“And I say
I don’t like reggae no no
I love it.” Dreadlock Holiday, Squeeze
The first time I ever heard a reggae song was in 1968, on my local AM station. Now this station wasn’t typically given to playing anything outside of the Top 40 (over and over again). But this one DJ in particular had taken a liking to it. Oddly enough, I can remember him saying, “If you don’t like this song, you’ve got a hole in your soul.” And so I listened to it and… I guess I had a hole in my soul. Oh, I liked it to some extent but it didn’t really move me at the time. It took a fair amount of listening for me to eventually like reggae. I don’t exactly know why. Too far outside of my comfort zone maybe. Regardless, that song which, to my knowledge, was the first international reggae hit? “The Israelites,” by Desmond Dekker and the Aces. And if you don’t like it? Well….
Over time, more and more of the rockers got into reggae, often recording in Jamaica to get that authentic feel. To the best of my recollection, the first rocker that had a big hit with a reggae song was Eric Clapton with Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff.” (And of course Marley will have his own post). And later, the late very eclectic singer Robert Palmer had an album named “Pressure Drop” wherein he covered the Toots and the Maytals song. (The Clash do a nice version too). I love Palmer’s version and you can hear the Maytals original version on YouTube. But the best of both worlds is this re-recorded, somewhat faster version that Toots re-recorded with Clapton on guitar. Try sitting still.
In 1972, a movie called “The Harder They Come,” was released. (Interestingly, Wikipedia shows a poster for the movie with a quote that says, “Infinitely more intelligent than Last Tango in Paris.” Um, I fail to see the connection but ok.) Anyway, this movie was more of a cult than mainstream hit but it probably did more to popularize reggae than anything prior. (And it had a midnight showing for something like ten years at the late, great Orson Welles theater in Cambridge, MA.) Anyway, Jimmy Cliff – who released an album as recently as 2012 – starred in the movie and sings the title song. However, I found this “live” gem on YouTube and liked it enough to share it.
Those who are much more versed in the nuances of this genre will tell you there’s reggae, ska and (at least) a subgenre called dub. I couldn’t tell you the exact difference but it all sounds good to me.