While 2001 supposedly marks the future, release trends this year seem to be going in reverse. There’ve been countless reissues and post-mortem collections of previously unreleased or rare work, notably that of underappreciated heroes of the folk-steeped, deep-soul groove of the late ’60s and early ’70s. First came the remastered edition of Love’s Forever Changes, then Laura Nyro’s Angel in the Dark, a collection of some of the last recordings she made before her death in 1997. Now it’s Eugene McDaniels’ turn for a much-deserved second look. Joel Dorn, the original producer of the artist’s Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse, has reissued the oft-sampled obscure 1970 Atlantic Records classic on his Label M imprint, much to the delight of a small, but deeply devoted following. Many of them were singing the blues at the upwards of $100 going rate for original copies at used-record stores.
The reissue was mastered with a light hand, framing the smooth and raw deep-gristle funk groove of that classic 1970 recorded sound, which is just as much a part of the memory as the music itself. The album represents the jagged early merging of jazz with soul, a style of R&B that borrowed lyrical direction from its Age of Aquarius surroundings into a folk-poetic street philosophy.
“Still nobody knows who the enemy is/Cause he never goes in hiding/He’s slitting our throats right in front of our eyes/While we pull the casket he’s riding/Better get it together/Better get it together/And see what’s happening/To you and you and you” (“Headless Heroes”). The anti-establishment content of Headless Heroes inspired a stir within the Nixon administration. Spiro Agnew supposedly called to Atlantic Records demanding to know, “What the hell is going on over there?” While promotion slid to a halt, the album — its grooves and message — still stuck around, portions showing up in a Beastie Boys song, A Tribe Called Quest interlude and an Organized Konfusion loop. The album stands fine on its own with clear-headed calls to action amid the confusion of a world stifled with racism, oppression, hunger and lies, all to the tune of danceable funk, Dylan-esque folk and inventive mind-dancing jazz meanderings. “Parasite,” the final track, leads us to the beyond as it builds into a chaotic mass of strained vocal hollers, strings snapping and cymbals crashing in the eighth minute, then closes with those quiet and claustrophobic percussives left behind. Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse was arguably ahead of its time and definitely one to remember.
Melissa Giannini is the Metro Times staff music writer. E-mail her at [email protected].