“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)
“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 well past the easy, stoned sunshine grooves, found the depth of it. Like Sean Flynn (concerning Errol Flynn’s son, a photojournalist who was killed on the job in the Cambodian spillover of the Vietnam war) a song which maybe isn’t reggae at all, but it’s definitely dub, high and somewhat ethereal, like you’re floating above all the horror below, finding just enough altitude to see some beauty without denying any of the tragedy.” (Philip Random)
“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)
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.”
“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)
Joe Higgs (the man who taught Bob Marley how to sing) delivers yet another sort of lost hit from way back when, that murky part of the 1970s when reggae still hadn’t really been discovered by the rest of the world and yet, no coincidence, was probably at its best.
George Dekker (straight outa Jamaica) delivers a timeless anthem of rather uplifting despair, if such is possible. Because things are always getting worse, just turn on the news, which is no reason to stop moving. “I remember a work friend whose younger brother was dying of Hodgkin’s. She loved this song. I’d ask her how things were. She’d raise a triumphant fist and declare, Things Are Getting Worse.” (Philip Random)
“I’m pretty sure Toots + the Maytals were the first reggae band I ever consciously heard. It was their cover of John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads, which showed up on local radio in around 1976. I would’ve been sixteen or seventeen at the time, and I hated it. The man couldn’t sing and the rest of the band were just wrong somehow, seeming to have no idea how to play proper funk. But jump ahead to 1983 and I was naming Funky Kingston as one of my fave all time party albums. And I was right. It really is right up there. Which gets us to teenagers. When they’re wrong about something, they’re at least comprehensive about it.” (Philip Random)