Jamaica

"Which way you going natty" Hortense Ellis & Clint Eastwood (Top Ranking 12", date?) plus J.Holt

This song is irresistible: especially when Clint Eastwood comes in to spin his particular brand of magic, over the dulcet gentleness of Ellis singing of the munificence of Jah (“Which way are you going Natty?” - Not sure! - “Can I come too?” - Right you are!)

From the Discogs release info:

“On the a side there is a typo as we see a H at the end of the name of Hortense Ellis 
On B side there might be another typo as instead of Freddy we have Dreddy.. the labels talk by themselves 

The catalogue might be TC 002 if the runout talks the truth.”

John Holt’s smooth charmer persona is in overdrive in his version of the song, “Which way you going, Baby” released on his 10,000 Volts of Holt album that came out in 1973 on Trojan.

Under the big-band excess, with strings, is a really nice bassline.

“Natty Don’t Go” Cornel/l Campbell, prod. Coxsone Dodd (Studio One 7”, 1975) & more

Without wanting to fall into a journalistic tic of once again selling this track as so distinctive, so different etc (a tic I can’t kick even if I felt so inclined) this song stands out among other reggae songs, as it does within Campbell’s oeuvre for the expressive quality of his voice.

Campbell is well-known for the sweetness of his singing, with some suggesting he is the greatest among his contemporaries, many of whom similarly sang in a soft style. On this track there is something so exposed, so plaintive it’s closer to the delivery of a Soul singer it seems to me. This impression comes from the song’s dramatic opening and then reinforced by the way he sings certain words, adding a syllable almost (“dread” and “yeah”), thereby making the words sound fragile. It’s almost as if you can hear his breath within them. Note too the way his voice is at the very start, of everything. The song begins with his voice, as I wrote about the other C.S. “Coxsone” Dodd production for Carlton and the Shoes, starting a song with the singer enmeshed in the music is atypical in terms of most songs that came out of Jamaica at that time. Most often the band would begin for the singer to come in later.

The music by the Brentford Rockers provides the perfect foundations: the highly sibilant drums, the bass line deep in the mix, before the guitars come in changing the mood, allowing for an upbeat feel. Even Campbell’s vocals become jaunty one minute in, moving away from the previously introspective nature of it.

Natty Dread, don’t go into Babylon, oh no, no, no
It will be dread, dread, dread, dread
Remember our days, of slavery,
Our people sold out, to Babylon
How they tried to trick us out of our land,
But Natty Dreads, don’t go, back to Babylon
Natty don’t go
Remember the pain and the suffering,
Jah Jah children bear in Babylon
How they try, to take Jah power plans
So Natty Dreads don’t go, back to Babylon
Natty don’t go
It will be dread
It shall be dread..
Natty Dread, Natty Dread, Natty Dread, Natty don’t go
I beg you Natty Dread, Natty Dread, Natty Dread, Natty don’t go
And dreads so was sold out for thirteen pieces of silver
Martin Luther King also, he was a blessed man, yeh
Remember poor Marcus, poor Marcus Garvey, when was a home predictor
Brother Paul Bogle, he fight so hard to save his life, yeh-yeh
So I beg you Dread, Natty Dreads, Natty Dreads, Natty don’t go
So I beg you Dread, Natty Dreads, Natty Dreads, Natty don’t go
Remember our days, of slavery,
Our people sold out, to Babylon
How they tried to trick us out of our land,
But Natty Dreads, don’t go, back to Babylon
Natty don’t go
It will be dread
It shall be dread..
Natty Dread, Natty Dread, Natty Dread, Natty don’t go
I beg you Dread, Natty Dread, Natty Dread, Natty Dread, Natty don’t go
And dreads so was sold out for thirteen pieces of silver, yeh-yeh
So I beg you Dread, Natty Dreads, Natty Dreads, Natty don’t go
Natty Dread, Natty Dread, Natty Dread, Natty don’t go

Here’s the extremely simple, even basic dub version that came out under the name “Natty Rub A Dub” on the b-side (as Campbell and the Brentford Rockers, elsewhere they recorded under the name Brentford All Stars) - and another version, which is just-about music only. Check out this other version, which sounds like an entirely different recording, much sharper and with a bouncy, almost Flamenco-style guitar.

Compare the song with this similarly stunning Campbell-penned song featuring Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare from 1985. No better pick-you-up, burst of optimism and faith than this music and then the final section is one more example of how superb the musicianship of artists from that era was, generally.

