Della Reese - Compared To What
Miss Della Reese
"The President, he's got his war Folks don't know just what it's for Nobody gives us rhyme or reason Have one doubt, they call it treason We're chicken-feathers, all without one gut (God damn it!) Tryin' to make it real — compared to what? (Sock it to me, now) " Fuck yeah! ‘Compared to What’ is one of those songs that’s stood the test of time extremely well. It’s been covered countless times, by an extremely wide variety of artists and has managed to come across with its power intact. It’s also remarkably relevant to our current situation. Gene McDaniel (the songs author) had been an established pop star, hitting in 1961 with ‘A Hundred Pounds of Clay’ and then again in 1962 with original version of ‘The Point of No Return’ (later redone by Georgie Fame). He recorded steadily for Liberty records until 1965, then did a few sides for Columbia in 1966 and 1967. The assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968 spurred McDaniels to pack his bags and leave the US for Scandinavia. It also inspired him to pen ‘Compared to What’. He passed the song on to his pal Les McCann (with whom he had worked prior to signing with Liberty) and the rest - as they say – is history. McCann (along with Eddie Harris) laid down a smoking (some would say definitive) version of ‘Compared to What’ at the 1968 Montreux Jazz Festival which was released the following year on the landmark LP “Swiss Movement”. The LP was a big hit (for a jazz disc) and spawned a wave of cover versions, including the sublime, soulful take by Roberta Flack on her debut LP, the Northern Soul fave by Mr. Floods Party and todays selection by Miss Della Reese. “Wha?!?!” you say? How did a recording by Della Reese, the lovable old coot from ‘Touched by an Angel’ with the crazy two-tone wighat make it onto the Funky16Corners blog? Well, ‘I’m here to tell you that Miss Della had a long successful career as a jazz and pop vocalist for decades before she started warming hearts in prime time. Reese started out in her native Detroit in the mid-40’s touring with the queen of gospel Mahalia Jackson. She began her own (secular) career recording for the Jubilee label through the 1950’s and then for RCA, ABC and AVCO in the 1960’s. She had a number of pop hits (most notably ‘Don’t You Know’ in 1959) and was a staple on musical variety shows. Her version of ‘Compared to What’ appeared on her 1970 LP “Black Is Beautiful’, which saw he taking a somewhat more soulful tack as far as material went. Now, normally, I wouldn’t go out of my way to grab ANYTHING by Della Reese, but I am always on the lookout for interesting cover versions of cool songs, and the day I pulled this out of a box at a record show my eyes lit up. I had my GP3 portable with me, so I slapped it on and was pleasantly surprised. The backing track is funky, and though Della does a little editing here and there in the lyrics – mainly easing off of the profanity/blashphemy – and mashes the last three verses into a single, powerful statement, this has become one of my favorite versions of the song. The arrangement (by trumpeter Bobby Bryant) is tight and -as you’d expect – brassy with some cool lead guitar. Gene McDaniels (by then ‘Eugene’) went on to record two rare groove classic LPs for Atlantic, ‘Outlaw’ and ‘Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse’. He also wrote Roberta Flack's hit "Feel Like Making Love". He eventually recorded his own version of ‘Compared to What’ for the soundtrack to the 2000 film ‘Girlfight’. Della Reese continued recording through the 70’s, and became a regular on ‘Chico & The Man’ following the suicide of Freddie Prinze. Since then she has appeared in dozens of TV shows and movies, most notably the hideously saccharine ‘Touched by an Angel’. So, the next time your in a drunken barfight over whether or not Della Reese ever did anything cool, whip out your Ipod and play this for them.