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DeVaughn wrote "A Cadillac Don't Come Easy" eventually re-written to become "Be Thankful for What You Got" in 1972, and spent $900 toward its development to Omega Sound [A Philadelphia Production House]. The producers at Omega [Frank Fioravanti and John Davis] wanted to go for a nasty groove and wrote a smooth arrangement, eventually booking time to record at Sigma Sound Studio in Philadelphia. The session featured members of the MFSB group — guitarist Norman Harris, drummer Earl Young, bassist Ron Baker, and vibist Vince Montana — secured by Allan Felder, who also developed the separate ad lib back-up chorus with his sister's vocal choir. Frank Fioravanti could have released the record on the company's own label Sound Gems, but it was just starting out and instead secured its release on the Roxbury Records record label.
The record sold nearly two million copies on its release in spring 1974, reaching #1 on the U.S. R&B charts and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, selling a million copies. With a sound and content influenced by Curtis Mayfield (and often erroneously attributed to him), its simple and encouraging lyrics hit home, to the extent that it became featured on gospel radio stations.
The edit version, which is the first part of the song, became the hit. The other half of the song is a longer instrumental with the repeated chords and rhythm before the final chorus comes in. The song is 7 minutes long, and radio stations preferred the singing portions over the instrumental portions.
Though you may not drive a great big Cadillac Gangsta whitewalls, TV antennas in the back You may not have a car at all But remember brothers and sisters You can still stand tall Just be thankful for what you got. Diamond in the back, sunroof top Diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean
DeVaughn's second album Figures Can't Calculate (TEC, 1980) included a remake.
The song was covered in 1974 by Arthur Lee and Love on their Reel to Real album; Reggae versions were done by Donovan Carlos (misspelled humorously as Carless on the label) in 1974, Bunny Clarke (produced by Lee "Scratch" Perry in 1975, and by Winston Curtis in 1984 (on World International Records); in 1991 by the British trip-hop band Massive Attack on their album Blue Lines and by Peter Blakeley as the opening theme for the movie The Taking of Beverly Hills, by Yo La Tengo on its 1997 "Little Honda" EP and by Lawrence "Lipbone" Redding on his 2009 Science of Bootyism album.
The song has been sampled several times, such as by N.W.A in "Gangsta Gangsta", Ludacris in "Diamond in the Back" & Ice Cube in "Stand Tall". In the song "Still Fly" by Big Tymers the last verse contains a line which makes reference to an 'old-school Caddy with a diamond in the back' and imitates DeVaughn's higher tone.