Here on this song the mood is completely different from the poetic excursions in the track from one decade earlier. From Jo-Ann Greene’s (typically) good AllMusic review:

“Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare provide the steaming rhythm, Roy Cousins the excellent production, and Cornell Campbell the superb vocals for this rousing and inspirational number from 1985.

Ragga was about to engulf the reggae world, but "Jah Jah Give Us Love" was one final, brilliant reminder of the cultural age it was about to bury. Like a shooting star, the riddim rockets across the grooves, its core Dunbar's solid beats and Shakespeare's fast padding bass line. Trailing in their incendiary wake is the sharp rhythm guitar, glorious keyboards, ebullient organ, and the haunting lead guitar flourishes so beloved in the roots age.

Campbell is almost physically propelled along this magnificent riddim, giving way to its propulsive power, and giving himself over to Jah. Part prayer, part affirmation, the singer reaches an epiphany, delivering up one of his best performances to date along the way. "Love" couldn't hold back the tidal way of DJs and synthesized sounds breaking over the island, but with this song pure roots rockers blinked out in a blaze of glory.”

Coda:

‘A Taste of honey’ Doctor Pablo & Dub Syndicate (North of the River Thames, ON-U, 1984) plus P. Desmond, S. Vaughan, C. Baker and others

Originally my intention was to write something extremely simple and short about this silvery-delicate cover by an English melodica player who took on the name Doctor Pablo when fronting the great Dub Syndicate on this 1984 ON-U release.

A release that is considered to be a kind of oddity in the Dub Syndicate catalogue, as Rick Anderson writes in his AllMusic review 

"This is one of the more curious entries in the always interesting On-U Sound catalog. Doctor Pablo is Pete Stroud, a British melodica player who fell in love with the "Far East" sound of pioneering melodica virtuoso Augustus Pablo and hooked up with label head Adrian Sherwood and his house band, the Dub Syndicate, to record an album of languid reggae instrumentals in a style closely based on that of his namesake. (Even the album title is a tribute: It's a parody on the title of Augustus Pablo's classic album East of the River Nile.)

What gives this album an added whimsical twist is the fact that two of the tracks are covers of popular British tunes -- there's an arrangement of the popular TV theme song "Man of Mystery" and a setting of the "Dr. Who?" theme. Others are more simply standard-issue instrumental reggae with featured melodica. The Dub Syndicate plays things a bit more restrained than usual, but its mighty rhythm section is as powerful as always, especially on the album's stand out track, a long and eerie Stroud composition entitled "Red Sea" (which would later be appropriated by Singers & Players as the rhythm for their equally powerful song "Moses"). Fans of the On-U label's signature sound should consider this a strongly recommended purchase, but newcomers may do better starting out with one of the Dub Syndicate albums or one of the compilations in the Pay It All Back series."

This piece of writing on 'A Taste of Honey' dub-version was going to be a quick continuation of my earlier ‘theme’ (see here) about explosions in 80s music; notice the classic, essential dub-explosion just before 1’40” (x2). Then to complicate things, all or some of my other favourites intruded in on it, forcing themselves to be included or at least heard. Sorry too for the sudden ending of the upload: pretty unfortunate.

Another writer with a different kind of mind might usefully tackle the question as to why pop music now is so concerned with originality - despite it being an era of sample-based recycling and reinvention and while there is a kind of relative stasis or lack of confidence about the act of creating music in itself. Never before has popular music been so self-aware and “complicated” in the French sense. Still, it would be unthinkable for a stream of artists to cover one song as was the case with “A Taste of Honey” through the 60s and into the 70s.

Dub artists always covered pop/soul songs, either in their entirety or splicing them up. And yet, returning to “A Taste of Honey” decades after its moment is kind of strange, but touching too. A vast contingent of popular singers covered the song in a relatively short period of time in the 60s: Barbra Streisand, Andy Williams, Julie London, Bobby Darin, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass among many many others.   

Three highlights though, Paul Desmond in 1965 and Sarah Vaughan

who does all kinds of unexpected things with her phrasing – unexpected that is for a typical singer, not for her such experimentation is an essential part of her gift.

And Chet Baker on his 1965 album Baby Breeze. Some criticise the version for the so-called “honky tonk piano” in the background that’s considered to be too loud and out of place, but I think it makes it, roughing up Baker’s early dulcet singing style. Another point of interest: how Baker slows the song right down, making it simpler and foundational like a folk song. It's really wonderful, I think.

To read more on Chet Baker, Sarah Vaughan, jazz and dub, follow the tags. 

