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The Revolution Begins: The Flying Dutchman Masters

Gil Scott-Heron

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Album Review

Gil Scott-Heron's first three albums for Bob Thiele's Flying Dutchman label have been reissued many times over by a variety of different labels and distributors. While Small Talk at 125th and Lenox and Pieces of a Man have been universally celebrated for their musical, poetic, and militant vision, Free Will, the final date for the label, has been the subject of much debate over the decades. On the original LP, one side featured songs and the other spoken word. While Brian Jackson had been Gil's musical partner since before Pieces of a Man was recorded, he was never given his proper due as a co-composer and collaborator. Free Will reveals that collaboration and balance in full. Before recording, Jackson wanted more music, Gil wanted more spoken word; they got both and the album is all the better for it. It is the contrast and juxtaposition on that recording that provided the impetus for the Dean Rudland-compiled The Revolution Begins: The Flying Dutchman Masters. Disc one features all of the Scott-Heron and Jackson songs recorded for the label, regardless of which album they appeared on. From "Lady Day and John Coltrane," "Home Is Where the Hatred Is" (which, it turns out, Scott-Heron may have been singing into a mirror all along, and by home, he wasn't referring to his family, but America itself), and the second version of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" with musical backing, to "Pieces of a Man," "Who'll Pay the Reparations On My Soul," and more, all play out in an intense, soulful, funky, beautifully remastered, hour-long set. Disc two contains all of the spoken word material, which includes virtually all of Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, the second half of Free Will, and other pieces, including the liberal-baiting "The Subject Was F****ts" and "Wiggy." The lone deviation is "Artificialness," on which Scott-Heron fronts Pretty Purdie & His Playboys on a spoken word blues shuffle. The final disc contains an alternately assembled version of Free Will. While shoddy and edited versions of some of its tracks appeared on an earlier RCA compilation, these are the full alternate takes, carefully remixed from original multi-track session tapes, with particular attention paid to the source material. As such, an entirely different Free Will is on display with a real feel for session flow, despite the separation of music and poetry on it; it's not better or worse, but very different. It is a treasure trove of kinetic studio energy with an abundance of free-flowing ideas in process. The Revolution Begins does present a problem, however. By jumbling recordings into what, in essence, is a pair of anthologies, Small Talk and Pieces of a Man are dislocated from their original contexts, which creates an unnecessary separation between music and poetry that were initially regarded as a multi-dimensional and holistic force. Though that shift in history and intent is present, it's far from a deal breaker, because all of the material on The Revolution Begins is unassailable.

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Biography

Born: April 1, 1949 in Chicago, IL

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the most important progenitors of rap music, Gil Scott-Heron's aggressive, no-nonsense street poetry inspired a legion of intelligent rappers while his engaging songwriting skills placed him square in the R&B charts later in his career, backed by increasingly contemporary production courtesy of Malcolm Cecil and Nile Rodgers (of Chic). Born in Chicago but transplanted to Tennessee for his early years, Scott-Heron spent most of his high-school years in the Bronx, where he learned firsthand...
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