ska

Reggae Progenitors: Andy & Joey – You’re Wondering Now (The Specials)

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The 1964 original by Andy & Joey lacks the signature disaffected sloth of The Specials‘1979 version from their eponymous LP, comprised as it is of gravelly urban voices muttering unenthusiastically but with irony intact.

You’re wondering now, what to do, now you know this is the end
You’re wondering how, you will pay, for the way you did behave

C & N Records; Brentford Rd. Recorded at Jamaica Recording Studio.

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Reggae Covers: The Skatalites – Pata Pata (Miriam Makeba)

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My longtime love affair with Miriam Makeba is a matter of record. Hers is a voice that winds itself around you like the arms of a beloved friend, dance partner, or paramour, depending on her mood. Her enthusiasm, perhaps best exemplified by the 1957 original Pata Pata, is as infectious as her loving heart. In 2002 The Skatalites did a number on the original on their ‘From Paris With Love‘ release, kicking 33 1/3 to 45 in the application of a ska rhythm track. The usual fine performances abound, but none somehow as satisfying as the original.

Reggae Covers: Granville Williams Orchestra – Old MacDonald (trad.)

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A ripping ska orchestral version of the old traditional nursery rhyme ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm.’ Little is known about the Granville Williams Orchestra via the usual sources, though this nugget in The Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica) from August 11, 1964 reveals the source of the masterful horns & guitar making quick work of this familiar melody:

“Once again up pops another new orchestra. The name – Granville Williams and his orchestra. Get a load of this for a bandstand – Sam lsmay, Baba Brooks, Freddie Campbell, Audley Williams and the master of them all, doing the arranging and acting as co-leader: Ernest Ranglin, who also doubles on flute. Better put a little oil in your lamp Byron and Carlos.”

I’m aware Cedric Im Brooks played with the GWO, though the “Baba Brooks” referred to above is not the same person, rather referring to famed ska trumpeter Oswald “Baba” Brooks. Sam Ismay was a well-known journeyman sax player in the early days of ska, appearing with Byron Lee & The Dragonaires among other acts. Audley Williams played with Carlos Malcolm as well. That guitar? None other than the legendary Ernest Ranglin.

Reggae Covers: Bad Manners – Bonanza Ska (Livingston/Evans)

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From 1959 to 1973, including my earliest years of television-watching, the Western serial Bonanza appeared in living rooms all across America on NBC. The show’s theme (written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans and performed by David Rose & his Concert Orchestra) was the clarion call for millions of families, seemingly recognizable even from the other end of the house, and always met with a stampede for the space in front of the enormous, radioactive television sets of the day.

As if the fulfillment of a prophecy, this entirely recognizable, joy-making tune found its way into the island music oeuvre. There are two notable ska covers, the first by Carlos Malcolm & the Afro-Caribs released in 1964, and the later, perhaps slightly better-known version by London, UK’s Bad Manners (led by Buster Bloodvessel). Both do purposeful work turning this recognizable tune into something of a different spirit entirely.

Reggae Progenitors: Keith & Tex – Stop That Train (Harriott-Dixon-Rowe)

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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.’

Reggae Progenitors: Dandy Livingstone – Rudy, A Message To You (The Specials)

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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.

Reggae Progenitors: Prince Buster – One Step Beyond (Madness)

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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.