Dillinger ‘Bun Bagga Wire’ & Version, prod. Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee (Striker Lee, 2005, orig. release 1977) & ‘Live at Music Machine’ (Bellaphon, 1979) plus extras

Given his American-gangster name by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, who also produced his first recording, Dillinger started out as a DJ and became famous in the late 70s and is best known for his 1977 hit ‘Cocaine/Cokane in my brain’ (a number 1 hit in Holland).

Dillinger at his best sounds like no-one else. His voice has real authority that when matched with the right producer, the overall effect is something truly unforgettable, simply because of the force of his delivery. Take this single ‘Bun Bagga Wire’ as a starting-point; the way Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee layers the various sound elements is so rich and impressive; layering the voice and gun-shot sound effect in a way that still sounds modern.

I first came across this song on the Dillinger 12” Collection release which has got a lot of interest but ‘Bun Bagga Wire’ jumped out at me, forcing me to take notice.  

It’s true that when you listen to a lot of Dillinger, his preferred sound (preferred kind of song) is so dominant it can sound a bit repetitive; you would never say this was an artist keen to play with moods or tone, but then again with such a distinctive musical style that would have been a bad move. He was, he became, his own trademark.

Here’s Dillinger’s first Lee Perry produced single, ‘music to make you stagger’ indeed …

My other favourite Dillinger track is ‘Flat Foot Hustling’ from the King Tubby produced compilation, 14 k Gold Golden Hits released in 1979 (there’s a reissue from 1996 on Scandal Bag) as Dillinger’s delivery is different here, becoming more conversational and almost intimate. It sounds like he’s expressing something personal. The straight delivery reminds me of contemporary hip-hop emcees, getting you to sit down and listen to their story of origins (and the gentle backing vocals track offers a fine contrast).

Dillinger appeared on MOJO’s 2014 list of '50 Greatest Reggae Albums' for his CB200 release (Island Records, 1977) that included his hit ‘Cocaine/Cokane’ in my brain’. Check out this uber-Soul Train video with all the chic groovy groovies getting down: 

There's a nice exchange beneath the video about the weird lyrics: ‘I wanna spell New York, "a knife a fork, a bottle and cork" prompting the reply: 'it's just Jamaican patois babble ,and refers to the knife(tip) to scoop the powder, a fork to squash it, and the bottle and cork ,the container where it came from. A somewhat simpleton view, but as long as it rhymes no one's complaining.’

Dillinger was part of the Jamaican/London nexus in the late 70s and name-checked in The Clash’s ‘(White man) in Hammersmith Palais

Midnight to six man
For the first time from Jamaica
Dillinger and Leroy Smart
Delroy Wilson, your cool operator

Ken Boothe for UK pop reggae
With backing bands sound systems
And if they’ve got anything to say
There’s many black ears here to listen

But it was Four Tops all night with encores from stage right
Charging from the bass knives to the treble
But onstage they ain’t got no roots rock rebel
Onstage they ain’t got no...roots rock rebel ...

Totally love this live recording from Dillinger in Germany, 1979, especially the opening track ‘Natty don’t need glasses’ (For info on the record, go here). 'Punk rock/Reggae' 

'You don't love me (no, no, no) - original (Studio One Rockers, 1967)

Dawn Penn - 'one of the original queens of reggae music' - had a professional rebirth, via a reworking and release of this song from 1967, almost three decades later.

Putting to one side the understated expression of the original for a more rounded version that featured in advertisements and became a major hit in dozens of countries while also featuring a rather surprising sample by U-Roy ('Wake the town' from his 1974 record, U-Roy).      

Here's an extract from an interview with Dawn Penn on how she recorded a track that has become one of the most famous songs in reggae history:

I grew up in Jamaica, near Studio One, the famous recording studio in Kingston. It became a second home, especially on Sundays, when they would hold auditions. I was barely into my mid-teens when I got a chance to sing for the legendary producer “Sir Coxsone” Dodd. It was 1967, the early days of rocksteady, and he liked my voice.

You Don’t Love Me (No No No) was our first recording and I remember standing next to Jackie Mittoo, the keyboard player from the Skatalites, following his chords as I sang about lost love. In church, we used to sing this old gospel thing, “Yes, yes, yes, Jesus loves me”, so I sang, “No, no, no.” People said: “It’s too negative. It’ll never sell.” But it was a big hit in Jamaica.

I made more records, but never saw any money for them, and in 1970 left Jamaica to trace my family ancestry. This took me to Pennsylvania and the British Virgin Islands. After 17 years, I came back to Jamaica and found the island alive with dancehall. I was asked to rerecord the song for Studio One’s 35th anniversary. They made it a bit more dancehall, then Atlantic picked it up and it became a global smash.

