Eugene McDaniels – The Lord Is Back

14th April 2024 · 1970s, 1971, Funk, Jazz, Music, Soul

This funky tale of a vengeful black god coming to fix the injustices of the world comes from another of those lost masterpieces – an obscure album of jazz-funk matched to black-consciousness lyrics called Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse.

It was released by Eugene McDaniels in 1971. But it was swiftly withdrawn after Nixon’s vice-president Spiro Agnew called Atlantic Records to complain about its incendiary message.

McDaniels had an interesting past. A hugely successful pop star in the pre-Beatles era, he had two big hits in 1961 under the name ‘Gene McDanielss’ with the million-selling A Hundred Pounds Of Clay (No.3) and Tower Of Strength (No.5, co-written by Burt Bacharach).

He even appeared in Richard Lester’s cult film It’s Trad, Dad! in 1962, singing another of his hits, Another Tear Falls (later covered by The Walker Brothers) but, evidently nursing a strong social conscience, he left America after the assassination of Martin Luther King to live in Sweden and Denmark.

McDaniels came back in 1970 with a new name – Eugene – and a radical change in sound for the start of a new decade, mixing rock guitars, funk, soul and jazz (and even folk) with lyrics imbued with MLK’s message of black consciousness.

After being cancelled by Agnew, he stepped out of the limelight and earned a living as a producer and songwriter for artists like Roberta Flack and Gladys Knight, but his two solo albums remain collectors’ items.

The first one, Outlaw, boasts a title track on which McDaniels sounds uncannily like Jagger, singing about a young woman who is “a nigga in jeans / she’s an outlaw / she don’t wear a bra” (and – prepare to be shocked – “She sleeps in the nude and what’s more, she sleeps with a man”). The second one actually includes a song called Jagger The Dagger.

The title track of Headless Heroes by contrast, contains a serendipitously topical appeal for an end to war with a message to “Jews and the Arabs, semitic pawns in the master game / The player who controls the board sees them as all the same / Basically cannon fodder.”

This, though, is the opening number – The Lord Is Back – referencing the Book of Revelations in its lyrics, but not in a way that would appeal to the average American racist: “The Lord is mad / His disposition’s mean / He’s travellin’ the road of mass destruction.”

The album has been prized and sampled by the hip-hop community for years (Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest) thanks to its crack team of musicians including George Benson sideman Gary King on electric bass, plus Weather Report members Miroslav Vitous on upright and Alphonse Mouzon on drums, guitarist Richie Resnikoff and Harry Dhitaker on electric piano.