The Reggae Pitchfork 500 – A&D to Williams

Talk about a change in tone. The last song on the list was Joy Division’s Disorder, and the next song is Althea and Donna’s “Uptown Top Ranking”. It’s a chirpy song, a cute little bit of sunshine following the misery of the preceding post-punk numbers, about dressing up and cruising round in the “Benz”. You can hear the girl’s cheek and style in all those mockney girls from Lahndahn like Lily Allen and Kate Nash. If you were being uncharitable you’d say that the Ldn girls still have rather a lot to learn. But I’m being nice today so I won’t.

And who can forget Jeremy Hardy singing it on I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue?. Fantastic stuff. (I’m trying to find an mp3 of it but have so far not found anything).

Next up is Lee Perry’s “Roast Fish And Cornbread”. Recorded not long before he set fire to his Black Ark studios, presumably under the influence of huge quanitites of marijuana, it’s another bit of dubbed-out oddness that he pretty much invented. He’s a funny one is ol’ Scratch; he had a phenomenal work-rate in the 70’s (twenty albums in total) though his quality control can kindly be termed “shambolic”, and he’s famous for his somewhat eccentric behaviour. Personally, I get the feeling a lot of this behaviour is an act (similar to that of Shane McGowan’s; I know the managers of pubs he used to drink in, who swore blind he was perfectly normal until either fans or journalists showed up, and he’d then fall into his drunken Oirishman act). Still, if you’ve not been introduced to his music before, this is as good a start as any. Heavy dub, loads of reverb, nonsensical lyrics, and cows mooing. What’s not to love?

Lee Scratch Perry

The Congo’s “Fisherman” is a top slab of late-70’s reggae, a song of hope and faith against adversity. With a bit of “collie weed” of course. In these days of credit crunch and redundancy, the contrasting voices sing “Row fisherman row\Keep on rowing your boat\We’ve got to reach on higher grounds”. The voices are sheer beauty, with Watty Burnett’s beautiful deep baritone juxtaposing gorgeously with “Ashanti” Roy Johnson’s tenor and Cedric Myton’s falsetto. This was recorded in 1977 with Lee Perry, who also co-wrote the track.

“Armagideon Time” by Willie Williams was hugely popular amongst the punk crowd in the late-70’s and it’s not hard to see why; it has the same approachable feel to it as Bob Marley. Not that that’s a bad thing. Anything that opens people’s minds to a different tune is fine by me. But it’s not the most inspiring tune on the list; it’s place here is to show how music from a small island in the Caribbean reached out and touched people from council estates in England, and made them realise there was more to life than three-chord thrashes, inspiring them to make their own music, and then setting off another round of innovation.

I’ve got to say that this style of reggae isn’t my bag; I’m much more a fan of the older Studio One stuff. But the value of the Pitchfork list is that you get to hear some little nuggets that otherwise pass you by. With me it’s “Fisherman”, which I’m now listening to for the third time this morning, and which I present to you below. Enjoy.

Fisherman by The Congos

The whole list is available here.