We’ve already told you about the vinyl edition of the Olivia Newton-John-led Toomorrow soundtrack coming in July from Real Gone Music and Second Disc Records, but Real Gone has even more on their slate for next month. First up is 50th anniversary vinyl reissue of an album that is still as timely as when it was written: Eugene McDaniels’ Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse.
Born in Kansas in 1935, Eugene “Gene” McDaniels was performing at jazz clubs in California when he came to the attention of Sy Waronker of Liberty Records around 1959-60. McDaniels recorded a couple of singles for the label before teaming with Snuff Garrett for his first hit in 1961, “A Hundred Pounds of Clay,” which reached No. 3 on the charts. He also had two further top ten hits that year with the Burt Bacharach/Bob Hilliard tune “Tower of Strength” and Jeff Barry, Clifford Crawford, and Arthur Resnick’s “Chip Chip” (No. 10). McDaniels would continue on Liberty through the mid-1960s, but his chart fortunes faded and he moved to Columbia in 1966. Unfortunately, that did not turn things around commercially and after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., he decided to turn to songwriting and creating more socially conscious work. His anti-Vietnam War song “Compared to What” (written in 1966) became a hit in 1969 for Les McCann and Eddie Harris on their Swiss Movement album for Atlantic.
The very next year, McDaniels himself was signed to Atlantic as a recording artist, now recording under the name “Eugene McDaniels” and also taking the name “the left rev mc d.” He recorded the album Outlaw in 1970, and returned the next year with Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse. Produced by Joel Dorn (Roberta Flack, Bette Midler) and featuring Alphonse Mouzon and Miroslav Vitous of Weather Report, Headless Heroes found McDaniels powerfully confronting a variety of topics from racism to the treatment of Native Americans. As the new liner notes for Real Gone’s reissue by Mark Anthony Neal (Professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University, author and host of the LeftofBlack podcast) explain: “Years after its release, Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse remains one of the most blatantly political musical tomes ever released commercially by a major label. The album contained critiques of blue-eyed soul (‘Jagger the Dagger’), examined the phenomenon of ‘shopping while black’ (‘Supermarket Blues’) years before ‘racial profiling’ entered into the national lexicon, and the futility of race hatred (‘Headless Heroes’). ‘The Parasite’ was McDaniels’ most stinging critique, though, as he gets at the root of American Imperialism and its relationship to the genocide of America’s native populations.”
After Outlaw had gotten the attention of the Nixon administration, Headless Heroes was apparently too much for Atlantic. McDaniels was dropped from the label. He would record an album under the name “Universal Jones” for MGM in 1972 and then back under “Gene McDaniels” for Natural Juices on Ode in 1975. After that, he only recorded a few albums over the next thirty-plus years, with his last being 2009’s Evolution Child. But when he was wasn’t recording, McDaniels was still songwriting. Roberta Flack took his “Feel Like Makin Love” to No. 1 in 1974. He also moved into producing and worked with such artists as Richard Roundtree, Merry Clayton, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Nancy Wilson, and Phyllis Hyman. Eugene McDaniels passed away in 2011.
Over the years, Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse has had its reputation grow in stature. Prince was a fan and so is Questlove. Aloe Blacc performed the entire album at the 2018 Montreux Jazz Festival. The songs have been sampled many times from performers such as Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock, Gravediggaz, Busta Rhymes and De La Soul. For this 50th anniversary reissue, Real Gone has turned to McDaniels’ widow Karen to curate the release. It comes in a newly-created gatefold jacket and features artwork from Eugene’s private collection and unseen writings, together with a four-page insert which includes the aforementioned liner notes, handwritten lyrics, and the original lyric sheet. The reissue was cut from the original LP master and comes in purple vinyl, limited to 1,750 copies.
If you’re interested in this new 50th anniversary edition of the provocative and visceral Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse, due on July 9, we’ve got the preorder links below.
- The Lord Is Back
- Jagger the Dagger
- Lovin’ Man
- Headless Heroes
- Susan Jane
- Freedom Death Dance
- Supermarket Blues
- The Parasite (for Buffy)