Not Great Men

Album: Entertainment! (1979)
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Songfacts®:

  • The Great Man Theory is a 19th-century idea that claims a group of highly influential individuals shaped history. It states these heroes dramatically impacted history through their own unique attributes, such as superior intellect, heroic courage, extraordinary leadership or divine inspiration. The Scottish philosopher and essayist Thomas Carlye first formulated the theory in May 1840 in a collection of six lectures about prominent historical figures.

    Here, Gang of Four demolish the Great Man Theory of history that makes heroes of kings and generals while marginalizing the masses.

    The past lives on in your front room
    The poor still weak, the rich still rule
    History lives in the books at home
    The books at home


    The avowedly left-wing group rants that the history books written with the Great Man Theory in mind are found in the bookshelves of the wealthy elite.
  • Singer Jon King's tirades at revisionist history in "Not Great Men" were typical of Gang Of Four's ant-sexist and ant-Fascist lyrics on their Entertainment! record. The band's neo-Marxist funk later inspired groups such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine. Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers stated that the first time he heard the album, "It completely changed the way I looked at rock music and sent me on my trip as a bass player."
  • In 2021 Flea and RHCP guitarist John Frusciante covered the song for the double album The Problem of Leisure: A Celebration of Andy Gill and Gang of Four. Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill conceptualized the tribute set before his death in February 2020.
  • The song is the first Frusciante and Flea recording to be heard since the guitarist returned to RCHP in 2019 after a decade away. It also features the children's choir from the Silverlake Conservatory Of Music.

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