Roberta Flack’s Chapter Two (1970): Reverend Lee

Posted on Sat Sep 29 2007 at 7:57 pm in the category 1970s, Dylan, Bob, Flack, Roberta, Soul / Funk / Motown -- Copyright notice

Listen while you read: “Reverend Lee” (audio)

Roberta Flack is perhaps best known for her influential performance of the song “Killing me softly with his song” back in 1973, recently re-covered by the Fugees (if 1997 is “recent” to anyone else). Flack’s early work, before the years of disco set in and had their deleterious affect, is particularly impressive in terms of her vocal performance and the overall emotional effect of the music. The music really captures you and brings you along for a ride. Flack injects new life into the songs she covers. (Flack herself did not write the music or lyrics, in the early days at least).

I recently picked up her second album, appropriately called Second Chapter (© 1970 Atlantic). And, no, I did not listen to it when I was one year old — but I do now! Flack’s warm, welcoming voice is a pleasure to listen to, and the jazz-soul instrumentation is excellently performed and produced on this album (in other words, the tasteful and understated cover of the album is indicative of the quality overall). Her version of Bob Dylan’s “Just like a woman” is a nice change from the original, as much as I appreciate Dylan.

The song you are listening to now is definitely the outstanding performance on the album, however. “Reverend Lee” was originally written and performed by Gene McDaniel’s in the early 1970s (read a story about him on the Wire). But Flack’s version makes all the difference!

This song tells the tale of a southern pastor struggling with lustful thoughts (in a dream) and, ultimately at least, winning the battle. Here lust is personified as a young woman, “Satan’s daughter”. The association of women with Satan and notions of the woman as temptress unfortunately have a long history in western civilization, which you can read a bit about here (including a reference to Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused”).
Here are some of the lyrics from “Reverend Lee”:

Reverend Lee, he went to the water
And he prayed to the Lord about old Satan’s daughter
It seems in a dream, child, while he lay sleepin’
She climbed in his bed, starts rubbing and weepin’
Oh, she was twistin’ and turnin’
She was beggin’ and pleadin’
lovin’ and burnin’, pantin’ and breathin’, haah haah
. . .
Reverend Lee, he lifted his arms high
Said, “Heavenly father, take me home to the sky.”
He said, “Lord please don’t test me, not down where she touched me.”
“Oh, my mind is so hazy, Lord, my body is hungry”, oh yeah.
God rolled the thunder, then hurled the lightnin’.
He seemed to be angry, oh, so it was frightenin’.
Thunder grew louder, louder, darkened conditions
Just then a voice said, “God cannot be petitioned.”
Just then the devil emerged from the water, and he said in a dry voice,
“Your God will not barter.”
Reverend Lee ran screamin’ from the water
He was hotly pursued by old Satan’s daughter
“Reverend Lee”, she said. “Reverend Lee, Reverend Lee . . . oh do it to me”.
“Reverend Lee do it to me” (by Eugene McDaniels; Longport, BMI).

Wikipedia has a useful article on Flack, along with a full discography. Roberta Flack has her own official website here.

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4 Responses to “Roberta Flack’s Chapter Two (1970): Reverend Lee”

  1. John Venables Says:

    Sweet. Nice to read the lyrics. A pleasure to hear the song again. Good commentary. U gotta give Eugene McDaniels his due though. The original “100 Pounds of Clay” man was (& hopefully still is) a force in his own right. You do good work on your blog, Phil :) Thanks. John – Atlanta, GA, USA

  2. 100 Love Songs Says:

    [...] & Herb – The glory of reconciliation after a couple had a bad breakup.  A timeless subject. The Closer I Get to You – Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack – This song hits the sweet spot. Better than the cover of this song by Beyonce and Luther Vandross. [...]

  3. Blair Says:

    This album was my late night go-to record back in the fall of 1999. The first side was my favorite. There was something about the gentleness of Roberta’s tone that was well matched with the orchestrations. In some way a soulful companion to Joni Mitchell’s “Blue”. Eventhough I like and cherish “Blue” more now, “Chapter Two” was an obsession.

  4. ricardo gonzalez Says:

    Chapter two is the best album ever, the songs are incredible and Ms. flack is flawless, though i love every song she sings, this is beautiful, I know her in person, she gave a ring as a present in Chile in the 90s, I’m very lucky, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. The same as Blair sayd, it was an obsession to me,too. I listen to it every day of my life.