V is a genius bit of wordplay for Scott-Heron, and so he taps into the American psyche as though he’s an advertisement.
The last stanza of ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ can teach us about our passive acceptance to events of great importance. Like with BLM and the Black Power, these events aren’t meant to be watched, but witnessed.
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