100 Greatest Songs of the 70’s #63 Gil Scott-Heron – The Bottle

Released : 1974

Compared once in an interview to Bob Dylan, Gil Scott-Heron could only bristle, retorting to the suggestion that Dylan’s militancy paved the way for the anti-establishment mood of the sixties with: “Man, we got protest songs that go all the way back to the 1700s.”

The “We” in question were people of colour, for whom he believed the struggle for equality and civil rights represented just another episode where the dice had been heavily loaded against them. Coming to prominence in the febrile climate of the Nixon era, his breakthrough arrived with The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, on which he satirised a corpulent America’s sleeping on the job of liberty.

Scott-Heron was an atypical musician, almost falling into the role of performer after first being amongst other things a teacher, author and poet; He graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1972 with a degree in creative writing. Recognising the artistic limitations of his field, he once said that The Bottle was evidence that “Pop doesn’t necessarily have to be shit.”

He was right. With collaborator Brian Jackson’s lilting flute giving the song an air of bird-like freedom in direct opposition to the weight of it’s lyrics, the singer’s laconic prose style verses talked about addiction and loss, of humans falling between society’s cracks. Perversely on release it would become a huge underground hit in Parisian discos, but whilst Maggie’s Farm it wasn’t, Gil Scott-Heron’s turn as the unwilling voice of his generation had produced a masterpiece just as worthy.


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