The producer, Cleveland 'Clevie' Browne on the 1994 version: 

Steely’s keyboard created a smooth, deep bass, like the old sound system recordings. We couldn’t find the trumpeter from the original record, so David Madden, who was Bob Marley’s trumpeter, did a great job. Sometimes when you work on a record, you get a feeling it is going to be a hit, but we had no idea how big. We made it timeless, a bridge between the old and new.

Coda: 

The song above is so great and reminds me of Patti Smith's 'Free Money' ... I can't find out any information about it from a cursory search; pass on information if you have some as I'd like to write about it more.  . 

Grace (Miss Jones)

Nostalgia is not something I go in for, it strikes me as an admission of defeat and just a little bit embarrassing, as if you're ready to crawl on off already like a spider that just got sprayed. But also the era of music that it could perhaps be said I am 'nostalgic' for took place when I was a tiny person, I never lived it.

And then as a woman I know that the paeans to the past that so many establishment radio/music figures, across the genres, indulge in have a tendency to skip over the women who then, as now, struggle to get the same attention, or respect.

(Small diversion: I read an interview yesterday with a very respected late MC who said how he never listened to female MCs, didn't like them, as a rule; as if women, all women, were a category on a menu you could just leave out and then explain away as a dietary preference). 

And yet, and yet ... Grace Jones. I do feel nostalgic for the glory that is Grace Jones and other nasty women of her ilk. The wonderful thing about Miss Jones, though, was that she was as sweet/funny as she was fierce and so smart not only in terms of her look, but her music as well.

This piece of writing started off being a celebration of this remix of the magnificent 'Pull up to the bumper' ...

This is so hot, oh my excuse me; listen to the space-age effects, and that out of this world bass-line and then her so-sweet vocals that tease against the groove. And then how it breaks down to the core elements for her to return again.

(There's something nice about this remix, a little amateur at certain points, as if the DJ/producer is so taken by the beat he can't let it go and keeps it running and running, when a more 'professional type' would bring it back to the central refrain, the melody as is expected).  

But then necessarily this piece of writing, this celebration, became more expansive as I again realised just how fantastic Grace Jones's music is three decades plus on.  

'Pull up to the bumper' was first released on her 1981 record, Nightclubbing (Island Records) that featured the great Sly & Robbie - as critics have noticed the record has a strong dub/reggae feel in terms of the rhythms employed. I like this quote from Sly Dunbar speaking about the recording process:

When we were in the studio with Grace, there was a big picture of her – a big picture, going right across – on the wall of the studio, then she’d be standing there singing, so when we were playing and getting a groove all we could see was her. We took it on that reggae kind of trip, but always with Grace in mind.
— FACT magazine, 2014

Check out this live performance from Grace Jones of two singles from the Nightclubbing record, where she is so majestic strange and otherworldly, the rather timid applause reflects apparent confusion among the audience, it seems (not surprising when you see how she uses some of the people on stage as furniture, part of the backdrop for her performance).

(This fan comment received a reply of 'Tea' from 'Miss Jones' though I'm not sure if it's a genuine account of the artist: 'She's a piece of art. Such a surreal entity! her aura is incredible, so sensual and mysterious. Some ones don't believe in Grace because part of her image was directed by Goude, but, others women wouldn't fit in her aesthetic, some singers of today took things from her but they don't get the same result, is her aura, is her. She isn't manipulated by the aesthetic, she brings the aesthetic, the identity. My favourite human in the world.')

The track, 'I've seen that face before' brings forward another reason why I respect her so much as an artist: the broad mix of musical influences that shows an ability to think across genres for the points of commonality. Tango, in this case ...

Inevitably different genres of music have contrasting levels of drama, and/or intensity and what Jones has picked up here is the essentially theatrical - performance-based - nature of Argentine music, or tango, but then she makes it her own, with these very arch lyrics (and delivery, of course):

Strange, I’ve seen that face before,
Seen him hanging ‘round my door,
Like a hawk stealing for the prey,
Like the night waiting for the day,

Strange, he shadows me back home,
Footsteps echo on the stones,
Rainy nights, on Hausmann Boulevard,
Parisian music drifting from the bars,

Tu cherches quoi, rencontrer la mort?
Tu te prends pour qui
Toi aussi tu detestes la vie

Dance in bars and restaurants,
Home with anyone who wants,
Strange he’s standing there alone,
Staring eyes chill me to the bone ....

Much is made of the image of Grace Jones, the way she used her 'blackness' or her beauty to reinforce something, this depends on the perspective of the critic, but just - just? - on the basis of her music, I believe she is a radical, important artist. In the end, it doesn't 'matter' what she looked like.

