“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by Gil Scott-Heron

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is a song with more pop-media references than can be mentioned here. Also, as noted later in the article, Gil Scott-Heron was more of a poet than he was a songwriter per se. 

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Gil Scott-Heron's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised at Lyrics.org.

And stating those two facts is basically another way of putting forth that this piece is a lot deeper than the songs we usually analyze, even most of the classics. But ultimately, what’s being put forth isn’t anything that warrants over analysis.

Reading in-between the lines, what it boils down to is Gil criticizing what we may term, from his implied perspective, as being the frivolousness of his people, African-Americans. That is to say that from the viewpoint of a radical artist such as himself, it can be said that African-Americans, like every other group in the United States, are caught up in the matrix, in a manner of speaking.

The Revolution

Also keep in mind that this track was dropped at a juncture in American history where liberation ideology was at its peak amongst oppressed segments of the population. 

Here in the 21st century, you’d rarely, if ever, hear a prominent African-American organization support the idea of a revolution. But back in those days, when the Black Panther Party was noticeably active for instance, such was actually a talking point amongst some circles. These groups felt something drastic needed to be done to stop the system from treating their people unfairly.

But what Scott-Heron is letting such individuals know is that the revolution will not be as they imagine or idealize it. In other words, it won’t be such that afterwards, participants will become pop stars or celebrities gracing the TV screen. 

So it’s almost as if, in a roundabout way, the vocalist is telling the ‘revolutionaries’ who are in it for such purposes, i.e. personal fame or wealth or what have you, that their visions are skewed. 

The reason he would be compelled to make such a statement is because throughout the centuries of Black struggle in America, there have been those who come off as liberators, only to be proven otherwise as time progresses. That is to say in his eyes, the revolution isn’t such that it is meant to be enjoyed in the process.

The Conclusion

Beyond the above, in Gil’s own words, he has explained that he is not referring to violent, physical revolution. Instead, the way he sees it is that the true “revolution” lies within. The true revolution begins when a person reaches the point where a particular issue is proving so bothersome to their soul that they can no longer sit idly by while it perpetuates. 

So those who perceive this song as an encouragement to like grab a weapon and do something drastic, under his estimation, are misinterpreting it.

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" Lyrics

Gil sheds light on “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

Gil referred to the said revolution as one that doesn’t involve physical war. According to him, this a kind of revolution that occurs in the mind. As soon as you begin to decide that there’s something wrong that needs to be changed positively, then the revolution in question is put into motion.

Simply put, in Gil’s eyes, a revolutionist is someone who notices something wrong and decides to take positive actions towards changing it. It has absolutely nothing to do with physical violence!

Famous Names mentioned in the Lyrics

Over a dozen famous names are mentioned throughout the lyrics of this song. Below is a list containing all the names referenced:

  1. Engelbert Humperdinck (English singer)
  2. Francis Scott Keys (author and lawyer known for writing the official lyrics of the national anthem of the US)
  3. Glen Campbell (actor, television host and musician)
  4. Jackie Onassis (socialite and former First Lady)
  5. Jim Webb (writer and politician)
  6. John Mitchell (attorney)
  7. Johnny Cash (singer-songwriter)
  8. Natalie Wood (actress) 
  9. Robert B. Abrams (Army general known for being in charge of military operations during the Vietnam War)
  10. Roy Wilkins (civil rights activist)
  11. Spiro T. Agnew (A former vice President)
  12. Steve McQueen (actor)
  13. The Rare Earth (a rock band)  
  14. Tom Jones (singer)
  15. Whitney Young (civil rights leader)
  16. Willie Mays (baseball player)

NOTE: Singers, Tom Jones and Humperdinck, are apparently the only none American celebrities on the list. Tom was born in South Wales whereas Humperdinck was born in India.

Famous US TV Shows

In addition to the iconic celebrities and politicians mentioned in the lyrics, the writer also mentions the following iconic American TV shows:

  • “Green Acres”
  • “Beverly Hillbillies”
  • “Petticoat Junction” (via Hooterville Junction)
  • “Search for Tomorrow”

Facts about “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

This is a piece that came to be fully appreciated in the years following its official release in 1971. For instance, back then, early on in Gil Scott-Heron’s career, it came out as the B-side to “Home Is Where the Hatred Is“, a single that failed to chart altogether. 

But as of 2021, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” can be found on Rolling Stone’s prestigious ranking of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. A few years prior to that, in 2005, it was enshrined in the US Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. This means that even the US government itself has officially recognized this track’s cultural significance.

To note, Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011) does not actually sing on this track. His specialty was spoken-word poetry, which is the style utilized on this classic. 

The label that put this song out was Flying Dutchman Records. This is a company famous for propagating jazz music, which is the style of instrumental that Scott-Heron recites over.

The version of this song we have come to know and love, as detailed above, is featured on “Pieces of a Man”, Gil’s sophomore album. But in actuality his debut LP, “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox”, also features a rendition of “The Revolution Will Not Be Television”. However, that version has a stripped-down instrumental.

This song made the catchphrase “the revolution will not be televised” globally popular. However, it should be noted that Scott-Heron himself borrowed it from the Black militant movement of his day.

Gil Scott-Heron wrote this song. The song’s producer is the late Bob Thiele (1922-1996).

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

The “Pieces of a Man” Album

“Pieces of a Man” was released in 1971 as Gil Scott-Heron’s maiden studio album. It boasts of 11 jazz-funk and soul tracks. Combined together, the tracks have a runtime of 48 minutes and 3 seconds.

The album was recorded at the RCA Studios located in New York City. It was produced by Bob Thiele. Thiele, a record producer himself, was a name to reckon with in the production of jazz music at the time. He was the brain behind a number of successful jazz albums.

Brian Jackson, an American composer, pianist and singer, was in charge of the keyboard during recording. “Pieces of a Man” marked the beginning of a number of collaborations between Scott-Heron and Brian. Brian shares writing credits with Scott-Heron for seven out of the 11 songs on the album.

“Pieces of a Man” won the hearts of many music lovers as well as industry players. It has been credited with having, to a large extent, influenced the birth of modern music, like hip hop and electronic dance music.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like...