“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is a poem and song by Gil Scott-Heron. Scott-Heron first recorded it for his 1970 album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, on which he recited the lyrics, accompanied by congas and bongo drums. A re-recorded version, with a full band, was the B-side to Scott-Heron’s first single, “Home Is Where the Hatred Is”, from his album Pieces of a Man (1971). It was also included on his compilation album, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1974). All these releases were issued on the Flying Dutchman Productions record label.
The song’s title was originally a popular slogan among the 1960s Black Power movements in the United States. Its lyrics either mention or allude to several television series, advertising slogans and icons of entertainment and news coverage that serve as examples of what “the revolution will not” be or do.
1 Cultural references in the poem
2 In popular culture
4 External links
Cultural references in the poem
- “Plug in, turn on, and cop out”, a reference to Timothy Leary’s pro-LSD phrase “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”
- “Skag”, slang term for heroin
- Xerox, best-known manufacturer (at the time of the poem’s writing) of photocopying machines
- Richard Nixon, 37th president of the United States
- John N. Mitchell, U.S. Attorney General under Nixon
- General Creighton Abrams, one of the commanders of military operations in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War
- Mendel Rivers, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee during the period of the Vietnam War (Rivers’ name appears in the original 1970 recording, but not in the re-recorded 1971 version, being replaced by Spiro Agnew)
- Spiro Agnew, 39th vice president of the United States under Nixon
- “Hog maws”, sometimes misheard as “hog moss”, soul food made from the jowls, cheeks, or maw, of a pig
- Schaefer Award Theatre, an anthology of theatrical films that aired on several U.S. TV stations
- Natalie Wood, film actress
- Steve McQueen, film actor
- Bullwinkle, cartoon character
- Julia, a TV half-hour sitcom series starring Diahann Carroll.
- “Give your mouth sex appeal”, from Ultra Brite toothpaste advertising
- “The revolution will not get rid of the nubs”, the nubs being beard stubble, from a Gillette Techmatic razor advertisement of the period
- “NBC will not be able to predict the winner at 8:32”, a reference to television networks predicting the winner of presidential elections shortly after the polls close at 8 pm.
- Whitney Young, civil rights leader
- Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP
- Watts, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, alluding to the Watts Riots of 1965
- “Red, black, and green”, the colors of the Pan-African flag
- Green Acres, a U.S. television sitcom
- The Beverly Hillbillies, a U.S. television sitcom
- “Hooterville Junction” (a corruption of Petticoat Junction, a U.S. television sitcom)
- Dick and Jane, white children, a brother and sister, featured in American basal readers
- Search for Tomorrow, a popular U.S. television soap opera
- “Hairy-armed women liberationists”, a reference to mid-century members of the feminist movement
- Jackie Onassis, the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s widow, seen during the period in television broadcasts of Kennedy memorials
- Jim Webb, U.S. composer
- Francis Scott Key, lyricist of “The Star-Spangled Banner”
- Glen Campbell, U.S. pop/country music singer, then hosting The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour
- Tom Jones, Welsh pop music singer, then hosting This Is Tom Jones
- Johnny Cash, U.S. country music singer, then hosting The Johnny Cash Show
- Engelbert Humperdinck, British pop music singer, then hosting The Engelbert Humperdinck Show
- Rare Earth, all-white U.S. pop music band signed to Motown Records (this band is only referred to in the 1971 version)
- “White tornado”, advertising slogan for Ajax cleanser, “Ajax cleans like a white tornado”
- “White lightning”, a slang term for moonshine, the name of a 1950s country and western song by George Jones, and an American psychedelic rock band.
- “Dove in your bedroom”, an advertising image associated with Dove anti-perspirant deodorant
- Reference to “Put a tiger in your tank”, an Esso (now Exxon) advertising slogan created by Chicago copywriter Emery Smith
- “Giant in your toilet bowl,” a reference to Liquid-Plumr commercials saying that it cleared so well it was like “having a giant in your toilet bowl” with an animation of a large arm using a plunger on your toilet.
- Reference to “Things go better with Coke”, a Coca-Cola advertising slogan
- Reference to “Fights germs that may cause bad breath”, from Listerine advertising
- Reference to “Let Hertz put you in the driver’s seat”, advertising slogan for Hertz car rental
In popular culture
- In the beginning of hip hop artist Common’s song “The 6th Sense” from the 2000 album Like Water for Chocolate he states “The revolution will not be televised, the revolution is here.”
- Elvis Costello’s song “Invasion Hit Parade” from his 1991 album Mighty Like a Rose contains the lines “Incidentally the revolution will be televised/With one head for business and another for good looks/Until they started arriving with their rubber aprons and their butcher’s hooks,” an allusion to the song.
- The Sarah Jones song “Your Revolution,” a feminist interpretation of the song criticizing misogyny in mainstream hip hop, with the key line “Your revolution will not happen between these thighs”. A radio station that played the song was fined by the FCC.
- In the mid-1990s, hip-hop/rap artist KRS-One recorded a re-imagining of the song using different lyrics, written by Wieden+Kennedy copywriter Stacy Wall, for “Revolution,” a Jake Scott-directed Nike commercial featuring Jason Kidd, Jim Jackson, Eddie Jones, Joe Smith, and Kevin Garnett.
- The opening line of “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach”, performed by Snoop Dogg on the Gorillaz album Plastic Beach, is “The revolution will be televised”.
- A cover was recorded by the trio Labelle as part of a medley for their 1973 album, Pressure Cookin’.
- On their 1999 album Ad Finité the band Genaside II has a song called “The Genaside Will Not Be Televised,” where some words of the original text were changed, such as different film actors being named.
- The song appears in the 1999 Norman Jewison film The Hurricane and on its soundtrack.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, a book published in 2009, references the song in its title.
- In 2010, New Statesman magazine listed it as one of the “Top 20 Political Songs”.
- In 2011, after Gil’s death, Lupe Fiasco released a poem dedicated to him titled “The Television Will Not Be Revolutionized”.
- In June 2013 a sign quoting the poem’s title (in Greek) was posted on a window inside the Greek state broadcaster ERT as employees resisted its closure by the government under pressure from the troika of the EU, ECB and the IMF to cut public spending under their austerity regime.
- Released in September 2013, South Korean entertainer G-Dragon’s Coup d’Etat contains a vocal sample of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”.