Be Thankful For What You Got

Grant Tillery

You’ve definitely heard the hazy percussion before, and the lyrics “You may not drive a great big Cadillac/Gangsta white walls, TV antennas in the back” definitely ring a bell.  But you don’t know what that song is.  It just so happens to be William DeVaughn’s 1974 hit “Be Thankful For What You Got,” which still sounds as fresh at 40 as I suspect it did when it was released.

The song is simple and is based on the main vocal motif of “Diamond in the back/Sunroof top/Diggin’ the scene with a gangsta’ lean,” which DeVaughn repeats countless times with his silky smooth voice.  With a running time of 7:04, the refrain’s repetition risks being tiresome, but the song never induces ennui.  The gliding vibe runs are calculatedly improvised and separate the endless refrains.  The organ’s repetitions function as a melodic outline, but become a mastery of musical simplicity thanks to their sweltering, focused funkiness. If you haven’t thrown this sunny slow burner in your summer playlist, do so now.