42 Years of Butch and Sundance

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was released 42 years. (That’s going to make some of you feel old.) It may not be a great movie, but it’s a fun and playful western that’s well-directed, well-acted and looks great. Robert Redford and Paul Newman are a couple of wise-cracking train & bank robbers who end up spending half the movie running from a posse, trying not to get killed or arrested. It’s not fast-paced, the soundtrack is dated and the story is pointless, but there’s lots of swashbuckling fist fights, gun fights, explosions and chase scenes on horseback — what the old folks call a delightful entertainment.

The dialogue and chemistry between Newman and Redford is what keeps it all afloat. It’s the kind of movie that’s pleasant to revisit every few years. (And it’s kind of nice to see what Robert Redford looked like before he botched up his face with plastic surgery. What the hell was he thinking?)

(This is a recycled post.)

Song #16: “Prophet Has Arise”

A friend of mine once came back from Jamaica with a suitcase full of poorly pressed reggae albums neither of us had ever heard of. One of them was The Same Song by Israel Vibration. We listened to that scratchy beat up record and marvelled at the music that came from it like anthropologists discovering the first cave paintings. The vocals were other worldly. “Prophet Has Arise” is an excellent example of the ingenious and bizarre vocal style of Israel Vibration.

Check out Licks and Kicks for a more conventional sounding reggae song from the album.

The Same Song is a one-of-kind record, more of an artefact perhaps than, say, anything by Bob Marley or the original Wailers. But for me it is to reggae what Mississippi John Hurt’s Stack O’Lee Blues is to the blues. Essential.

Song #15: “Duppy Conqueror”

Bob Marley’s Legend introduced me to reggae music. The next stop on that train was The Wailers. They released only two albums, Catch a Fire and Burnin’. Everything after that is “Bob Marley and The Waiers,” which is a good vibe but a different vibe. The original Wailers with the core members of Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley made reggae music that’s unmatched. It’s impossible to choose a single representative song, but “Duppy Conqueror” is a fun one. Listen carefully around 1:25 mark and hold on to that for the next 30 seconds.

I listened to “Duppy Conqueror” many times over a two or three year period before a room mate of mine in Toronto, who was deep into The Wailers, pointed out the silly lip sounds that kick in at exactly the 1:35 mark. The sounds fit the song so perfectly, I was never conscious of them. I began listening with greater attention after that and discovered all kinds of crazy rhythms and sounds in The Wailers’ music I’d never noticed before. Bob Marley’s Survival album is like that too. I got a lot of mileage out of those records.

Song #14: “Top Rankin'”

When I first heard reggae music, I was convinced I would never get into it because it didn’t sound like music to me. Then sometime near the end of high school, I remember watching an episode The New Music featuring Bob Marley that compelled me to go out and buy his best-of compilation, Legend, and it changed everything for me. The music lifted my spirit and blew my mind like nothing I’d ever known before. It was positive and uplifting and it made me want to get up move. It was an entirely new paradigm of music. I loved it and I still do. I didn’t know what bass was until I heard reggae music. “Rhythm guitar” meant nothing to me until I got into reggae. I eventually collected every album by Bob Marley. Survival, his most overlooked album is seems, became my favourite. I love every song on the album, but “Top Rankin'” grabbed me the most when I first heard it. It’s packed with intricate rhythms and the horns are killer. The whole album is like that.

The entire Survival is available as a YouTube playlist.
Continue reading Song #14: “Top Rankin’”