321. Charlie Don’t Surf

“Come 1980, The Clash really had nothing left to prove to anyone, having delivered perhaps the greatest rock and roll album of all time in the waning days of 1979, the four-sided monster known as London Calling. So what to do next except everything, which gave us the six-sided mega-monster Sandinista. Charlie Don’t Surf shows up well into things, a song that takes a line from Apocalypse Now and extrapolates from there, all distant helicopters and dreamy if discordant keyboards. A friend of mine heard it once at a bar in Jamaica and it worked so well it didn’t even register until a few hours later that The Clash’s take on reggae had made it to a Jamaican mixtape! Were they really that good? Apparently so.” (Philip Random)

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339. Mr. Brown

Mr. Brown is definitely the most garage sounding track I’ve heard from Bob Marley, which is not a surprise given Lee Scratch Perry‘s presence at the mixing board, conjuring his unique and multihued magic. Found by me on Rasta Revolution, a 1974 compilation of various pre-fame Marley and the Wailers odds and ends, which means it probably got recorded prior to 1972. Not that Marley saw much fame anywhere beyond Jamaica until after 1974 anyway. And then I didn’t stumble onto it until at least 1994. But it still felt fresh, if a little ripe.” (Philip Random)

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375. war in the east

DOA saved my life any number of times in the 1980s, mainly through their live shows. From the back of auto body shops to abandoned youth clubs to at least one high school gym to the Arts Club on Seymour (still the best damned live venue the Terminal City has ever had) to at least two sold out Commodore Ballrooms, to some impromptu acoustic messing around off the edge of a movie set – it was never pretty, always somehow beautiful. And I’m pretty sure they did War In The East every time, their only reggae song, because it slowed things a touch, clarified a few key points. Fighting one another – killing for big brother. Same as it ever was.” (Philip Random)

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500. guns of Brixton

“More than any other track, I’m thinking Guns of Brixton is what hooked me to the Clash. Because as much as I’d enjoyed their punk and powerful raving and drooling, this was obviously something else. Reggae, I guess, but not really. Because there’s way more going on here than just some white people ripping off Jamaican sounds, making it all sound like tourist music. Nah, Guns of Brixton is dangerous. What do you do when the cops bust in?” (Philip Random)

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597. Sean Flynn

“Speaking of reggae, I’d be lying if I said the Clash weren’t one of my key entry points, still to this day maybe the only white reggae band that ever truly mattered. Because somehow or other, they got the depth of it, not just the easy, stoned sunshine grooves. Like Sean Flynn (concerning Errol Flynn’s son, a photojournalist who was killed in the Cambodian spillover of the Vietnam war) a song which maybe isn’t reggae at all, but it’s definitely dub, Apocalypse Now derived hallucinatory helicopter blades, intense heat, but you’re somehow floating above it all, finding just enough altitude to see some beauty without denying any of the tragedy.” (Philip Random)

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598. concrete jungle

“The release date for Catch A Fire says 1973 but I didn’t have the right ears for Bob Marley and the Wailers (and reggae in general for that matter) until at least 1980. And Concrete Jungle was pivotal in that evolution, and marijuana. By which I mean, Old Ted (one of my more dependable dealers at the time) insisted that I get high on some particularly effective herb, and listen to Catch A Fire with him. ‘Because marijuana will never be free until Jamaica is free.’ Which sounds a bit vague now but trust me, it made profound sense then. And it all started with Concrete Jungle, first track on the album, one of the best bands ever in all creation, slowly slipping things into gear for a revelatory journey through the concrete and shadows of Babylon and beyond.” (Philip Random)

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807. White man in Hammersmith Palais

Speaking of bass culture, (and contrary to popular belief) it needs to be said that White Man in Hammersmith Palais was neither The Clash‘s first reggae song, nor its best — that was Police + Thieves (or maybe something from Sandinista). But it was the first one they actually wrote, Joe Strummer to be specific, slipping out of his punk mindset long enough to wax poetic on politics and music, Robin Hood and Hitler, black and white, everything really.

Clash-whiteMAN

808. Bass Culture

Skull rattling dub poetry c/o Linton Kwesi Johnson makes it clear that reggae music is mostly about the bass, the way it makes a body (and thus a whole culture) move. The drums, they just keep things rock steady.  The guitars, keyboards, horns etc – they’re just along for the ride. It’s the bass that’s going places, and sometimes the poetry, “like a righteous harm, giving off wild like madness.”

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822. present arms (dub)

“I’d heard dub before I heard UB40’s Present Arms in Dub. I just didn’t know it was a thing – this notion that now every song and/or album could have both its official version and its VERSION version. Some were crying rip-off, of course, accusing labels and artists of double-dipping (or whatever). But there are always loud idiots when something cool and new hits. In the case of Present Arms (the dub version), that equaled an album that was better than the original (and probably anything else UB40 would ever do) because like Sun Ra said (and Hawkwind too for that matter), space is the place, and where there’s a version, there’s always more space – for your mind, your imagination, your soul, room to move and groove, perchance to grow.” (Philip Random)

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