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Reggae Covers: Lloyd Charmers – Theme from ‘Shaft’ (Isaac Hayes)

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One of the most well-known, most culturally-pervasive movie themes of all time, Isaac Hayes‘ theme for the 1971 blaxploitation movie Shaft has received near-constant homage in other media from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Channel 4’s Father Ted. I mean, it’s up there in ‘Theme from Rocky (Gonna’ Fly Now)’ territory.

Here we have old-school rocksteady/ska singer (and sometime x-rated lyricist) Lloyd Charmers‘ 1971 almost immediate re-release of the film original and you know what? It’s pretty dope. The fast urban pace reflected in the original is kind of existentially at odds with the deliberate mogel-inducing rhythms of rocksteady yet Lloyd completes the transformation into a groovy thing of excellence. Definitely worth a listen.

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Reggae Covers: John Holt – Just The Way You Are (Billy Joel)

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I’ve never been a big fan of Billy Joel’s music. You have to recognize the staying power and broad appeal of his music nonetheless so it’s unsurprising to find something of his in the covers-happy world of Jamaican popular music. Thankfully we find this classic hair-salon-muzak number in the capable hands of John Holt, who despite his inspired pedigree does little to interfere with the work of the original creative hand. Not even a horn chart, swelling strings, and a crew of ‘hoo-hoo’ background singers can make this a song you’d want to hear more than once. Alas. Can’t win ’em all.

Reggae Covers: UB40 – Strange Fruit (Billie Holiday)

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Lyrics based on the poem by NYC’s own Abel Meeropol, Birmingham UK’s UB40 prepare a version of Billie Holiday‘s 1939 original that loses none of the shame and menace of the original. Heavy at times with synthesizers and inescapably colored by UB40’s skanking, horns-laden method the point, purpose, and aesthetic of the original reemerge.

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Reggae Covers: Dennis Brown – Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head (B.J. Thomas)

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Has anyone ever done a ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ challenge with Burt Bacharach? He and Hal David wrote this song for the 1969 Robert Redford/Paul Newman film ‘Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.’ Here we have Kingston, Jamaica’s own Dennis Brown chiming in with a dutiful cover of the B. J. Thomas original. offering nothing particularly new except a charming song performed by one of reggae’s most distinctive, most prolific voices.

Reggae Covers: Jackie Mittoo – Sunshine of Your Love (Cream)

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In a song with an all-time unforgettable signature riff there’s little room for improvisation, or so it would seem. Inexorably following in the melodic tracks of the original by Cream Jackie Mittoo (of Brown’s Town, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica) yet manages to turn the almost menacingly lustful original into a bit of cheerful shopping music.

Reggae Covers: Jimmy Lindsay – Ain’t No Sunshine (Bill Withers)

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Starts kind of respectful, even mechanical, but quickly assumes its own character and style. Jimmy Lindsay’s recording of the Bill Withers original brings hints of African drums, rock & roll (that sax solo!), and his nascent rasta consciousness.

Reggae Covers: Slim Smith – Everybody Needs Love (Gladys Knight & the Pips)

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What an outstanding vocal track on this single! Kingston, Jamaica’s Slim Smith here offers a truly noteworthy, upbeat cover of the swinging original recording by Gladys Knight & the Pips.

A lot of reggae covers (including some on this site) come off as bound to or hindered by the original recording in an almost postcolonial sense. This artist however takes the slow-danceable, heavily-orchestrated original released to US audiences in 1967 and turns it into a whole new piece of art: one that preserves the essentials of the song (melody & lyrics) but turns them up for the hip-shaking audiences of 1969 Trenchtown.

Say you wanna be loved
But you won’t let me love you
Say you want someone to trust in you, baby
Can’t you see that’s what I’m tryin’ to do?