This 1970 cover of the 1968 original by Winnipeg, MB’s The Guess Who is groovy and super-chill, featuring Alton Ellis in all his paradoxically rough/smooth vocal sensitivity. The tune is appropriately soul-themed, with a solid rocksteady beat and trilling guitars. A Coxsone Dodd production and recorded at his Brantford Road Studio with the backing of The Sound Dimensions, listen closely for the incomparable Jackie Mittoo on keyboards.
These eyes watched you bring my world to an end
This heart could not accept and pretend
The hurt’s on me, yeah
And I will never be free, yeah
You made a promise to me, oh
You broke it, you broke it.
St. Mary’s Jamaica’s Clancy Eccles has a bone to pick with the busybodies of Babylon but loves you enough to lay it out in a pace & rhythmic signature that straddles the musical frontier of rocksteady and reggae. Eccles was known for his social commentary, later working on the Manley campaign to leverage the social consciousness of popular Jamaican music in aid of the center-left PNP.
You feel the riddim
You love the riddim
You have the riddim
A fairly straightforward cover of the 1963 hit for renowned Liverpudlian rock combo The Beatles. Prince Buster entertained a lot of tourist audiences in his heyday so it is only natural that he and other ‘North Coast’ bandleaders would churn out sentimental covers such as these by the bushel.
Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you
Tomorrow I’ll miss you
Remember I’ll always be true
And then while I’m away
I’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my loving to you
This 1964 Buster All Stars cover of the 1962 original ‘The Jive Samba’ by Tampa, Florida’s Cannonball Adderley sounds like an homage by horns-mad Prince Buster to his American contemporary. The melodic identification is strong, but as ever the temptation to skank to an expert rocksteady shuffle occupies too much of my consciousness to give it much thought.
The soundtrack for ‘The Harder They Come’ should be a foundational album for anyone looking to develop an appreciation for reggae & rocksteady music. Featuring crush island classics like ‘007’ by Desmond Dekker, ‘Rivers of Babylon’ by The Melodians, and ‘Johnny Too Bad’ by The Slickers, this re-recording by Scotty of the 1967 hit by Keith Rowe, Tex Dixon, and Derrick Harriott is perhaps the best-known version.
Stop that train, I wanna’ get on
My baby she’s leaving me now.
However even this track is a cover of the 1962 original ska recording by The Spanishtonians:
Extra Credit: Big Youth’s haunting version ‘Cool Breeze.’
Alton Ellis, nominal King of Reggae Covers, does a quick turn-around of this 1970 hit for Detroit, MI’s The Spinners, released to Jamaican radio audiences in 1971. It’s a chill, downtempo version, replete with backing vocals.
It’s a shame the way you mess around with your man
It’s a shame the way you hurt me.
Folks of my vintage are more familiar with the 1979 version by Coventry UK’s The Specials. Dandy Livingstone released the original version in 1967 on the Ska Beat label. You don’t have to listen too closely to hear the familiar sound of Rico Rodriguez‘ trombone in the mix.
Stop your fooling around
Time to straighten right out
Better think of your future
‘Else you’ll wind up in jail.
Drawing musical lines straight from London to Kingston, in 1979 Madness released a raucous, uptempo version of this Prince Buster original from 1968. Mostly instrumental like the more famous cover, this version favors the horns section.
Popularized in the United States by Sam Cooke’s 1958 hit and released to great acclaim in 1959 in the UK by Craig Douglas, this Alton Ellis & the Heptones cover of this cheerful, upbeat classic hit Kingston airwaves in 1967.
She was only sixteen, only sixteen
With eyes that would glow
But she was too young to fall in love
And I was too young to know
Every now and then a song from Jamaica penetrates North American musical sensibilities. Debbie Harry & Blondie’s version of this song is far better known in America, but on the streets of Kingston the melody calls nothing to mind so much as this 1967 hit for John Holt and The Paragons.
It’s not the things you do that tease and wound me bad
But it’s the way you do the things you do to me