“Compared To What,” a socially and politically charged slice of funk that became a hit for jazz musicians Les McCann and Eddie Harris paving the way, along with The Last Poets, for Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin On, Gil Scott-Heron and ultimately hip hop.”
Marc Campbell Dangerousminds.com

LES MCCANN & EDDIE HARRIS Live at Montreux

Les McCann and Eddie Harris had performed earlier at the 1969 Montreux Jazz Festival and agreed to play together on June 21, 1969, with Benny Bailey (trumpet), Leroy Vinnegar (bass), and Donald Dean (drums).  Their version of the song appeared on the album Swiss Movement; the single sold over a million copies and reached No. 35 on Billboard’s R&B chart. 

They’d sent me the tapes of the performance,” Joel recalled. “So I put them on- ‘Compared to What?’ and ‘Cold Duck Time.’ The air-conditioning at Atlantic was broken at the time, and the doors to the studio were open, and the place just went nuts! If you wanna talk about what jazz is - jazz is a bunch of guys gettin’ together and clickin’ at the same time. It made the festival, and it made Les and Eddie into an act. Then everybody started to record at Montreux. It became the new Newport. The record [Swiss Movement] was a smash. It went from jazz to R&B to pop. Everybody was playin’ it!
— Producer Joel Dorn on "Swiss Movement Live at Montreux" - 'WAX POETICS' Vol No 27

John Legend and Questlove

Questlove and John Legend talk about Eugene and "Compared to What" 2010

 

JOHN LEGEND AND THE ROOTS "COMPARED TO WHAT" LIVE 2010

 
 

Eugene talks "Compared to What” 2010

(video credit Dennis Johnson & Grace Peirce)

 

Les & Gene talk 'Compared to What' November 1998 with Jackson Allers 

 

LYRICS


Love the lie, lie the love,
Hanging on, we push and shove

Possession is the motivation, 
Messing up the whole damn nation

Looks like we always end up in a rut,
Trying to make it real, compared to what?

Slaughter houses, killing hogs
Twisted children, killing frog

Poor dumb rednecks rolling logs
tired old ladies, kissing dogs

Hate the human, love that stinking mutt
Trying to make it real, compared to what? 

The president has got his war
folks don’t know 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
Trying to make it real, compared to what?

Church on Sunday, sleep and nod
Trying to duck the wrath of God

Preachers filling us with fright
Teaching what they think is right

They really have to be some kind of nut
Trying to make it real, compared to what?

Where’s the bee, where’s the honey?
Where’s that,  God and where’s my money?

Unreal values, crass distortion
Unwed mothers need abortion. 

Kinda bring to mind old young King Tut
Trying to make it real, compared to what?

 

Cover versions of Compared to What

 

ROBERTA FLACK

Flack recorded the song for her 1969 debut album First Take and "Compared to What" was her first single. Flack's manager that year was McCann. A contemporary reviewer suggested that her singing was "in a fiery rhythmic way reminiscent of the throbbing motion heard during congregational singing at Southern Baptist churches."

 

BRIAN AUGER'S OBLIVION EXPRESS

In 1973 Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express included a cover of "Compared to What" on their album Closer to It. In 1975 the band performed "Compared to What," as their closing number, at San Francisco's Winterland, when the band opened for Fleetwood Mac.  "Compared to What" was also included on the band's albums Live Oblivion - 1975,  and Brian Auger's Oblivion Express - 2005: Live at the Baked Potato.

 

Terence Blanchard

Terence Blanchard's studio version of "Compared To What" from his 2015 album Breathless, featuring PJ Morton & The E-Collective.

 

Meshell NdegeOcello

A different & funky twist on this Les McCann / Eddie Harris classic. That's what you'd expect from the HIGHLY UNDERRATED multi instrumentalist & singer Meshell NdegeOcello. Taken from the soundtrack for the movie "Talk To Me".

 

OFF!

"Compared to What" was even recorded by Los Angeles punk band OFF! The punk supergroup consists of Circle Jerks/Black Flag singer Keith Morris Burning Brides frontman Dimitri Coats, Redd Kross bassist Steven McDonald and Rocket From the Crypt/Hot Snakes drummer Mario Rubalcaba. The song was released as a 7" single in 2007 on Southern Lord Recordings. 

 
 

JERRY JONES

Jerry Jones is an Alabama born reggae singer who was originally engaged to perform at the Kingston Hotel in Jamaica for one week but feel in love with the country and stayed on for months. Influential Jamacian record producer Coxsone Dodd saw her perform at the hotel and invited her to record for him at Studio One, the renowned Jamacian record label and studio, considered the "Motown of reggae". This 1970 recording features reggae backing by the Sound Dimension, and includes an awesome version of "Compared To What."

jerryjones1.jpeg
 

RAY CHARLES and LEELA JAMES   

In 2005, soul singer Leela James lent her voice to the posthumously released Ray Charles album, Genius & Friends, duetting with the singer on the song "Compared to What."

 

Ronnie Laws

Ronnie Laws' 1996 release, Tribute to the Legendary Eddie Harris covers "Compared To What", a song Harris, along with Les McCann, helped to become a huge jazz hit with their 1969 live recording at Montreau Jazz Festival. 

 

MUSHROOM

Psychedelic jazz band MUSHROOM hooks up with punk blues singer Gary Floyd of Sister Double Happiness with Jon Birdsong, who spent three years playing with Beck, on trumpet, Michael Bluestein on piano and analog synth. 

 

Dee Dee Bridgewater

 

 

Billy Paul

 

Della Reese

 

Here is a list of some other notable artists who have recorded versions of "Compared to What."

Al Jarreau - Passport - Lenny Williams - Sweetwater - Lucky Peterson - Jason Rebello - Uschi Bruning