This era, late 70s, early 80s, is defined by great artistry in dub and electronic music more generally, undoubtedly, but within the mainstream pop-osphere, the realm where Grace Jones was playing, I can't think of a more important artist in terms of the coherent nature of the sound and output. No other artist, or performer comes close (then or since).

For a charming talk-show performance with Joan Rivers have a look at this video. Jones talks about her family (she was a minister's daughter) and how when asked to nominate her apex of wildness she once went to a party in the nude, save for some bones around her neck (they were animal bones, she adds quickly). 

'Please officer/Pablo in Moonlight City' 12", Earl Zero/Augustus Pablo (Sufferers Heights, 1979)

(In some ways I'm still, even after all these years, reaching for the words to express myself here). Explicit/implicit; external/internal  ... this 12" release from Earl Zero/Augustus Pablo represents the magic of dub for me personally; on one side of the record, a strong expression of resistance - never dour, carried along by humour - on the other a kind of divine meditation, pure and elemental. 

Oh Jah!
Hear thy children pray, each and every day

Victimization, that’s what I and I get in Babylon
Brutalization, that’s what I and I get inna Babylon

Natty Roots can’t even smoke his I-shence in peace
He has to be terrorized by the beast
”Stop, don’t move, put up your hands!”
In the wink of an eye, their rifles were right in my nose
One a dem say “Bust him head”, the whole a dem agree
Because I-man a Natty Dread!

Please officer, don’t be like a warrior
Not because you carry more guns, than a aircraft carrier

After I-man a trod the earth, with peace and love
Them stop I innocently, screw, “Now I come use brutality”
Whole heap a ignorancy! ..
— 'Please officer' Earl Zero

Love that line about the police officer - overseer - carrying more guns than an aircraft carrier - it's funny. But then when taken with, heard with the very beautiful Augustus Pablo dub on the b-side, this music is taken to another realm that is much more ambiguous.

Augustus Pablo is one of those artists who inspires (in me, at least) what a school teacher of mine used to criticise as my tendency towards 'purple prose' - remove those adjectives, let it breathe - and even though I don't have the words to express it yet ... (I'm looking for some material, some interview quotes or information on what it all means, the mystical use of 'reverb, and foregrounding the bass' to quote some publicity for one of the many books for me still to read).

I always prefer the dub version, and this release is no different. Something touches me when I hear this music all stripped back, but also when I can sense the intelligence of how it is constructed. For some reason, this dub version by Augustus Pablo makes me think of a Cuban band, playing to the audience - it is less abstract than much of his work and there is a kind of joyful quality about it. This intrigues me, as it seems to run counter to the politics of the a-side.

How then are we then meant to relate to the two pieces of music together? (asks the earnest one)

Dub challenges us musically and conceptually, by always offering this other version it reminds us that there are always other voices, other versions, other perspectives. (This is something I've written about already in relation to hip-hop, the idea that sampling and the way it encourages us to relate to music differently reminds us that a piece of art, or music, is always contingent and that this embodies a kind of politics). 

At one point the scratching beat builds in its intensity in a really understated way, it sounds layered as if there are multiple tracks, though it probably isn't: the perfect precision of this beat and the recording sounds so non-human, but it is. Leaving aside any attempt to capture, to theorise this music is simply gorgeous in itself: full of life. Mysterious, but playful at the same time.  

For a nice intro to Augustus Pablo, check out this feature in FACT magazine from last year by David Katz and here's a recorded interview with the master below ...

'Time is so hard' Barrington Levy, prod. B.Levy, mixed by Scientist (Run Come Ya!, Puff Records, 1981)

Basically just a perfect song of its type, listen to the wonderful mix of the whizz/space-age sounds, the delicate vocal and the bassline/drums. Backed up by the great Roots Radics, the group that ushered in a new music form  ...

Somewhere late in 1979 the band recorded the riddims for Barrington Levy’s first songs for producer Henry “Junjo” Lawes, credited at the time as the Channel One Stars. With hindsight these riddims are now considered the birth of Jamaican dancehall music.

I found this track on the really nice compilation of Levy's early work: 

And it immediately struck me for its graceful contrast (between the aforementioned elements) and the straight, sincere vocal delivery. I really like the way the music supports and 'plays' with the vocalist's presence in this under-stated way. 

Here's a great article on Levy - 'Ten things you did not know about Barrington Levy' - from the MidnightRaver site that describes Levy's difficult childhood and how he grew up on the streets and that he's known as the 'mellow canary' in Jamaica for his 'unique wail'.

Coda: