William DeVaughn was working as a government employee when he wrote “A Cadillac Don’t Come Easy”, eventually re-written to become “Be Thankful for What You Got” in 1972, and spent $900 toward it under a development agreement, under which an artist will record a few initial demos or tracks where, if successfully approved, the company may reserve the right to extend the arrangement to Omega Sound, a Philadelphia production house, and release the song.
The session featured members of the MFSB group — guitarist Norman Harris, drummer Earl Young, bassist Rusty Jackman, vibe player Vince Montana and conga player Larry Washington — secured by Allan Felder, who also developed the separate ad lib back-up chorus with his sister’s vocal choir. Frank Fioravanti then secured the song’s release on the Roxbury Records record label, run by producer-songwriter Wes Farrell.
A deal was made and the record was released on Roxbury Records in 1974. “Be Thankful For What You Got” skyrocketed to #1 on the R&B chart and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, selling a million copies. The song’s inspirational lyrics and smooth groove led many people to think that it was a Curtis Mayfield record, a view that is still widely held.
“Be Thankful For What You Got” has inspired a number of cool covers, including versions by Arthur Lee and Love in, Massive Attack, Yo La Tengo and Erykah Badu. It has also been sampled by hip-hop luminaries like NWA (“Gangsta Gangsta”), Ludacris (“Diamonds in the Back”), and Ice Cube (“Stand Tall”). “Be Thankful” even got a shout-out from Parliament-Funkadelic on “P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up).”