Saturday, January 09, 2010

My Ipod Is Full of Reggae

I've gotten into reggae in a big way in the past few months. I've always loved ska, reggae's spunky ancestor, but I found reggae to be too boring and happy. Part of that is growing up surrounded by white rastas claiming that jah is really important to them, and using reggae as a way to justify being a stoner. Then as I got older, this negative stereotype was replaced by the image of a fratboy with a backwards baseball hat chilling to Bob Marley while chugging Natty light and slipping roofies to coeds.

I've finally been able to appreciate reggae on its own terms, largely because of it's connection to hip hop and American soul music. Ska developed as a Jamaican answer to American R&B, and reggae has many of the same elements that makes soul music so amazing: lush production, great singers, and lyrics that deal with the downtrodden fighting against the system.

I started with Lee Perry, and started exploring music that he produced. One of those albums is Junior Murvin's Police and Thieves. I love the Clash's version, but Murvin's is even better.

Once I was digging on Murvin's falsetto, I decided to give Horace Andy a chance. I had heard Andy on some of Massive Attack's songs, and at the time I couldn't get into his wavering, high voice. I got his greatest hits, and I'm loving it. Here's an obligatory song about smoking pot:

I got a compilation with producer Joe Gibb's work, and it included "See Them Come" by Culture, off of their 1977 album Two Sevens Clash.

As I got deeper and deeper into reggae, I was amazed by how much of it I was introduced to by the Clash. They did a lot of reggae songs, but also covered a lot of reggae. One of my favorite songs by them was "Armagideon Time," which ends up being a Willie Williams song:

"Ghetto Defendant," off of the Clash's Combat Rock, is a prime example of their own take on reggae. The voice you hear is Alan Ginsberg. There's a line in there that goes "Slam dance cosmopolous." Evidently, when they were in the recording studio, he asked singer Joe Strummer what kind of punk dances there were. Joe answered, "well, you've got your slam dance..." and it made it into the track.

Finally, one of my favorite reggae songs ever, and the first reggae song I remember hearing. It's "007 (Shanty Town)" by Desmond Dekker, and is really more rocksteady than reggae. A friend of mine made me a cassette of the English Beat in 1987, and included a version fo this by a female singer on it. I've never been able to figure out who it was. 

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