I think it was Tom Waits who said the best thing to come from religion is the music. That means reggae music for me, because once you get into reggae, it doesn’t take long to notice certain religious themes all over place, namely Jah (God) and Jah Rastafari (God incarnate). The Rastafari movement is more accurately a form of religiosity than any kind of religion. It’s a bit half-baked, but it seems generally harmless and positive, so what hell. I can sing along to Culture’s “Jah Rastafari” and go along for the ride and love every minute of it. (I can’t make out half the lyrics anyway.) It’s all about peace, love and harmony, man, and giving thanks. At least I think that’s what it’s about.
I could load up half this song list with reggae music. Artists like The Congos, The Gladiators, Joe Higgs, Toots and The Maytals, Lee Scratch Perry, Peter Tosh — I got into all of them in a big way for many years. They all left a strong impression. One of the more eye-opening impressions, though, came from the Burning Spear album Marcus Garvey and the dub version of the album called Garvey’s Ghost — both essential to any roots reggae collection. The raw mix of Marcus Garvey seemed unusual. All the instruments were right there in your face, minimal effects, hardly any reverb. Dub mixes of most reggae songs are nothing but reverb and weird echo effects, but this stuff was front and centre, harsh and almost primitive. Songs like “Babylon System” by Bob Marley and “So Long Babylon” by Culture had that chant rhythm thing going on, too, but every song from Burning Spear felt tribal. “Invasion” and the dub mix of it, “Black Wa Da Da,” are the ones I’ve listened to the most. Here’s an MP3 of the original song and the dub version mixed together:
Here’s the full dub version:
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’salbum is like that too. I got a lot of mileage out of those records.
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., 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
Continue reading Song #14: “Top Rankin’”